The appointment and retention of top talent has become an ever increasing priority for sports business leaders. Competition on the field and higher professional standards within sport continues to set the bar higher but there are, arguably, three new factors which will add to the battle for talent moving forward.
1. The effect of the global recession on the future of sports sponsorship
Many current high profile corporate sponsorships are long term deals which were struck before the recession. The RBS investment sponsorship in Formula 1 is a classic example. When this deal was up for renewal in 2010 there was little chance that the public sector owned entity would continue this high level sponsorship.
It would be unwise for sport to assume that traditional corporate sponsors will automatically return to the market, hence the shift of focus of some sports to the Middle East, India and China to fill the gap. Sports Recruitment International’s expanding presence in Singapore is an early indicator of that trend.
2. The potential vacuum created by the 2012 London Olympics
The second factor, which is specific to the UK, is for those sports and sports businesses not directly involved with the Olympics. The success and momentum already created by LOCOG has meant that sponsors have flocked to be part of the London Games and sponsorship budgets have been allocated for 2012.
This potentially creates a headache both financially and in attracting key staff for the vast array of non-Olympic activities, although it’s worth mentioning that LOCOG specifically has had a hiring strategy to recruit many individuals from outside the sector, bringing new talent into the industry.
The impact of an Olympic Games is a positive one in many ways but tough for other properties competing for the same sponsorship budgets. The challenge for both UK sport and corporate sponsors is to emerge with long term, well matched sponsorship deals post 2012.
3. Government funding of sport
This dilemma is the third challenge. The ever widening gap between inclination and financial wherewithal to fund sport will have a real impact. As seen with the success of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, many countries now view sport as a significant part of their foreign policy. The positive impact of grass roots sport on youth and community issues and the proven effect sport can have on long term public health costs are also positive drivers for some countries with the luxury of growth economies and without the pressures of public spending deficits.
Can sports in many developed economies expect the same levels of public funding in the future? It is clear that in the UK the answer is a resounding “No”. The coalition government in the UK has sent loud and clear messages to the entire sports community that they need to start preparing now to find alternative sources of funding. For some this is not an issue, but for many, especially those still governed by the “Blazer brigade” of enthusiastic amateurs, the need to recruit the brightest and best commercial brains is vital, not just to flourish but simply to survive.
So what does the future hold?
The challenges outlined already are therefore significant, pressing and global. The question for everyone involved in the sports industry is to work out how to deal with these challenges most effectively and how to stay ahead of the competition.
As has often been the case over the last fifty or so years, the senior executive search market can be an early indicator of trends and market changes. In 2010 Sports Recruitment International witnessed a marked migration of commercial sports talent. More and more high profile football clubs in the UK are specifically targeting executives with experience in US sport.
Opportunities in Developing Markets
This often eastwards migration is also confirmed as Italian clubs move out of their old city centre stadiums into new stadiums with state of the art corporate hospitality facilities. Increasingly, clubs are turning to hospitality and premium ticket sales experience which has been gained both in the US but also in the English Premier League. A number of assignments with Gulf or Eastern European based sports organisations are specifically targeting Western European experienced managers who relish the challenge of building new and exciting businesses without the financial constraints of most western economies.
Sports Recruitment International’s client base in Singapore can be divided into two distinct categories: local organisations, including the Singapore Government who have the objective of developing Singapore as a regional sports hub, and well established US or European organisations that seek to take advantage of the enormous potential of Asia.
A further example of this migration of talent is the growing trend of Australian sports organisations which have traditionally been self contained, now recognizing the need to import commercial talent from outside of Australia. There is evidence to suggest that some countries such as Australia, and perhaps Spain, are stronger in other areas of sport such as coaching, development and elite performance. Here we see more of an export trend with many other countries wanting to hire top operators in their fields to bring success to their countries or teams.
The changing face of recruitment in the Sports Industry
Sport has traditionally recruited from within its own ranks and the “war for talent” was seen as a feature of other sectors such as financial services, oil and energy or the global consumer goods industry. The prevailing view amongst certain leading sports industry figures was that they knew “everybody who was anybody” in the sporting world and that recruitment within sport was easy because so many people wanted to work in the industry.
Increasingly, this view comes across as out-dated and it is now apparent that those who are serious about finding the best talent for their organisation need to look harder to find it. The global and domestic challenges for all are both real and upon us now and they must be met by the brightest and best from both within and outside the traditional sports pools of commercial talent.
Peter Worth, Michael Squires, Chris King