Since the 1990, the multibillion dollar global sports industry has experienced formidable and sustained growth (Datamonitor, 2003, 2006, 2010; Stotlar, 2002). This phenomenon is due in part to various factors including societal changes (people’s aspirations for a better and healthier lifestyle), the emergence of a culture based on the admiration of modern-day athletic heroes, and the growing importance of sports marketing and TV rights for corporations. As a result, the multiplication of international and national events including Olympic Games, World Championships and alike, generates enormous public attention but also millions of dollars in revenues each year (Cannon, 2010). Opportunities are virtually limitless in the sports industry. However, risks and abuses (such as those brought by doping, excessive gambling, and sport clubs’ disproportionate use of financial debt) also exist.
To be effective and successful in such a rapidly evolving environment, business managers need, for example, to have or develop solid technical skills and competencies in:
Corporate finance: As sport clubs or corporate ventures foray into this domain, they will require a more feasible structure to execute sophisticated financial deals (e.g. the management of public firms such as the Manchester United football club or the latest takeover approach on Arsenal, Blitz, 2011).
Sport tourism (global sporting events or fan migrations during major domestic championships): The emergence of such a phenomenon requires a profound understanding of societal and demographic changes (Grey Sport Tourists, Davies & Williment, 2008).
Adventure sports, which represent a largely underestimated niche since the rise of a demanding and wealthy population of mostly middle-aged males offers great potential for extreme sport adventures.
Communication (including marketing, sponsorship, endorsement, merchandising, TV rights, public relations and fund-raising): This is one of the most vital aspects critical to the growth of corporations. For instance, FC Barcelona signed in December 2010 “a five-and-a-half-year, $218 million contract with the Qatari government – the most lucrative shirt sponsorship deal in football history,” (Johnson, 2011).
The management of image and intellectual property rights, international taxation issues and professional athletes contract laws.
The strategic planning and bidding process for organizations managing global sporting events (bidding of sport events in South Africa, Swart, 2005).
Deregulation of the European sports betting industry, which brings both challenges and opportunities (Wiesmann, 2011; Blitz, 2011).
Moreover, recent developments in the sports industry indicate that managers need to acquire concrete soft skills as they need to interact with various specialists on a regular basis (legal advisor, PR, IT and alike) and sometimes need to handle the unexpected (violence and racism around sports events, celebrity scandals et al).
The need for higher education
The global sport business education offer is plethoric with US being the dominant market. Successful graduates typically argue that their schools’ network and reputation positively influence access to work (Helyar, 2006; Minten, 2010). In addition, the mastery of technical skills and competencies is arguably essential. In fact, the industry shares the traditional view that recent hires need to start at the bottom and should have preferably experienced or practised sport(s) in order to understand its business implications. Today, this approach is no longer appropriate as the financial stakes are too high to allow incompetence.
The reality is that the sports industry is a dynamic cocoon of opportunities and challenges. Besides being highly competitive (as illustrated by the seasonal and inflationary war for the award of football TV rights), the industry has in recent years experienced profound changes. The size of the industry has reached stellar proportions as shown by the 2011 Super Bowl during which a 30-second advertising slot was worth a record $3 million. Although “US accounts for 40% of the global sports market’s revenues,” the European market has grown tremendously as football has become the dominant TV rights revenue driver (Europe, the Middle East and Africa account for 43% of the global sports market’s revenues; Gelles & Edgecliffe-Johnson, 2011). In addition to this phenomenal growth, the sports industry has become a “massively complex, sophisticated and truly international business sector which demands a range of specialist skills and expertise in the back office,” argues Will Lloyd, co-founder of Sports Recruitment International, the world’s most recognised placement agency in the sports industry. In particular, the growth of professional clubs, especially public firms, require business managers with solid public relations, financial, corporate finance, and marketing skills. For example, in light of these industry changes, FC Barcelona, which generated $574 million as revenues in 2009 (the 2nd largest in Europe, behind Real Madrid), profoundly changed its corporate culture in 2010 when it appointed “business graduates” to its Board (Johnson, 2011).
The outlook for the global sports industry
In an article released in November 2010, executives affiliated to Sports Recruitment International explained that “competition on the field and higher professional standards within the sports industry have raised the bar higher every year but there are arguably three new factors which will add to the battle for talent acquisition in the coming years”. These three factors are i) impact of the global financial meltdown on sports sponsorship, ii) opportunities and challenges presented by the 2012 London Olympic Games, and iii) the dilemma of government funding for sporting events. The co-authors argue that in case of the sports industry, the effects of recession are typically felt with a lag of one to two years. Although this view is debatable (As illustrated by the growth in football as a sporting event, the industry flourished in both 2010 and 2011), the co-authors estimate that there is great potential in the Middle East, India and China.
The global and domestic challenges for the sports fraternity are both real, and upon us now. They must be met by the brightest from both within and outside the traditional pools of commercial talent.