Kacy Mackreth - From American sport fandom to being a director of rugby league side Hunslet, via Leeds Beckett University

Sixteen years ago when she moved to Leeds from the United States, Kacy Mackreth had never heard of the sport of rugby league.

Converted: Kacy Mackreth, new non-executive director at Hunslet RL. 
Pictures: Jonathan Gawthorpe
Converted: Kacy Mackreth, new non-executive director at Hunslet RL. Pictures: Jonathan Gawthorpe

This proud Bostonian was steeped in gridiron, basketball and ice hockey.

It was only a decade ago that she took in her first live game.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Now, rugby league dominates her life, whether that be teaching current and former professionals on the sports marketing course at Leeds Beckett University, or in her new role as non-executive director at Hunslet RLFC.

Planning for the future: Kacy Mackreth.

Even in her spare time, the 13-a-side code dominates with the subject of the PhD she is researching being, you guessed it...rugby league.

“I remember colleagues at Leeds Beckett getting excited because Kevin Sinfield and Jamie Peacock were coming onto the sports business course,” recalls Mackreth. “I was like ‘Who are they, I’ve never heard of them’.

“I just had no knowledge of the sport. But when I took in that first game it reminded me a lot of the American sports I had grown up on; the fast pace, easy to understand, and I loved the fact it was a family atmosphere. I just thought it was a great sports product.”

From that spark grew a fascination.

Hunslet's chairman Neil Hampshire, right

“When I started to look into doing my own research I realised there was hardly any research from a sport marketing perspective in rugby league,” she begins.

“It was around the time they moved from Super League licences to promotion and relegation, so I went and interviewed all the 11 clubs in the Championship. I thought those clubs had the most to gain from moving to a promotion-relegation model as it brought back that hope.

“My view of sport is based on where I grew up, the big American franchises. So I would go and interview these CEOs in their office, and they’re Portakabins on the side of the pitch, that was my first exposure to how different it was.”

Mackreth began looking closely into the sport four years ago, and because of the ever-evolving landscape – some of it Covid-enforced – there is always plenty to learn.

Kacy Mackreth, new non-executive director at Hunslet RLFC, pictured at the South Leeds Community Stadium. (Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe)

It is with Hunslet, though, that she hopes to turn that interest into an impact.

In October, a partnership between Hunslet and Leeds Beckett’s Carnegie School of Sport was announced which included Mackreth taking a seat on the board as a non-executive director. It is a mutually-beneficial arrangement – Mackreth and her students on the sports marketing and sports business under-graduate and post-graduate courses giving their time to a club that, like many of its ilk, has been missing that knowledge base.

“Neil Hampshire, one of the Hunslet directors, got in touch saying he’d seen my insight and wondered if I could help,” she says. “I thought initially it was just to get some students on a placement, then it snowballed from there. They recognise with the limited resources they have they need to build and grow with the changing times.

“In rugby league, there’s not a lot of money, it’s still perceived as a bit of a minority sport but, from a commercial and marketing perspective, it offers a lot as a spectator product.

“One of the things that attracted me to Hunslet was I like to help a bit of an underdog.”

So what is the strategy for a semi-professional club in the third tier, one that was top of that division before lockdown but elected against applying for promotion to the Championship? A club that plays to an average attendance below 1,000 and is located in the south of a city dominated by one of the great names of rugby league – Leeds Rhinos.

“For us it’s about understanding the unique selling point, and that is that Hunslet is the only semi-professional, supporter-owned club left in rugby league,” says Mackreth, mindful that going up against the might of the Rhinos would be futile.

“We have a realistic vision as to what we need to do to increase attendances, generate revenue streams, sponsorship etcetera.

“The club is cautious in one sense because they’re just mindful of staying in existence. Hunslet has such a long history in the sport, we’re just trying to be a bit more creative in how we deliver on the objectives of maintaining relationships in the community and increasing fan attendance, all within the means of the current circumstances.

“So the strategy is two-fold – it’s about reconnecting with the people who have held Hunslet true to their hearts, but equally in the shorter term it is trying to make more people aware of what we have to offer, what we’re doing in the community and that we’re a bit more than just rugby league.

“Longer term, you want to continue to grow that using the reach of social media – there’s more people that follow us on our digital channels than there are bums on seats. We also want to get certain systems in place, knowing who’s attending, what they value from the club. I want to know what fans value from League One – what do they get out of following their club that’s different to Super League fans?

“At Hunslet there is that accessibility, that authenticity of watching what is still a high quality game of rugby league.”

One a decade ago Mackreth could never have envisaged immersing herself in.

Support The Yorkshire Post and become a subscriber today. Your subscription will help us to continue to bring quality news to the people of Yorkshire. In return, you’ll see fewer ads on site, get free access to our app and receive exclusive members-only offers. Click HERE to subscribe.