Oscar Ugaz, Strategy Director of Atomikal and former Digital Business Manager of Real Madrid discusses the realities of a changing education and football environment.

In recent years there has been a spread of business education related to football and the sports industry. This is a welcome reality in a sector that, over the last 20 years has professionalised itself and become a very attractive area for students eager to apply their management skills.


Many schools and universities have recognised this dynamic and are providing an education that focuses on the understanding of the industry business models and how to exploit them systematically. With this scope of work, specialised MBAs and executive programmes are sending hundreds of well-prepared students to the market.


But here you find two problems.


First of all, there is an offer/demand misalignment that is also common in many other sectors. Professional sports organisations such as football clubs and the businesses that work with them (sponsors, agents, consultancies, etc) are limited in number. You will find a sizeable work force but with a limited number of enterprises able to absorb them and as new graduates fight for these positions, a funnel-effect is created.


The second problem is the nature of sports management education.  In a world when technology and new patterns of media consumption are disrupting or creating new opportunities, the skills in demand are those with the capacity to develop original value propositions and transform them into scalable business models. These activities are something very different from daily-basis management.


The challenge is to balance management education, which is still relevant and necessary for the football business, with a more entrepreneurial approach.


This is not an easy trick. It requires the students to understand the difference between ongoing business management and the “start-up” mode of entrepreneurship; not only as a theoretical difference but as a hands-on activity that takes them out of the classroom in order to test their propositions in the market and learn from rejection and eventual success.


Understanding this general difference is not enough. Tools and methodology need to be taught. Concepts like hypothesis generation, canvas business modelling, customer development and the capacity to redefine ideas from scratch before transforming them into scalable models, are some of the more general ones.  Many bright ideas, like how to overhaul a club’s hospitality area or new ways to engage fans for additional profit, always need a dose of sober redefinition before being considered as a serious business possibility.


The idea of taking the students out of the comfort of the academic environment to confront business proposals with real clients and business market players is not only useful for learning purposes but also puts them in contact with potential employers in a situation in which they can show their capacities and way of thinking. This approach is potentially more efficient in job pitching than another CV describing how great and eager to work in sports a candidate is.


Entrepreneurship education is more demanding for teachers and mentors as they need to engage in dynamics far away from unidirectional lectures and into a flip classroom where students are the ones in charge of the present and discuss ideas. It may also prove difficult for students to accept criticism and continuous change, but ultimately they will have to learn from this as that´s the reality of the workplace.


Some business schools associated with top sports properties are already using this approach and their efforts are very welcome. Not only is this good for the students who are given more options to learn and engage in the sector but also beneficial for a football industry than must be open to the opportunities of a more entrepreneurial approach.


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