The Future of the Sports C-Suite
In this article, Bambos Eracleous, Head of our Sports, Gaming & Media Practice, takes a look at why the C-Suite across the sports industry is ready for transformation
Whilst most of us begin our slow return to a pre-pandemic normal, the world of sport continues to face numerous challenges presented by the last 14-months. The commercial impact of empty stadiums and rescheduled tournaments will be felt for some time yet and despite recent efforts, there is still a long way to go in fighting racial and social injustice within sport. At the same time, the profile and impact that athletes can have on these issues has never been stronger and supporter groups have shown that by co-ordinating their own response, they can influence clubs, leagues and even governments to change direction.
Calls for sport to embrace these structural and societal changes will continue long after the end of the pandemic and the teams and leagues who adapt the quickest will be the ones most likely to prosper over the coming years. If organisations and institutions within sport are being asked to behave differently, it follows that new skillsets and backgrounds are essential to ensuring an effective response to change.
What the sports industry needs are C-Suites that expand their leadership capacity to include executive talent with expertise in areas which in the past were either too far removed from the ‘top table’ or non-existent from organisations altogether. So, what could the future of the sports C-Suite look like?
Creating a C-suite where sport, business and purpose align
Much has been discussed recently about how future generations will engage with their favourite sport. The ‘attention economy’, where sport competes with an endless supply of alternatives for people’s time and money, will only become more competitive. Fans will also expect their sport or team to have a purpose that extends beyond just year-on-year increases in revenue. The organisations that stand for something bigger will not only be the ones best placed to attract support and investment but will also become their sport’s employers-of-choice. This concept of doing good whilst doing well – being purposeful as well as successful – will in turn lead to social and environmental returns, as well as strengthening the pure commercial.
Although the idea of a ‘purpose-led’ organisation is nothing new, recent events have perhaps highlighted the need for governing bodies, leagues and clubs to redefine their purpose for the modern era and to mirror these in all aspects of their activity. This is where newly created C-suite roles could play an essential part.
For example, whilst improvements have been made in the areas of diversity and inclusion, most management teams within sport do not have someone on their board who is responsible for ensuring that all aspects of D&I are fully embraced, nurtured and implemented across the organisation. There are few industries that bring together such diverse groups of stakeholders as sport, whether it be fans, athletes or sponsors, making it invaluable for the industry to ensure that D&I principles are upheld. Introducing a Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer to the Board not only ensures that D&I is part of the business discussion but that it also informs decision making at the most senior level, ensuring that values are actively aligned, supported and promoted, both internally and externally.
Supplementing and strengthening this work could be the appointment of a Chief Culture & Wellbeing Officer. This role will be particularly important in ensuring that fans and stakeholders continue to feel connected to their club and sport, whilst also offering support to both players and non-playing staff, if they fall victim to discrimination, bullying or harassment. By ensuring a culture that is both well-defined and inclusive, they will set a tone that allows the organisation to engage and connect effectively with fans and other stakeholders. In addition, the post-holder would be responsible for ensuring that the mental and physical health of all athletes and employees is a key priority for the organisation.
Whether it be responses to the pandemic, societal issues or structural changes to individual sports, the need for well-positioned and thought-through communication strategies has never been more relevant. A Chief Communications Officer could direct forward-thinking plans, carefully devising and executing communication that ensures the right information is released at the right time via the right channels and to the intended audience. They would also lead on managing stakeholders effectively at every level, including federations, leagues and government, as well as fan groups and the press.
As sporting, commercial and technology landscapes continue to shift, we could see the introduction of other roles to support boards in having a bird’s eye view over all business functions and operations. Focusing on forecasting trends, scouting for new business avenues, and analysing and optimising business operations, a Chief Economist can advise the CEO, CFO and COO on economic intelligence and work alongside a Chief Data Officer and Chief Innovation Officer to identify new avenues for fan engagement, streamlined revenue generation and sustainability. Examples worth noting in this regard are the growing demand for and interest in NFT’s (non-fungible tokens) and an increase in the usage of cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin, to make payments both on-and-offline.
These roles would also drive forward innovation around technological platforms, from interactive sports gaming and direct-to-consumer streaming services through to fan experiences in the stadium or via mobile apps. By embracing these shifts and actively sourcing areas for innovation and improvement, rights holders could potentially increase their foothold and create a number of new areas for entrepreneurial revenue streams.
Going from strong to stronger
Modernising the C-Suite not only ensures that the industry is best-positioned to navigate the next decade, but also offers opportunities for innovation and continuous improvement to create an environment and culture that supporters and brands alike will be proud to be a part of and follow. It is no coincidence that sponsors have begun to apply pressure on those within sport to respond to the growing expectation of fans. After all, commercial partners have always wanted to associate themselves with the organisations and athletes that can best help them engage with their customers in an authentic and meaningful way.
While the restructuring of a C-Suite might sound like a daunting task, it should not be seen as reinventing the wheel. However, to remain competitive in times of change, C-Suites need the right talent at the table to not only ensure growing revenues but, most importantly, long-lasting loyalty and support from their fan base. Adding to the C-Suite of any sports club or business does not need to be difficult, in fact it could be advisable to hire based on project needs or in an interim capacity at first. Recruiting in this way could bring a fresh set of eyes to a club, league or governing body, deliver fast results on a specific project and highlight the long-term importance of re-thinking the traditional sports C-Suite.
If you would like to discuss this article, or your interim C-Suite level needs in more detail, please contact Bambos Eracleous.