2016 Trends and Opportunities in Sport in Australia and New Zealand

Posted by in Australia and New Zealand, Career Advice, Jonathan Harris

Jonathan Harris from SRi speaking at Our Sporting Future

Jonathan Harris (our Managing Partner, Australia) recently spoke on a panel of leading HR practitioners at the Australian Sports Commission’s Our Sporting Future conference, where he discussed the trends and opportunities in relation to hiring talent for the sports industry across the region. Below is a summary of his discussion.

How would you describe hiring activity in the industry at the moment?

Hiring activity is generally quite encouraging. Sport continues to be a product that invokes plenty of passion and loyalty from the public. Sports organisations are investigating and experimenting with new technology to understand how to best leverage this and brands are desperate to tap into this.

The industry’s ability to attract significant new media deals (e.g. AFL and NRL) will lead to new and continued investment and development, which will ultimately trickle down to all sports at all levels.

Through more diverse and direct go-to-market strategies there is no doubt the competition for the sponsorship dollar is increasing. Organisations are competing hard for strong commercial and sales oriented sponsorship talent and we are also seeing an increase in movement of B2B sales heads from the broader consumer industries into sport.

How does current activity compare with last year? 

As sport continues to become more commercially sophisticated, the industry’s attitudes and approaches to using search companies to identify the best possible talent are beginning to change. We have seen our business in Australia grow about 20% per year for the last three years.

Arguably, our strongest competitors are the clients themselves. Sport in Australia continues to be very well networked and is an industry where “everyone knows everyone”. Therefore, we must constantly innovate in order to continue to grow and enable organisations to justify utilising our services, as opposed to simply looking to recruit roles themselves. Operating across our network of international offices, in combination with remaining at the forefront of new initiatives in the industry, ensures we can add true value to the searches we are engaged in.

Are there any job families in particularly high demand? 

It was apparent across the panel at Our Sporting Future that there were four key areas involved in a “war for talent”. These four key skill areas were:

Sales. Sales is still the lifeblood of any business and sports organisations are no different, whether it be sponsorship sales, hospitality sales or ticket sales. Finding sales people who understand the product, can relate to the consumer and have commercial acumen are always at the top of organisation’s agendas.

Jonathan Harris from SRi speaking at Our Sporting Future

Digital and CRM. The continuing development of the global sports industry is due in part to the emergence and integration of new digital technologies that have dramatically changed the manner in which sport is produced, delivered and consumed. These digital technologies allow sports organisations to meet consumer needs worldwide and for brands to discover unique and effective ways to communicate with new markets.

Community/Participation. While sports organisations often have loyal fan bases, they cannot survive without attracting new fans and participants. In order to capitalise on what people can see on TV and experience live in a stadium, sports need strong grass roots participation programmes to ensure their sport is accessible.

Governance. As sport becomes increasingly complex and competitive, many sports are impacted by the need for improved governance and structures.

Where do you see the most opportunity for SRi at the moment?

As mentioned earlier, sports organisations are becoming increasing sophisticated in their approach to commercialising their business activities. Sometimes the best place to find the best talent is outside of the organisation’s immediate network and search companies are specialists at this. While demand is high, finding the best people can be difficult, as often they are well looked after in their current role and may not be looking to move. We are able to ensure opportunities are communicated to the widest relevant audience across different sporting codes, disciplines and geographic locations.

Is there much migration into sport 1) from overseas and 2) from outside of sport, in Australia?

From overseas. As the sports industry becomes more globally connected it has become easier and the appetite is greater to attract and transfer talent from one geographic location to another, especially for very senior and experienced talent. Often a geographic transfer gives the candidate an exciting opportunity to experience a new culture and environment in which to demonstrate their knowledge and skills. While for the organisation it gives them the opportunity to bring in someone that may have developed a relevant skill set in a more sophisticated sporting environment.

There has been an explicit “eastward” migration of talent out of North America and Europe into Asia. Something SRi has driven via its network of offices in Singapore, Beijing, Sydney and Melbourne. However, this is not a one-way street and it is driven by supply and demand. There has also been a migration of Australians overseas. The technical and high performance areas of sport is an area in which Australia excels and therefore opportunity exists internationally.

From outside of sport. Sports organisations realise they are competing for their fan’s discretionary income with other entertainment options. Sports organisations, especially professional teams and leagues are becoming consumer brands, therefore the industry is beginning to look outside of itself for experienced candidates in industries such as FMCG, management consultancy and media & entertainment.

Jonathan Harris from SRi speaking at Our Sporting Future

We recently analysed our placements over the last 24 months and identified that 13% of our successful candidates were from outside of Australia (though this does include some Australians returning home), and 27% of successful candidates were employed from outside of the sports industry. These numbers combined indicate that approximately 40% of appointments were from outside the Australian sports industry.

Can you talk about the convergence of the sports, media and entertainment industries?

As all these industries continue to converge, not only can they learn from each other and share similar experiences, the skill sets required are becoming similar, presenting candidates with more opportunities to cross over. Candidates with skills in creating, developing and running events, managing venues, or working for digital and media companies, are now finding their skills can be utilised with great effect in sporting organisations and vice versa.

SRi as an organisation has adapted to reflect these needs and while our core strength will continue to be sport and sports related roles, our client base has expanded to include a number of organisations who would view themselves as media or entertainment businesses.

What do you see as key trends or predictions for 2016?

Inflationary pressure on salaries created by the NRL and AFL media deals. It is fair to say Australia’s two major football codes play a key role in sport in Australia and can dictate trends across the industry. There is no doubt increased media funding following the media deals of 2011 and 2012 generated increased salaries across head office and the individual teams. This ultimately creates salary pressure across the entire industry and I think this will happen again in the wake of the significant lift in both deals at the end of 2016.

A period of change/flux post Rio 2016. With 2016 being an Olympic year we can predict a period of change across the National Sporting Organisations and indeed all global Olympic bodies at the end of the year. This will undoubtedly impact on high performance roles, as well as roles at a CEO and GM level, as many leaders who operate on a four year cycle will be evaluating new challenges post Rio.