Why sport needs professional leaders to guide its future


Sports governance has become increasingly sophisticated in recent years, with more and more organizations exploring different industries to recruit experts who can help them seize the opportunities presented by the changing media and marketing landscape in the digital age.

Federations, rights holders and the wider ecosystem have caught up with elite athletes on the playing field by ensuring they have MVPs in the back office.

This is why sports management has been positioned at the heart of AISTS’ flagship Master of Advanced Studies (MAS) in Sports Administration and Technology program.

The Lausanne-based International Academy of Sports Science and Technology (AISTS) has made management one of the top two fields of study, along with technology, following a comprehensive course review MAS for the past two years.

Antonio Dávila, professor at the Faculty of Management and Economics of the University of Lausanne, leads the management pillar of the study program. He believes the sport is increasingly recognizing the benefits of hiring highly qualified leaders.

“Historically the sport was run amateurishly, but over the past 20 years it has become more professional in all areas,” Dávila said. “Of course at the top you have organizations like the Premier League who have been running at an advanced level for decades. But the tide has now passed through sport and we are seeing professional managers leading sports like field hockey and volleyball.

“The managers of these sports have recognized the need for professional administration. They need managers who can help their sports and events thrive in the era of digitalization and NFTs. They need leaders who know the considerations around stadium management, the use of social media and creating value for sponsors.

Sport as entertainment

Dávila believes the sport in Europe is catching up with the United States in its approach.

“The industry recognizes that professional sports have a significant entertainment component, and that’s a big reason for the changes,” he said. “In the United States it has been a no-brainer for many years, but European sports are now making this transition to ensure they have events, competitions and a wider offer that appeals to fans.

“This is true from the top down to sports and events that don’t make as much money. At this lower level, a professional management team can ensure that more money comes in and is used. wisely.

Before joining AISTS and HEC Lausanne in 2021, Dávila was a professor at IESE Business School in Barcelona, ​​a visiting professor at Harvard Business School, a teacher in the MBA foundation program and a faculty member at the Graduate School of Business from Stanford University. His teaching and research interests focus on the growth of start-ups, innovation management, sports management and management control.

Dávila has been teaching sports management for about 15 years and has been associated with AISTS for over a decade.

“Settling in Lausanne was a great motivation because it is the world capital of sport,” he added.

“We look forward to introducing the redesigned course to this year’s AISTS students. Much of the accent will be similar, but updated. The focus is now more on digitization and digital marketing, as we take a closer look at the possibilities offered by areas such as big data and NFT.

The complex structure of sport

The MAS program lasts 15 months, starting in September and ending the following December. The first eight months consist of intense study at school and lectures led by visiting professors from the academy. From June to December, students are required to work for two months within an organization either as an intern, or as an employee, or within the framework of an entrepreneurial company. They must then submit a report based on their experience.

The management program focuses on the most relevant areas of inquiry, including industry structure, strategy, finance and accounting, marketing, operations, and leadership. Dávila believes that understanding the structure of the industry is particularly important for future sports leaders.

He said: “In this section we will understand how the sports ecosystem works and all the different players, of which there are many. It is a much more complex structure than almost any other industry.

Students will be upgraded in these complex areas through online learning modules that prepare them upstream for classroom learning.

“We want to give them the content of a crammed MBA in just a few months, so it’s critical that we make the most of both the classroom and online learning,” he added. . “Each student will find different things useful and enriching. For some, it will be about uncovering the economics of organizations and for others, it will be about looking into sponsorship activations.

Sophisticated partners

Of course, while some academic subjects can be taught from a textbook, the sports business is a living beast impacted by new developments, new practices and trends. To reflect this, students will introduce their classes to areas of particular interest. Dávila added: “It could be Barcelona selling media rights, a stadium project or even new trends in player scouting.”

AISTS is committed to ensuring that its flagship course produces the leaders the sport needs in the future. With this in mind, Dávila believes that the changes made to the course before the start of the 2022 school year will be beneficial for graduates and the sports ecosystem.

“For graduates, this will give them the skills they need to succeed in sports organizations in a changing world where they will work with more sophisticated partners,” he said, before citing the example of the private equity giant CVC Capital Partners. m (£248m/€286m) of investment last year in the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB).

“In such discussions, you have to understand how people think and work,” he added. “Sports organizations need people at the helm who are well trained in business models and strategies, and who don’t just work on intuition.

“Federations, rights holders and businesses will benefit from the advanced skills these AISTS graduates have acquired through the course. They will be people who understand how to succeed in this changing world.


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