Each summer thousands of university graduates head out into the marketplace waving qualifications seeking new challenges and work opportunities in the sport business. Just like big money transfers in the football business the stakes are raised each year. Finding the ‘dream job’ can be almost impossible let alone something that remotely inspires you to get out of bed each day!.
Here are a few tips and reflections on how to approach the job market in the sport business.
This is a challenge for new entrants to the sport business as well as those already employed. Apart from a few dedicated job boards such as Teamworkonline, Global Sport, SRI and Jobs in Football there are many jobs that are simply not advertised or only promoted on the employer’s website.
Tip: Don’t wait for the jobs to appear, do some research and make a shortlist of 50 to 100 companies you would like to work for. Find the contact details of the HR Manager, draft a letter explaining your relevant experience and why you want to work for this organisation. Send a copy of your CV and follow-up within five working days to see if your information has been received. Yes, there will be many others like you but if you are not persistent, nothing will change.
Not always. If you have played football at any level, amateur or professional, and have an affinity with the game you will always have something to offer. In some cases, being involved in grass roots or voluntary work can differentiate your application from others who have only worked at the elite or professional level. Don’t underestimate what you have to offer but it has to be relevant. If you are prepared to ‘start at the bottom’ and work your way up, this can be attractive for certain employers who like to train their own staff.
Tip: Don’t only consider the professional clubs, there lots of organisations providing services at the elite level who are also active in grass roots, coaching, education, event organisation, sales and marketing, broadcast media and football products. Getting into the business is half the challenge, once you are working you can build a network and explore other opportunities. Don’t wait for the dream job to come along, you could be waiting a long time!
Absolutely. But you are not unique, there are hundreds of other students who also have similar qualifications. Understanding the sport and/or football business puts you in a position to engage with potential employers who seek more specialist knowledge. Equally, these employers will be looking for expertise which can be applied to different areas of their club, organisation or business.
Tip: When approaching an employer make sure you find the right balance between academic qualifications and work experience. If you have worked with football camps, hospitality at sports events or selling tickets and sponsorship packages in the holiday periods, make sure this is clear. There is no replacement for actual work experience, no matter now big or small. It shows you are willing to work your way into the business.
No but it helps. Again it depends on the type of organisation and position you are seeking. Naturally, if you are looking for coaching opportunities then it stands to reason you will need the relevant coaching qualifications and experience to apply for jobs. In other areas such as HR, Finance, Marketing, Hospitality, Business Development, Ticketing, Merchandise or Social Media there are many skills which are transferrable from one industry to another. The challenge is competing with other applicants who have similar skills or experience and have worked in the football industry. Most employers will consider relevant qualifications, skills, experience and what you as an individual can add to their team. Why and how are you going to make a difference?
Tip: Make it easier for an employer to appreciate what you are capable of by highlighting some of your best achievements. How much did you increase sales in your previous job? How many new business leads did you generate that actually turned into customers? What was your contribution to the marketing strategy that generated positive media coverage or fan engagement? Think of tangible examples or KPI’s that an employer in the sport business can relate to.
Soft skills. We work in a ‘people business’ and there is no replacement for the human touch. If you are not comfortable speaking, presenting, persuading, selling, coaching or leading other people, this may not be the right business for you. There are very few jobs in the sport business where soft skills are not required. In combination with a positive mindset finding solutions to problems that often involve multiple stakeholder relationships. If you speak other languages or have experience of working in different markets and cultures, this will be an asset. Sport is now international, crossing territories which presents different challenges for those organisations wishing to enter new markets.
Tip: If you cannot find work experience working in sport try to find work where you are dealing with customers on a daily basis. Sharpening your soft skills and working in multi-cultural environments will add value to your CV and application.
Sure and so do lots of other people. Great ideas on their own are not worth much unless you have discovered something no-one else has. If someone gave me a pound for every great idea I heard about, I would be a millionaire by now. Sport organisations may not be the most efficient or innovative as they would like to be but they still have to operate with a business strategy, policies, budgets, availability of resources and market conditions. It is never as easy as it appears so don’t assume that one great idea is going to solve all their problems.
Tip: If you think you have a serious business concept or proposal, develop the idea yourself. Adopt an entrepreneurial spirit and see if you can demonstrate there is demand and value in your idea. Do some market research, develop the value proposition, run a small test and get some feedback. Once you have some tangible evidence, you can take it to an employer and show then what you have learned and why it would be of value to develop it further together.
Despite the impact and influence of technology, digital media, AI and VR fan experiences, the key sectors of the industry are still the same as they were 15 or 20 years ago. Professional football clubs still generate significant revenues from match days including season and single ticket sales, corporate hospitality and on-site fan services. Technology and broadcast media has driven a lot of change in the way fans view and consume sports content with new subscription models, streaming and OTT services feeding and creating market demand. Sponsorships is still a key area which is critical to the growth of rights holder, federations, teams, clubs, tournaments and fan engagement. Merchandise and ‘athleisure’ is a growth market with more brands competing with a handful of global players like Nike and Adidas. The main difference is a shift from one or two key events per week covered by a small group of broadcasters to a 24/7/365 landscape with more choice for the sports fan, brands and stakeholders than ever before.
Tip: Ask yourself which part or sector or the industry really inspires you. Where is your skill set or experience of most value? Are you more of a specialist or a generalist? Is it the day to day operations that appeal or the more longer-term business development and strategy? Talk to people who work in different sectors and find out which area of the business is the best fit for you.
That certainly helps but you still need to know what you are looking for. Too many graduates do not have a clear idea where they would like to work and what the position or work involves. If you have a network or contacts in the business, reach out to them for advice and open doors. Each week I receive invitations from sport management students and graduates via LinkedIn seeking to expand their network. When asked how I can help or what they are looking for, it is not clear or specific. They are just expanding their network.
Tip: When you approach people in the industry, explain why you are getting in contact and how they could help you – apart from actually offering a job. They might not be in a position to help but could connect or suggest someone who can. And, always remember to thank the person for their advice or support. A little courtesy goes a long way!
Yes, data is certainly going to play a central role in most parts of the business. But, like all other parts, data driven activities also need to integrated into a business strategy, contribute to the culture, team work and brand identity of the organisation. As the saying goes, the sum of the parts is stronger than the individual parts. Content marketing, CRM tools, behavioural analysis, personalisation and a whole raft of activities are either informed or driven by data. This does not mean there is no room for blue sky thinking, creativity or introducing new ideas. Those employees who have qualifications in data science, AI/VR, economics, social media or video on demand in other industries will also find their experience can be applied in the sport business as well.
Tip: If you work in an industry where data already influences customer engagement, acquisition or retention which has not been fully developed in the sport business, check it out. If your skill set and experience is relevant this could be the door-opener you have been looking for. Sport can and does learn from other industries and given the influence of the tech companies this is only likely to increase in the future.
Women’s sport and eSports are the two which come to mind. Certainly women’s football appears to have reached another level after the recent World Cup in France. In reality, the game still requires more investment and support to achieve sustainable long term growth. Whilst equality with the men’s game is an ongoing debate, the women’s game needs to take control of its own future. After recent events in New York with the Fortnite World Cup, eSports is experiencing media coverage that some sports can only dream of. Whilst participation numbers and prize funds are staggering there is still plenty of room for development in eSports as well. And, not just for gamers.
Tip: Don’t be afraid to explore different avenues to develop skills, gain work experience and meet new people. You never know where those avenues will lead and what opportunities lie ahead.
Critical. With more people inside and outside the sport business competing for work and employment, if you are standing still you are going backwards. Whether you are learning new skills through online courses or receiving mentoring and personal coaching, you never stop learning. Even experienced pro’s in the sport business are constantly seeking ways of maintaining their advantage and point of differentiation.
Tip: It is good to have a long-term goal of running a business, agency, media network or federation but don’t forget the short-term steps you can take as well, topping-up your skills and make sure you are familiar with the latest techniques, models and industry insights. The pace of change in the industry is relentless which means staying in touch with the latest developments and adapting your tool kit to meet the new challenges is essential to fulfil your ambitions.