Especially in the past few decades, sport has gone from being an individual or collective activity to constituting a huge business, with billings of many millions of euros (or dollars) each year. The sports business management sector has become more professional and is growing at a dizzying rate.
In 2017 Palco23, an economic daily about the sports business, presented a barometer that announced the profound changes that the sector would undergo in Spain: “The sports business is experiencing a phase of strong professionalization.” Likewise, the European Commission for the Development of Sports wrote that “sports represents a large sector that is rapidly expanding, and as a result contributes to economic development and growing employment.” According to the report “Research and analysis in sport economics and management,” by Jesús Fernández-Gavira, sport accounts for 2% of the GDP of most European countries.
As we can see, the world of sports looks more and more like that of traditional companies. Susana de los Reyes, professor of HR and Management Skills in the Alfredo Di Stéfano MBA at Universidad Europea, notes how it is common to hear sporting metaphors and terminology in the daily conversation at companies, but adds that “although many sporting aspects have been absorbed by the organizational world, there are more and more that are being absorbed by the sporting word. For example: company structures, organizational charts, management styles, processes and just about anything that affects people…
Professionalization in sports management
This professionalization that we’re seeing is also undergoing its own evolution. As Pablo Burillo, director of the Sports Management MBA at the Escuela Universitaria Real Madrid-Universidad Europea explains to Palco23, the professionals in the sector tended to be professional athletes who, once retired, decided to stay in the business by contributing the vision and knowledge they had acquired. Now, however, “experience alone is no longer enough to sustain professional management, in an industry that is in constant flux.”
That’s why higher education in sports management is increasing exponentially in Spain. As Burillo puts it, “in addition to the 45 schools offering the Degree in Physical Activity Sciences and Sport, there are also specialized undergraduate and postgraduate degrees like the Degree in Sports Management, or business schools with MBA and masters degrees in different sporting areas: Law, Marketing, Physiotherapy, Communications, Training and a great deal more.” He adds that “success in business, as in sports, depends on many factors, but training is a key that opens many doors.”
Women are gaining importance
Another important aspect that should be mentioned, one that is symptomatic of the change that the sports industry is undergoing, is that there are more and more women among the students who decide to go into sports management. According to Marisa Sáenz, director of the Alfredo Di Stéfano University MBA in Management Skills at Universidad Europea, in the last 10 years women have gone from constituting 5% of the students to 17% in the latest course. Little by little, she says, there are more women in the companies, and these companies are requesting more of them.
“Right now there is a great opportunity for women, because the companies are beginning to see the need to get a female point of view about management, and thus help attract this sector of the public to the stadiums and to sporting activity,” she says. While this trend is still in its initial stage in southern Europe and Latin America, in the the United States women are much more integrated into the world of sports.
As Marisa Sáenz puts it, “the American companies have realized that women make up half the population, and that they also bring the rest of the family along. If they get her on their side, there’s a better chance of business. More tickets, more food, more merchandising.” To achieve this, it’s necessary to first adapt the hours of sporting events to the families, and then reach this public with activities for the kids, improving the surroundings, etc. By doing all this, and taking into account the female point of view in management, it would be possible to change the business model and thus bring in more public and make more money.
What’s clear is that the sports industry –and all the experts agree about this– is going through a period of change that will allow it to shine in all its splendor and win the game.