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The value of strategic HR for effective business operations within the Sporting sector

The sports industry is set apart from other business sectors by many distinctive characteristics - with the main one being the ability to provoke irrational passions, emotional attachments and loyalty that are completely unrelated to the quality of the product, experience or end result.

But even with it’s differences, the sector is not immune to the challenges that the majority of industries that are now facing - the rise of digital media including esports, highly demanding consumer expectations and diversity issues.

All these are creating a fast pace of change such as the rise of short-form video, content-led esports sponsorship and new women’s sports formats.

A growing industry

Over the past decade or so, there has been a huge increase in globalisation - new technology and online media coverage has opened up coverage to the whole world and enabled the development of international club brands such as Manchester United and AC Milan.

This has increased competition - for sponsors, media revenue and fan attention. It is crucial for organisations and clubs to be run like a business and work hard to obtain, retain and grow their fan bases and revenue streams.

In addition to this, government funding is now more readily available to not only encourage grass roots development schemes, but to address the growing childhood obesity epidemic. This has grown the industry in many ways, making sporting organisations more competent and has allowed more sports to move to a professional status.

But with these changes, there is now a greater need for commercialisation to bring in revenue and accountability.

People Challenges within the Industry

Due to the uniqueness of this industry, there are specific challenges for managers and human resource professionals that set sport apart from 'mainstream’ business and management:

  • there is a distinct age profile of workers

  • with most sports there is a set seasonality

  • there is huge pressure to achieve short-term results

  • at a higher level there is constant media intrusion

  • there is usually a wide difference in pay between elite and community levels

As the industry grows in size and value, sporting organisations are now appointing paid staff in roles traditionally held by volunteers. And once a salary is introduced, this then formalises the arrangement which must lead to official paper work, performance reviews and career management.

With the need for organisations to become more commercially aware and create or increase revenues, employees are increasingly selected for their technical or professional expertise in managing a business irrespective of their knowledge of the sport. Many new board members are recruited for their business acumen and not just their sporting prowess.

HR in Sports

Having a professional and proactive HR function within an organisation can be the key to it’s success as attracting, developing and retaining talented people can provide them with the resources it needs to prosper, grow and ultimately, gain a competitive advantage.

In sport, the right coach, manager, CEO or player can transform the fortunes of a club or organisation from the bottom of the pile to a league or world champion. When taking a high-level, long-term view, HR can make sure an organisation has the ‘best mix’ of people to meet it’s strategic objectives now and in the future.

Under the human resources umbrella, the right policies, practices and systems can be introduced which can effectively influence the behaviour, attitudes and performance of people who work for the organisation.

HR Support within the Sports Industry

As the focus on the internal customer continues to increase, companies will need professional and experienced HR support to develop and align the people strategy that best fits the business’ overall objectives.

If your organisation is looking for HR guidance on policies, procedures and people management or just need some practical HR support, call Sophie Forrest on

01892 726060 or email

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