Careers in the sports business

The allure of the growing sports business is drawing more and more people. However, the demands on the employees continuously increase as well. A new educational programme prepares industry participants for management responsibilities in the sports business, whether they come right from school or from another sector.

The last years in the sports industry have been packed with records: Studies reported that global sports sponsoring revenues broke the 40-billion-euro mark for the second time in a row in 2015. The 18 Bundesliga football clubs in Germany alone earned 2.62 billion euro in the 2014-15 season. Industry experts forecast that global revenues will continue to rise throughout the entire sector.

This means the business demands on people active in this thriving sector will also steadily grow. Clubs and associations are looking for skilled employees as desperately as they seek well trained experts on the side of sponsors, media and marketing agencies. The demand for adequate educational opportunities is growing alongside this trend.

There are plenty of offers. “However, many of these offers feature an overly wide discrepancy between science and practice”, says Marco Klewenhagen, CEO and Chief Editor of the leading sports business medium SPONSORs. In order to counter this circumstance somewhat, SPONSORs collaborated with the internationally renowned WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management in 2014 to establish the Sports Business Academy at WHU, or SPOAC for short.

“Proximity to the sports industry”

SPOAC offers study-while-you-work programmes for future managers in the sports business. It combines the academic expertise of WHU and its many years of experience teaching and training managers with the practical know-how and network of SPONSORs and its partners. As the leading industry service provider and congress organiser in the sports business, SPONSORs has regular contact with the most important actors in the field and more than 10,000 industry contacts.

These two initiators also got the leading and most important institutions in German sports on board SPOAC from the start, including the Deutsche Fußball-Bund (DFB), the Deutsche Fußball Liga (DFL) and the Deutsche Olympische Sportbund (DOSB). In addition, the global sports marketing firm WWP (Weirather – Wenzel & Partner) signed a long-term cooperation agreement. More partners from the sports business should follow.

Representatives from all partners sit on SPOAC’s advisory board and play an active role in shaping its educational offering. Its task includes discussing and defining all of the critical issues concerning the strategic alignment and development of SPOAC.

Prof. Sascha L. Schmidt, Head of Academics at SPOAC, explains, “This cooperation guarantees us the greatest possible proximity to management in the sports industry. It also allows us to align each of our educational modules to the true needs of the market. This clearly sets us apart from other educational offerings in our field.”

“Solving real problems”

SPOAC counts on select professors regarded internationally as the best in their field to establish the sound, professional basis of its educational programme.

The scientists teaching at SPOAC rely heavily on the case method developed at the Harvard Business School and specially tailored to future managers.

These cases present real issues in the sports business using multimedia support. They are then discussed in the lecture hall before the participants break out into teams to develop solutions. The lecturers get the participants involved on the basis of their professional experience. “SPOAC lecturers have to internalise the histories of the participants before the first day of class to prepare for discussion in the classroom”, explains Schmidt. “There’s very little resemblance here to your conventional lecture; instead, our lectures are well tailored to the individual questions and needs of the participants”.

It was the use of the case method which swayed the decision of Maximilian Eber-Ischinger, a consultant for social media strategies at the digital agency LOBECO in Munich, to register for the first SPOAC class in September 2015. “I already knew this teaching method from my graduate studies. What was new to me was how you could approach sports business issues like constructing a stadium for Tottenham Hotspur so systematically and then work on solutions together in the group”, reports Eber-Ischinger.

“First-class experts”

Another of SPOAC’s unique selling propositions is its continuous involvement of top industry experts, who bring in their practical experience as guest lecturers at SPOAC. For example, DFL CEO Christian Seifert joined the first module to give participants unusually in-depth insight into the mission and strategy of club representation in German pro football, a responsibility the 47-year-old has handled alone since 2015. Stefan Ludwig, CEO of DFB Financial Services, took part in the Accounting and Finance module to present the current balance sheets of the DFB subsidiaries and analyse them together with the group. After the presentation by DOSB CEO and Chairman Michael Vesper on the topic of the Olympic Games, Ingo Schiller, CFO at Hertha BSC, explained the background behind the multimillion euro deal with KKR. The financial investor joined the Berliners in 2014 for a total of 61.2 million euro and at least seven years.

“The chance to experience industry giants like Ludwig, Vesper and Seifert in such an open atmosphere and to talk with them directly is truly unique”, says Eber-Ischinger, who even got to know his new employer LOBECO during a guest lecture event at SPOAC. 

“Plus we have broad diversity within the group”, adds SPOAC participant Patrizia Hell who worked as a speaker and advisor in the DFB Office of Women’s and Girls’ National Teams and in team administration when she started the GMP-Program in 2015. Since graduating from SPOAC, she has risen to become Head of that Office, following in the footsteps of Steffi Jones. “We all have different prior experience, which allows us to hold truly insightful and inspiring discussions. This way, we don’t just benefit from the experts and the guest lecturers, but from the intense discussions between the participants as well”.

In general, the educational programme targets people with working experience who are looking to pursue a career in the sports business – regardless of whether they are already in the industry or planning to change from the outside. “Lateral recruits from adjacent sectors are more than welcome”, says SPONSORs CEO Klewenhagen.

On their way to becoming managers, the SPOAC participants complete a total of nine modules during the one-year General Management Program in Sports Business (GMP). They take place every four weeks at the WHU Campus in Düsseldorf. In addition, SPOAC participants enjoy personal career advice and attend SPONSORs congresses, some of which are the largest of their kind in Europe. Lastly comes a study trip to an international hotspot in the sports business to give participants a conscious look beyond the European markets and give them new stimulus for their day-to-day work.

In addition to the GMP, SPOAC offers three-day Excellence Programs on specific topics. This year, for example, Excellence Programs are on offer covering "Leadership" "Internationalization" and "Entrepreneurship". Those looking for something more comprehensive may prefer the two-year part-time MBA at the WHU, which can also be focused on the sports business.

Student loans are also offered to make the programmes available to those who may have to overcome financing hurdles. This makes it possible for everyone interested to participate in SPOAC, regardless of their personal financial situation.

SPOAC should thereby establish the conditions to enrich the sports business with first-class future managers. And Klewenhagen is convinced, “Those who go through SPOAC gain the very best qualifications for a real career in the sports industry”.

Closing for the
General Management Program in Sports Business
(GMP) applications ends Juli 15th 2017

More Information

For more information about SPOAC and the GMP click here.

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