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Dr Dan Parnell

FOOTBALL, SPORT, SOCIAL CHANGE, POLICY, MANAGEMENT

Austerity, policy and sport participation in England

Widdop, P., King, N., Parnell, D., Cutts, D., & Millward, P. (2017). Austerity, policy and sport participation in EnglandInternational Journal of Sport Policy and Politics. Online. 

Open access found on the above embedded link. Article also found in the journal here. 

City Talk: Sporting Directors

Delighted to join Steve Hothersall on City Talk to discuss on research and education programmes surrounding the Sporting Director role. Here is a link to the interview.

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Chelsea loan players to 87 clubs in five seasons

CHELSEA have sent players out on loan to 87 different clubs in the last five seasons, with destinations ranging from Club Universidad in Chile to the Metropolitan Police.

Vitesse Arnhem, who have had a close relationship with the Blues for several seasons now, are the leading destination, with 17 loanees going there. Next up is Middlesbrough, with six, and then Reading and Belgian Pro Division side Sint-Truidense with four each.

 

Courtesy of Dr Paul Widdop and Dr Dan Parnell

Courtesy of Dr Paul Widdop and Dr Dan Parnell

As things stand, 38 Chelsea players will be on loan at the start of the 2018/19 season. The above ‘ego network’ shows the destinations of Chelsea players during the last five seasons – starting in 2013/14 through to the upcoming season.

 

It was produced by Dr Paul Widdop of Leeds Beckett University and Dr Dan Parnell of Manchester Metropolitan University. The teams closest to the centre received the most players on loan.

 

Sustainability vs Accessibility

Very pleased to be invited by Jack Zuckerman to discuss the impact of funding cuts to sport and leisure services on the BBC Look North programme aired on 16 April 2017. The programme focuses on cuts to a sport and leisure facility in Lincoln, but is an example of a national trend. A trend that has seen public services (i) re-organised, (ii) reduced or (iii) cut. One of the main issues for me is the narrative around sustainability. Not all public services are meant to be profit making or to break even. Some are just to support the health and well-being of our local communities. Often when sustainability is the focus, it comes at the cost of accessibility.

Sustainability vs Accessibility

This might just be a sports hall, but for those that use it, this will be so much more. Beyond the physical activity, it is the networks, the friendships, the social support and sense of community that adds true value to such communities of people who engage in activities together in these places.  In this case, and across the country, breaking even or being sustainable, creates further barriers, both financial and time, to the accessibility of such important sport/social/community places, for those who need it most, from our most deprived communities.

 

Some of our research that might be of interest:

Parnell, D., Spracklen, K., & Millward, P. (2016). Special Issue Introduction: Sport management issues in an era of austerity. European Sport Management Quarterly. DOI:10.1080/16184742.2016.1257552

Parnell, D., Cope, E., Bailey, R., & Widdop, P. (2016). Sport Policy and English Primary Physical Education: The role of professional football clubs in outsourcing. Sport in Society, DOI:10.1080/17430437.2016.1173911

Parnell, D., Millward, P., & Spracklen, K. (2015). Sport and austerity in the UK: An insight into Liverpool 2014. Journal of Policy Research in Tourism, Leisure and Events, 7(2): 200-203. DOI: 10.1080/19407963.2014.968309

He won’t pick the side, but the incoming Director of Football will be a key part of the team at Rangers

Here is the link to an interview I published with the Evening Times in Scotland – see here. Thanks to Christopher Jack for interview.

The article went in the Evening Times and Herald Scotland. The pdfs can be found here: Herald Scotland and Evening Times.

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Where do you find a Sporting Director?

Where do you find a Sporting Director?

Article originally published on The Football Collective here.

By Dr Dan Parnell and Dr Paul Widdop

Where do you find a Sporting Director in football? 

We have seen a growing media lens and attention given to the Sporting Director role in football (or Director of Football, Technical Director, Head of Football Operations as the role may also be known). Whether it’s Stuart Webber’s appointment at Norwich; Rangers pursuit for a new head of football operations; the emergence and success of Ross Wilson at Southampton; or ‘the Monchi move’ – the Sporting Director movement is gaining momentum. Whilst popular in Europe the role was often greeted with scepticism in Britain, but now it appears to be a panacea, curing all football clubs of their ills.

Our question is, where do you find a Sporting Director for your football club? We ask this because we don’t believe clubs are exploring all the available candidates, and as a result, the best talent available for such positions might be slipping through the recruitment net.

In a much cited academic paper on network connections, Economic Sociologist Mark Granovetter (1974) provided evidence that employment markets, such as finding Sporting Directors (or any kind of talent such as players for that matter), does not work as free and open competition, as laid out in neo-classical economic frameworks.

That is, any pursuit for talent depends on established ties to others; and behaviour is influenced by their social relationships.

In the case of the role of the Sporting Director, it is typically owners and CEOs that use their personal network to make contact with (i) potential employees, (ii) intermediaries and (iii) recruitment agencies.

However, within the everyday working environment of the owners and CEOs, they often rely on a network of strong ties/connections.

Why is this problematic?  Individuals who share strong ties to one another tend to be very similar in nature (the technical term for this is homophily).  Because of these strong ties, there is a significant amount of trust invested in the network and a source of what Sociologist Robert Putnam termed ‘bonding social capital’ (social networks between similar groups), which facilitates shared social norms, cooperative spirit, and trust.

Trust is important in this context in many ways, especially guarding against unethical or mischievous behaviour.  Networks of strong ties are important not least as a support mechanism.

Yet because of the nature of these strong ties, information (such as insight and recommendations on talented prospective Sporting Directors) which flows through the network tends to be often redundant as it is circulated many times. For example, if a juicy bit of gossip is being communicated through these strong ties you are likely to have been told it many times.

As such, whilst searching for a Sporting Director, a CEO or owner might overly rely on these strong ties resulting in the same information on the same names and faces, many times. Moreover, there are examples of where the same people are moving around the identical or similar roles.

In many ways one shift in the football pyramid of Sporting Directors, whether a transfer or sacking, creates an interconnected cascade effect of changes. However, it is clear from evidence we have collected, that recruitment agencies offer owners and CEOs similar names.

This is not to say that those individuals currently occupying, or who continue to be associated and forwarded for the Sporting Director role are not excellent executives or fit for purpose.  But it does mean that owners and CEOs are overlooking a (perhaps better) wealth of talent in the recruitment and due diligence process, simply as a result of being constrained by their network.

The issue of getting help to find talent

Who can blame owners and CEOs, they are working with a tinderbox marketplace, and relying on networks of trust is a rational choice, given the circumstances. They are already under significant pressure to lead a football club, without the added burden of (re)searching the football industry to find the best candidate for their club!  However, this reliance on strong ties is also how much of football operates, whether finding players, managers, sport scientists or medics.

As a result, owners and CEOs seek out recruitment agencies they trust to help find them talent. In this respect, it is fair to say, recruiters could do better.

Many in football reading this will acknowledge that key people, have the skills to do the Sporting Director role but don’t get considered. The role of acting as guardian over a football clubs sporting strategy is demanding so there is no surprise.

Moving forward: navigating the network to find the best talent

To move forward, we must return to Granovetter.  On the flip side of his research, evidence shows that it is in fact weak ties (ties to others outside the core group that reach out to other networks – see figure below), which are advantageous in economic activity, such as recruitment.

For Granovetter, these weak ties are a source of novel information and new network flows.  These weak ties can be advantageous because they bridge networks introducing new people, ideas, insight and information, that are otherwise unknown. It is these weak ties that have strategic importance.

Ties.jpg 1.jpg

What does this mean for future Sporting Director recruitment?

Placed in the context of the Sporting Director, it means owners and CEOs (and recruitment agencies) whilst continuing to utilise their strong ties, must also explore avenues away from their core connections to uncover new people and talent capable of delivering successful sporting strategies in football clubs.

Over the past few months, we have increasingly connected with leaders and influences in the football industry (including owners and CEOs) seeking to recruit the right talent, specifically for the Sporting Directors role. We found that these leaders in the football system are capitalising on weak ties to deliver new people, ideas, information and insight to inform decision-making and recruitment. This is not the status quo.

Our challenge to those involved in the recruitment of Sporting Directors, is to not abandon their strong ties, but to also capitalise on their weak ties.  To reach out to unexpected connections and to consider casting their recruitment net further to find the existing talent in the industry. Talent who possess the capabilities and who now need the opportunity to break into this often closed environment and prove their worth.

Interview: Is Stuart Webber the right man to turn Norwich City’s fortunes around?

Interview with ITV, found here. 

Following the appointment of Stuart Webber as Norwich City’s new sporting director, we decided to find out more about a role that is still pretty unfamiliar to football fans in England.

We fired some questions at Dr Dan Parnell who is a senior lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University and has done extensive research into leadership and governance in sport.

  • What exactly does the role of a sporting director entail?

Dr Dan Parnell has done a lot of research into the role of the sporting director.
Dr Dan Parnell has done a lot of research into the role of the sporting director. Credit: Manchester Metropolitan University

“There is a bit of confusion around the role of the sporting director.

In Europe, where the genesis of the role first began, the sporting director oversees the sporting departments, reporting directly to the owners.

The departments under the leadership of the sporting director includes medical and sport science support, recruitment, the academy, Under-21s, and the first team.

The broad aim of the sporting director is to develop and deliver a strategic plan towards achieving success. In many cases this might include developing the strategic plan too!

This includes; recruiting and supporting the first team head coach; recruiting the best people to lead various departments; overseeing the academy and development teams; managing the movement of players or developing a high-performance culture across the departments.

Interestingly, in the UK we use various terms for the sporting director and set varied expectations.

In this respect, many view the sporting director as being in charge of recruitment. Indeed, many will be measured (hired and fired) on which players they recruit.

Our research tells us that the sporting director role is much more than this though and being able to recruit is only part of the job.”

  • What traits does a good sporting director need?

Txiki Begiristain has been Manchester City's sporting director since 2012.
Txiki Begiristain has been Manchester City’s sporting director since 2012. Credit: PA

“The sporting director is someone who the owners are investing in for the long-term.

The role requires the utmost due diligence, as the sporting director will be the custodian for the club’s sporting performance.

For us, this is the most important position in a football club.

The sporting director must have: Football industry knowledge, business and financial acumen, ability to lead and develop a high-performance culture, ability to develop and deliver a strategy both strategically and operationally, an understanding of good governance and an ability to manage change and innovation.

Importantly for football in the UK, you may note that recruitment is not a ‘must have’ here.

Our research shows that the sporting director should recruit the best person possible as a Head of Recruitment, to allow that person explicit focus as one of the key departments in the sporting strategy.”

  • Are Norwich right to change their structure and put their faith in a sporting director? Is it something that could catch on and what would you say to those who are sceptical?

It promises to be a summer of change at Carrow Road.
It promises to be a summer of change at Carrow Road. Credit: PA

“It appears that Norwich are taking a leap of faith. However, for many who understand the role, the club have an opportunity to protect their investment and bring on-field success through effective leadership and decision-making in the short, medium and long-term.

Clubs increasingly need to develop a competitive advantage. The sporting director can help develop a strategy to improve performance on and off the pitch.

This is not just about recruitment. It includes enacting more subtle strategies, which are not commonplace in football – such as clear communication lines between departments.

For example, ensuring the Head of Recruitment, First Team Manager, Head of Academy, Head of Performance/Sport Science, Under-21s Manager and the sporting director have frequent opportunities to discuss key areas such as performance and recruitment prospects.

Ultimately, the increased finances in football have heightened the need for clubs to strengthen their financial sustainability.

The sporting director role is a major part in protecting multi-million pound investments whilst also bringing further success and rewards.”

  • What will Stuart Webber’s short, medium and long-term tasks be at the club?

Norwich chairman Ed Balls was keen for the structure changes to take place.
Norwich chairman Ed Balls was keen for the structure changes to take place. Credit: PA

“In the short-term, promotion to the Premier League is clearly the main objective for next season. Before that though, he needs to recruit Alex Neil’s successor to give them the best possible chance of achieving that.

Looking further ahead, communication with fans will be vital. Robbie Brady has just been sold for a fee in the region of £12million, but the reality is that Stuart might only see £2million of this for transfers. This and other examples need to be communicated to the club’s fans.

There also needs to be shift in the culture. The comments by Cameron Jerome seem in the distant past, but they suggest a negative culture developing at Carrow Road. This needs attention and management to develop a positive high-performance culture as soon as possible.

In terms of the longer-term vision, creating a culture where there’s clear expectations and accountability will help achieve success.

Norwich do not want to yo-yo in and out of the Premier League.

Recruitment alone won’t achieve this. The sporting director must develop and deliver a clear sporting strategy for the club.”

  • Finally, do you know anything about Webber? Has he got the credentials to turn the club around?

Norwich have had a season to forget in The Championship.
Norwich have had a season to forget in The Championship. Credit: PA

“Stuart Webber is very well-regarded in football for his previous work. He received notable media acclaim for his role in bringing Raheem Sterling to Liverpool from QPR in 2010 for example.

Yet, that was at Liverpool (who, as an Everton fan, it hurts to admit are a global football powerhouse) and not Norwich.

However, working with both Damien Comolli and Frank McParland has definitely helped develop Stuart as a strong and diligent operator in recruitment.

It appears that Norwich do not just need a sporting director to act as a Head of Recruitment, but they also need someone who can deliver a sporting strategy that deals with the potential issues with low morale of staff, alongside delivering long-term success.

It remains to be seen whether Stuart is up to huge challenge ahead of him, but I certainly wish him the best of luck.”

Last updated Thu 6 Apr 2017

Sporting Director: Football’s most misunderstood job?

What exactly does a Sporting Director do? And why does the role arouse suspicion and even hostility in this country?

 

Ramón Rodríguez Verdejo (above), better known as Monchi, is revered in Seville. English football has never had a Sporting Director who comes close to him in terms of public affection. We asked Dr Dan Parnell, who leads research on the Master of Sport Directorship course at Manchester Metropolitan University, for his lowdown on the role…

 

The full article is available on The Training Ground Guru, found here.

Open sesame to sports success: The guanxi of Alibaba

By Simon Chadwick, Paul Widdop and Dan Parnell – originally published here.

Jack Ma and Alibaba have forged global connections in sport. Simon Chadwick, Paul Widdop, and Daniel Parnell join the dots on a worldwide sports empire.

Ali Baba is a character from the folk tale Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, a woodcutter who gains entry to a den of treasure using the phrase ‘open sesame’. As the tale’s title suggests, the treasure is ill-gotten, accumulated by a gang of thieves who try to kill Ali when he finds it. A willing servant strikes first though, killing the thieves and saving Ali, who then unites her in marriage with his son. What this tale might tell us about sport in the 21st century is probably best left unexplored at this point.

However, a door to the treasures of the 21st century has just opened-up for e-commerce giant Alibaba. In a deal announced at the World Economic Forum in Davos, the company was revealed as a new sponsor of the next six Olympic Games, as part of International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) global The Olympic Partner (TOP) program. As part of the deal, Alibaba will provide the IOC’s official cloud services, be its e-commerce platform services partner, and contribute to the IOC’s digital TV service aimed at young sports fans.

Whether or not company founder Jack Ma uttered the words ‘open sesame’ before meeting IOC president Thomas Bach to finalise the sponsorship remains to be seen. However, the deal marks a meteoric rise for a company that was only formed in 1999, yet which also recently signed a deal with football world governing body FIFA to sponsor the Club World Cup (via its Ali E-Auto internet car brand).

For an ambitious corporation, particularly one with global intent, such deals can be seen as part and parcel of its marketing communications activities and more general strategic development. However, unlike some other Chinese businesses, for example Wanda, sport did not play such a prominent role in Alibaba’s early development. Even so, alongside its sponsorships, the corporation set-up a sport division in late 2015, and it remains a shareholder in the Chinese Super League club Guangzhou Evergrande.

In the same way as other Chinese companies, like Fosun, are locked into a guanxi network of connections and relationships, Alibaba too is in the same position. Indeed, by virtue of its new IOC deal, ‘open sesame’ does in fact seem to be an appropriate phrase given the access to people, properties, and places that it provides. On this basis, we ran a social network analysis in the same way we have previously, which revealed the following.

Alibaba guanxi visualisation

Unlike its Chinese industrial rival Wanda, which appears to view sport as an entertainment commodity, Alibaba seems to be more focused on both its sports network and on next generation developments such as e-sports. The company’s recent deal with the IOC has opened up a whole new network of prospective relationships, which arguably warrants a further network visualisation at some point in the future. Even so, there is still plenty of interest in Alibaba’s existing network, ranging from its obvious relationship with Ali Sports, through to its links with Sina and Le Sports.

Over towards the right of the visualisation, Guangzhou Evergrande appears alongside Real Madrid and Bayern Munich. The reigning European champions Real have a long-standing relationship with the Guangdong province club, to help develop players. Alibaba is also now working with Madrid to run its online store in China, a relationship it also has with German club Bayern.

Over towards the left of the visualisation, there is an interesting array of relationships with the likes of CSM. Together with CSM, Alibaba will develop and run sports properties, which in turn will lead to the creation of mass participation events in China designed to foster the growth of grassroots and amateur sport. Given the nation’s sporting goals, this would appear to be an astute acquisition given CSM’s work with the clients such as US Club Soccer. The latter has 500,000+ members, from which Alibaba may be able to learn a great deal which is of relevance for soccer in China.

It is, however, the centre of the visualisation to which one’s attention is drawn, with Alisports and Le Sports clearly being important nodes in the overall network. Two years ago, the network would have looked very different, as Alisports and Le Sports were not actually formed until 2015 and 2014 respectively. Yet very quickly, through massive inward investments and ambitious external growth strategies, both companies have rapidly ascended to become important members of the domestic Chinese and global sports landscapes.

In 2015, Alisports’ website was a hollow shell that left one asking ‘what does it do and where is the business going to come from?’ A naïve question perhaps, as the company has rapidly become active in boxing, basketball, American football and more. Interestingly, while some of its Chinese industrial counterparts have become embroiled in a headlong dash to acquire soccer properties, Alisports appears to have gone in a different direction, contributing to China’s broader sporting goals.

No less intriguing, though apparently very different from its connections with Alisports, is Alibaba’s relationship with Le Sports. As the visualisation shows, this brings the company into direct contact with Wanda, which was set-up and is owned by Jack Ma’s Chinese corporate rival Wang Jianlin. Unsubstantiated rumours have circulated that the two of them have a somewhat fractious relationship; whether or not this is true, Ma and Wang have routinely traded places over recent years as China’s richest man.

The connection of China’s two mightiest corporations came about in early 2016 when both of their founders helped pump US$1.23 billion into Le Sports – Wang through Wanda, and Ma via his Yunfeng Capital investment vehicle. This has enabled the two to further build their own networks, as Le Sports has a diverse array of established relationships with the likes of the United States’ National Basketball Association (for which Le Sports serves as NBA China’s official smart TV and over-the-top broadcast partner) and boxer Manny Pacquiao (who will work with the company to open 400 Pacquiao-branded boxing clubs in China).

‘Open sesame’ indeed: the connectedness of Chinese sport and its embeddedness in the principles of guanxi never ceases to amaze. Alibaba’s IOC deal marks yet another marriage in the development of his corporation’s sports portfolio. There is treasure in the sports network, and Jack Ma knows it.

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