For Georgie Hodge, the penny dropped when she was seeking to recruit high-profile sportspeople as ambassadors for a former employer, a sports-focused social network.
While approaches to male footballers necessitated going through their advisors, she was struck that the vast majority of their female counterparts had no such representation and could be contacted directly.
“That’s when I realised there was a real gap in the market,” she says.
Hodge set her sights on filling that gap and resolved to forge a career as an agent in women’s football. She made England forward Fran Kirby, with whom she had already worked in her previous role, her first target.
Kirby – nicknamed “Mini Messi” for her diminutive stature and dribbling skills – accepted and, thanks in part to Hodge, soon secured a move from Reading to Chelsea Ladies for a British record fee.
The transfer worked out well for Kirby. Chelsea would win the FA Women’s Cup within weeks and complete the double by clinching a first Women’s Super League title two months later.
It also proved a launchpad for Hodge, now 27. Her work with Kirby helped to attract new clients, including international team-mate Jordan Nobbs, and paved the way for her own transfer of sorts.
In 2015 Hodge approached leading agency Base Soccer, which manages the careers of Premier League stars such as Aaron Ramsey and Kyle Walker, and proposed that she head up a women’s football division. They agreed.
Now, less than four years into her career as an agent, she represents a clutch of elite players and is already among the most influential figures in women’s football, one of the biggest growth areas in the sport.
“It’s obviously great to be at the top of the game but there’s still so much to be done,” she adds. “It’s important that we be realistic as well. From an agent’s perspective, it’s important that we look after the game as much as we can, too.”
England in particular is witnessing an unprecedented surge in women’s football.
The success of the likes of Kirby and Nobbs with the national team at the 2015 World Cup in Canada, where the Lionesses finished third, captured public and media attention like never before.
The Football Association expects to double participation by 2020 while a revamped domestic top-flight that will require all teams to be full-time is due to launch this year.
A talent drain to Europe and the United States has been arrested and, in some instances, reversed – as seen in the case of Vivianne Miedema, who joined Arsenal after starring for winners Holland at Euro 2017.
“Looking back at 2015 we saw a massive boom in participation, viewing figures, fans, pay has just gone up and we’re only going to see that go up even more,” Hodge says. “There’s no slowing down.”
That has had knock-on effects. When she started representing players Hodge estimates that fewer than 10 per cent had an agent. “Now it’s pretty hard to find a player who doesn’t,” she adds.
Football boot sponsorship contracts are also increasingly commonplace. “Five years ago boot deals weren’t nearly where they are now,” Hodge says. “Near enough every player has a boot deal. Nike, Puma, Adidas, Under Armour – they’re all seeing a value in women’s football and investing.”
Hodge – once a budding player herself who was on Fulham’s books as a teenager – praises cosmetics maker Avon’s groundbreaking sponsorship of Liverpool Ladies but says that other commercial opportunities are being left on the table by less forward-thinking companies.
“The biggest hurdle we’re facing is brands wanting to go into it but perhaps holding off,” she says. “Why not invest in the biggest growth area? It’s a fantastic look for any brand.”
Hodge hopes to expand her services internationally – “That’s definitely something in the pipeline” – but insists that, despite the far greater financial rewards, she “wouldn’t entertain working in men’s football any more”.
Indeed – and returning to a theme that she is keen to emphasise throughout – Hodge says that she would welcome more industry competition if it means strengthening the foundations of the women’s game.
“We need more people doing what I’m doing to be able to create these opportunities – but doing it in the right way,” she says.
Sustainability is the watchword. “Everyone has seen an area for growth,” she adds. “It’s really important in women’s football that we keep the nature of the game the way it has always been. It’s really important we don’t move away from that and it become just about the money.”
Hodge concludes: “I think there’s a huge opportunity to do this job without changing the game, and do it in the right way while keeping the core values of women’s football and why it’s still the beautiful game.”