Interview: Hayley McQueen - Life at the "Theatre of Dreams"
by Scott Juba
Published: July 30, 2008
Sport has always been one of the most enthralling forms of entertainment, and across the globe, no sport can rival soccer for popularity. The beautiful game is finally beginning to capture the fascination of Americans as well, as evident from the fact that the 2008 UEFA Champions League Final (the Super Bowl of European soccer) netted record ratings in the U.S. Manchester United, the team that triumphed in that epic clash, boasts an estimated worldwide fan base of 333 million supporters. Many of those United faithful get their news about the team from Hayley McQueen. The daughter of a former Manchester United great, she can be seen on MUTV and MUTV Online, the broadcast and online programming outlets of Manchester United.
Given her heritage, McQueen seemingly has soccer in her blood. She says it was her love of soccer (known to most people around the world as “football”) that inspired her to pursue a career in sports broadcasting. “I’ve grown up with sport,” she says. “Obviously, I come from a sporting background. I’ve lived my whole life surrounded by football, football people and football talk. I thought, if that’s what I know and that’s what I’m good at, I’ll stick with it.”
Although she’s only been in the industry for about five years, McQueen already has a more impressive resume that some twice her age. Besides her stint as a presenter on England’s leading sports news broadcast, Sky Sports News, McQueen also nabbed a Royal Television Society award for a series of programs she produced. Yet, she considers her role on MUTV as her best opportunity to date.
The online branch of MUTV extends the global reach of Manchester United by making content about the club available across the international spectrum. “People in Asia, South Africa, South America, America [or anywhere] can sit down any time of the day and log in to something that informs you of something that’s going on in a fairly simple way,” McQueen says of the channel’s appeal. “You don’t have to be a Manchester United fan to watch MUTV. If you’re interested generally in football, what footballers have to say, how the game works, how tactically it’s played, [you’ll enjoy it]. Our fan base will get stronger and stronger.”
McQueen also believes fans appreciate MUTV’s non-biased presentation of the news. “The problem we have with the media at the moment is that newspapers tend to write what they want,” she explains. “They are very clever and careful here not to quote too many people. Journalists can put across their opinions. What tends to happen is that people pick up a newspaper and read the tabloids and believe what they read. They don’t realize it’s just the opinion of one journalist. [MUTV] puts out news straight from the horse’s mouth. We don’t try to stir things. We put it out as a whole so that people can make up their own opinions. We don’t tell people what to think or what they should believe.”
McQueen recognizes that a female in her line of work can often become branded as “a pretty face to read the news.” McQueen herself is obviously quite attractive, but she’s every bit as talented and knowledgeable as she is beautiful. While many others in her profession come across as one-dimensional and fall prey to stereotypes, she possesses the experience and substance necessary to execute a piece from its inception to the finished product. “Starting something as an idea and finishing it up as something you can actually see is far more satisfying than coming away from a shift of reading news,” she remarks. “[News reading is] exhausting in itself and it’s very hard work. I don’t find that as satisfactory as having an idea, going out and putting it in place, being praised for it at the end of the day and actually loving what you’ve done.”
It’s easy to understand why McQueen cherishes her role at MUTV so much. Besides being able to utilize all of her skills and her understanding of the game, she gets to work at Old Trafford, one of the most famous sports venues in the world. The 76,212-seat cathedral of soccer is known to many as the “Theatre of Dreams.” McQueen describes the privilege of watching a match at Old Trafford as “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” and says the experience makes “you feel like you’re part of a family.” She explains, “You come and you watch a match and it’s not just like watching football. It’s like watching a show.”
She adds, “[Old Trafford is] quite intimate even though it’s so huge. There isn’t a seat in the stadium where you don’t feel like you’re part of what’s going on. I know at other stadiums I’ve been so high up I’ve felt sick and have hardly been able to see what’s going on.”
As well as getting to experience the glory of Old Trafford on a daily basis, she also regularly interviews members of the team. She says she enjoys dealing with all of the players, but lauds retiring Manchester United great Ole Gunnar Solskjær as being a class act. “Ole is the best person to interview,” McQueen says. “You could be in a situation where the team’s lost, morale is down and yet Ole has such a level head. He understands that you’ve stood there and your job is to get an interview. He doesn’t have to do that. Players don’t have to do interviews with us, but so many of them choose to.”
Aside from the Manchester United superstars McQueen encounters, she recently interviewed America’s biggest soccer star, David Beckham, to record an interview for an upcoming testimonial tribute match for Solskjær. “He’s really chill,” she says of Beckham. “You expect this Hollywood, multi-millionaire superstar celebrity. Then you meet him, and he was just in a tracksuit and was shy and quiet.” She recalls, “He was there, just driving out and stopping for kids and signing autographs.”
Prior to her recent interview with Beckham, McQueen had analyzed this British icon in a documentary she produced, "The Fashion of Football, from Best to Beckham." Of the topics McQueen examined in the documentary, the impact of player-centric advertising seems particularly pertinent given the astronomical sponsorship fees most players and teams command. Much like NASCAR teams in the U.S., most European soccer clubs have the logos of big-name sponsors splashed across the front of their uniforms. McQueen says the appeal of reaching consumers through this type of marketing is that “you don’t have to be into football to love [a player] or what they’re advertising.” She elaborates, “Celebrity is a word used for just about anybody and everybody these days…Everyone wants a [sports star] to advertise a product, because everyone knows who they are and they know that they’ve got longevity and that they’re going to be around for a long time.”
Given McQueen’s intelligence, charisma and passion for her profession, it seems certain that she, too, will enjoy longevity and remain a fixture in front of the camera for quite some time.