What is sport and leisure management? As a well-known soccer example shows, it is many things at once: marketing, communication, investment, and people management. Or, more generally, it is a new, more serious and sustainable approach to a market segment as important as sport.
What is sport and leisure management?
There are many ways to answer this question, and the answer depends on which aspect of this new reality you want to highlight.
Because the point is this: the “birth” of sports management as a sustainable and, indeed, desirable business approach signals the now evident importance of sports as an economic sector in most every country.
Note: we are talking about sports, not just soccer.
In fact, soccer teams are not the only ones who need a managerial approach in order to be financially competitive.
On the contrary, sport is a varied and complex sector, with many operators that move, produce and do business here.
This, then, is the first answer to the question at hand: sports management, in the broadest sense, attests to the importance of a sector that for years has represented a significant source of activity and growth, as such it requires effective management.
Among other things, this relevance is shown by the data concerning this sector.
Sport: A sector in continuous ascent
Starting from the data, the first thing that stands out is that the so-called sport ecosystem has shown remarkable growth in recent years.
In 2018 alone, the entertainment sector globally billed $616 billion, or 34% more than in 2014; likewise, in 2019, the growth continued by registering +7.6% over just 2019.
The trend, therefore, is that of a steady increase in revenue over time, of which sports represents a major part.
Of the aforementioned $616 billion, 21% comes from this very sector, which through TV rights, sponsorship, ticketing, and merchandising has come to invoice about $130 billion, with a significant prospect of increase, in line with other market trends.
Even with smaller numbers, the same dynamics can be found in Italy.
Saints, navigators, and sports enthusiasts
The Italian sport industry has exceeded 8 billion, thanks to the work of 22,369 employees, placing itself in the wake of the global trends described above.
After all, it’s no mystery that Italians are true sports enthusiasts, as demonstrated by CONI surveys, which counted 20 million sportsmen and women throughout the country, more than a quarter of whom are “continuous,” therefore willing to spend consistently during the year for courses and equipment.
Among other things, these growth figures do not take into account an exceptional event such as the 2026 Winter Olympics in Milan and Cortina, from which a further overall boost of about 10% is expected.
These numbers, decidedly comforting, trace a very clear course for the future of the sector, which, however, has had to reckon with an unforeseen event of no small importance such as this winter’s health emergency.
It’s no mystery that COVID-19 imposed a significant brake on projected growth prospects, due to the suspension of most championships and the cancellation of important events, including the Olympics in Japan.
The losses, as revealed by a PWC study, have been considerable, but this does not detract from the fact that, although 2020 has been in every sense an “annus horribilis,” sport is an important sector.
On the contrary, precisely in light of the potential growth in the sector, it is necessary to continue to build and strengthen a managerial mentality.
What does sport management consist of?
In trying to define what sport management is, we see that it encompasses a very broad spectrum of activities.
Generally speaking, the expression “sports management” refers to that area of business that deals with sports and recreational activities; but in this way it is difficult to effectively grasp the complexity and heterogeneity of the areas involved.
Sports management, in fact, encompasses a series of different activities that often require specific skills.
This is all the more true in today’s world where athletes are real business players with their own brand, their own image, and personal communication channels, and where teams aim to be sustainable and competitive companies on the market and on the field.
For this reason, anyone who wants to be a sports manager must be able to operate within different realms.
Sports management and personal branding
The first skill that a professional must develop in the context of sports management specifically concerns managing the presence of athletes and teams on social networks.
As mentioned above, more and more athletes are also “personalities” able to influence a large number of fans, who follow them on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms.
This means that every post, photo, and content in general represents almost an official statement, subject to the evaluation of experts and fans, and therefore able to contribute to creating a certain type of reputation.
That’s why it is essential that athletes and all sports of a certain relevance are followed by a sports manager. It’s essential to avoid, for example, a certain overexposure, since the private life of many athletes is often put at risk by the curiosity of passionate fans, which can also have an impact on their performance on the field.
In addition, social networks have become an important tool because they are almost always at the center of very profitable sponsorship contracts: this makes them a real business tool, and very relevant in terms of revenue.
Therefore, it is essential to know how to use them wisely and it is inevitable that their management falls within the competence of a sports manager, who must be able to ensure their clients get the best possible value for their time.
This is also true for teams, whose management must be careful to exploit social tools correctly, in order to build an adequate storytelling to attract and retain new fans, who then invest in season tickets, events, and merchandising.
Taking the world of soccer as an example, it is therefore no coincidence that the “best” teams on social media are also those that are generally more relevant in economic and branding terms.
Testimonials have not disappeared
Another key component of sports management involves more traditional marketing operations.
Although digital transformation has introduced new ways of marketing, especially digital marketing, this does not mean that the work of a sports manager should be limited to those.
On the contrary, it remains essential to look after what are known as sports sponsorships, which essentially consist of an agreement between two parties that involves an investment of any kind – money or other assets – by a party to fund a team or individual athlete.
Sponsorship, on closer inspection, can also be an important component of the storytelling mentioned above: the exchange between the team or athlete and the sponsor is, after all, two-way, since the brand gains visibility and prominence thanks to the fame and exposure provided by the athlete and, vice versa, the athlete, by associating with a certain company, takes on the values of that brand.
For this reason, sports management is also concerned with identifying the best combination, which appears coherent and beneficial for both parties, while avoiding wasting or misusing the economic and reputational capital of both.
This also means being able to identify the best formula for doing so.
In fact, there are many types of sponsorship, and the sports manager must strategically choose the right one. This includes, for example, whether to appoint an official sponsor, a technical sponsor, or a sector sponsor, or even to conclude a pairing, which involves taking on the sponsor’s name as the name of the sports club.
Knowing how to talk, but not only through social networks
As we have seen, much of sports management involves the strategic use of social networks, both for teams and for individual athletes, who are now real influencers.
At the same time, sports management also takes care of communications through more canonical and official channels.
For example, the management of a team or an athlete must prepare relevant content for journalists and experts in the field to be presented during a press conference or sent to those directly involved.
It is therefore inevitable that sports management also has a Public Relations component, in order to maximize the image potential of teams and athletes.
Therefore, it is not surprising that PR management is often an essential part of a broader and more complex strategy to make every operation relevant.
However, this relevance cannot be achieved by carrying out only press office activities; on the contrary, it is necessary to cover as many channels as possible, ensuring the greatest possible number of media spaces for the sportsman or company.
A well-constructed management system also takes care of this, planning public outings and participation in programs on traditional media (radio, television, etc.).
This type of work is fundamental, especially when approached in terms of amplification: for example, to publicize a certain niche sports reality or if you want to consolidate the positioning of a certain athlete.
Of sport, but also of management
Obviously, management applied to the sports sector cannot only focus on the communication or marketing aspect, but must also embrace the functioning and sustainability of the business in general.
In this sense, the manager of a sports club must also outline plans for effective and credible growth: to guess which investments can be useful, to define clear and achievable goals, to assume disposals, acquisitions, and transfers, as well as to improve the staff of athletes as well as doctors, technicians, and trainers.
At the base of all this there must necessarily be a strategy that is outlined in detail.
And here is another definition of sports management: having a business- and economic-focused vision of a world that usually lives more on emotions and luck.
An example of what is being said is the long-standing issue of owned stadiums in the world of soccer. It requires a truly forward-looking management to take into account such long-term investments, which makes a difference in terms of both revenues and the company’s image over the long term.
On the other hand, without this organizational and managerial aspect, as well as this overall vision, there will be heavy repercussions both on the market and on the field.
It is no coincidence that, in recent years, only the teams that have been able to build a solid and prudent management have been able to achieve the best results in major competitions.
An example of what we’re talking about comes directly from the world of soccer and in particular from the German soccer league: Bayern Munich.
This year, the Bavarian team has succeeded in the incredible feat of winning all four major competitions in Germany and in Europe.
This success is also due to the management.
Bayern, in fact, is a reality of excellence from many points of view: it has its own stadium that yields constant revenues, it has practically no financial debt, and over the years it has secured major sponsorships with the world’s leading brands, not to mention the considerable share of revenues that comes from the excellent management of television rights.
Moreover, many experts emphasize that the success of the Bavarian team comes from afar and is the result of a sports management that has not neglected any aspect, from marketing to communication, through the economic-administrative management and the enhancement of its investments in the athletes’ roster.
In this example, therefore, there is everything, every aspect that has been touched upon in this article: marketing, communication, image, investments.
But also something more.
Bayern Munich, in fact, has given everyone the opportunity to learn about another aspect of sports management, little known but very relevant, that of team management.
Managerial management, in fact, can also be applied to the team, inserting a professional who acts as a connection between the staff and the administration, working on the cohesion of the former and the receptivity of the latter.
In this way, the group that is created is cohesive and efficient, capable of communicating and improving season after season.
Which, in extreme synthesis, is exactly what it means to build a successful sports management team.