Is the "War for Talents" turning into a "War of Talents"?

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The labor market in the sports business has been changing not just since the start of the Corona crisis. In an interview with the trade journal SPONSORs, Marc Mayer-Vorfelder, founder and Managing Partner of the HR and strategy consultancy Sportheads, and Johannes Jäger, Senior Consultant at Sportheads, discuss the developments that are important for employers and employees alike.

SPONSORs: Mr. Mayer-Vorfelder, Mr. Jäger, the demands on employees in the sports business are constantly changing. What skills are particularly in demand in Corona times?

Mayer-Vorfelder: As a result of the digital transformation and increasing complexity and interdisciplinarity in the sports business, the demands on employees have been subject to change for some time. The effects of the pandemic have now intensified this development even further. In addition to the already relevant requirements - for example with regard to networking and team competencies or communicative and analytical skills - the pandemic requires above all a high level of problem-solving skills, creativity, resilience and resilience as well as agility.

SPONSORs: Can you give an example?

Mayer-Vorfelder: The changed framework conditions with regard to elementary revenue sources in professional sports require a fundamental rethink and creative approaches for alternative revenue models, cost savings or efficiency increases. In crises that make rapid adjustments necessary, it is also advantageous, as in this example, to be agile as an organization and to tackle new challenges in heterogeneously composed teams.

SPONSORs: Against this background, do you agree that specialization is becoming increasingly important, i.e. that there is a trend "from generalist to specialist"?

Mayer-Vorfelder: One could exaggerate and say: If you know more and more about less and less, then you will eventually know everything about nothing. Due to the increasing complexity, this development is nevertheless essential. But as an expert, you shouldn't overdo it and also keep an eye on the big picture. The demand among our customers for specialists from other industries is growing. In this way, the sports business gains valuable know-how from outside for the professionalization and further development of the industry. However, this can only succeed in the interaction of experienced sports business generalists and specialists.

Jäger: Specialization is becoming increasingly important, especially in the digital field. In the future, it will certainly no longer be enough to be a "digital native" and to have grown up with platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and YouTube in order to develop the digital business of a professional sports club.

SPONSORs: So do managers in sports also need to specialize?

Mayer-Vorfelder: Managers in particular must always have the appropriate eagle perspective and foresight, as well as a high level of general management skills, in order to be able to lead specialists from different areas of expertise. As a manager, at best you have employees under you who are more competent in their respective specialist areas than you are. Accordingly, the requirements profile often becomes more generalist in terms of content the higher one is positioned in the organizational chart.

SPONSORs: Are the changing requirements in the professional environment also reflected in the training?

Jäger: In recent years, more and more degree programs and continuing education courses have been offered for a career in sports business. Mostly, however, the education itself is very general, which is a good foundation, but does not necessarily prepare for a professional life in sports business. At the latest in the master's degree, there should be a stronger specialization. Graduates cannot have excellent skills in finance, human resources, taxes and law and at the same time have a perfect command of the topics of marketing, internationalization, digitization and eSports.

SPONSORs: Are there already concrete offers for this?

Jäger: For example, some universities offer a master's degree in sports technology or certificates in game analysis and scouting. Here, however, the fundamental expectation of a university degree for a job in the sports business must also be critically questioned. A Bachelor's or Master's of Science degree basically prepares students for an academic career and does not necessarily create the basis for producing the next top manager in sports business. In the future, dual education paths could also become increasingly important here, combining early professional specialization and practical experience with the valuable scientific approach.

SPONSORs: What other trends do you expect here in the coming years?

Mayer-Vorfelder: For future managers, the model of lifelong learning in particular will become more important. In terms of content, in addition to the focus on digitization and greater networking and internationalization of the various areas of work in the sports business and the associated organizational development, the area of sustainability will become even more important. Not only in terms of ecological sustainability and environmental protection, but also in terms of economic and social sustainability. The Corona pandemic has accelerated this process, but not triggered it.

Jäger: The range of courses and continuing education programs should also move in this direction and examine topics such as internationalization, digital transformation, leadership and entrepreneurship with a view to economic and social sustainability. The activities students undertake alongside their studies are also becoming increasingly important. A prospective sponsorship manager would do well to gain internships or experience abroad on the club, company and agency side during her studies in order to get to know different perspectives and be best prepared for professional life.

SPONSORs: Technologies are playing an increasingly important role in sports. What influence does this have on the labor market in the sports business?

Mayer-VorfelderParticularly for digital transformation, experts from other sectors are increasingly being brought in to help organizations in the sports business prepare for the future. Whereas the sports sector has taken important steps in recent years and has, for example, driven forward important innovations in match and performance analysis, scouting or training management, there is often still a need for action in the commercial sector.

Jäger: In the future, specialists in the interface topics of artificial intelligence (AI), business intelligence, people intelligence or IoT (Internet of Things) will not come from the sports business, but increasingly from companies such as Microsoft, Amazon, Salesforce, Oracle or Google. We therefore recommend that many younger sports business managers consciously switch to a digital company for a few years, with the aim of enhancing their own professional profile for the sports business.

SPONSORs: For a long time, people have been talking about the "war for talent," and not just in sports. Could the Corona crisis put an end to this competition?

Mayer-Vorfelder: In the sports business, this competition has been less pronounced in the past than in other industries. This is due, among other things, to the appeal of sports. However, this has slowly changed over the last few years because people have realized that they need more specialists and that, in order to get the best ones, they have to compete with top employers from other industries. The "war for talent" in the digital sector is not expected to let up in the medium and long term either. At least in the short and medium term, however, the Corona crisis is changing the "war for talent" in many areas into a "war of talent.

Jäger: This development is favored by several factors. First of all, budget cuts in the wake of the pandemic have caused and will continue to cause quite a few employees, and in some cases managers, to leave their companies. In addition, we perceive that many people have used the Corona crisis to ask themselves the question of meaning and to deal with new professional challenges. In addition, there is a large number of qualified freelancers, particularly in the sports, event and culture sectors, who are looking for greater professional security and a move to a permanent position. All these factors lead to a high supply of highly qualified employees competing for a shrinking supply of interesting positions.

Mayer-Vorfelder: Against this background, employers are often spoilt for choice when filling vacancies. This is not uncommon in sports and should be seen as an opportunity and professional selection and suitability procedures should be applied.

SPONSORs: Gentlemen, thank you very much for the interview.