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Dr Dan Parnell

FOOTBALL, SPORT, SOCIAL CHANGE, POLICY, MANAGEMENT

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.

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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.

Hitting the bar: How can we promote healthy drinking in sporting settings

I am delighted to be invited to speak at Alcohol Concern Cymru’s Annual Conference 2017, Hitting the bar: How can we promote healthy drinking in sporting settings? on Tuesday, 26 September 2017, at Cardiff City Stadium.

This is a great opportunity to share insight from our understanding around healthy stadia and health promotion through sport. My presentation is on How can sport organisations promote health? The programme is outlined in full below and you can participate/get involved here.
09.30 – 10.00 Registration
10.00 – 10.10 Welcome – Andrew Misell, Director of Alcohol Concern Cymru

10.10 – 10.20 Keynote address – Rebecca Evans AM

10.20 – 10.50 Alcohol sports sponsorships and their impact on consumption – Dr Pat Kenny, Dublin Institute of Technology

10.50 – 11.20 Alcohol marketing during Euro 2016 – Dr Richard Purves, University of Stirling

11.20 – 11.40 BREAK

11.40 – 12.10 Alcohol consumption: a core part of the sporting ethos – Dr Carwyn Jones, Professor in Sport Ethics, Cardiff Metropolitan University

12.10 – 12.40 Does participating in sport mean higher consumption? A mixed methods study of British young people – Dr Britt Hallingberg, Cardiff University

12.40 – 13.30 LUNCH

13.30 – 14.00 A personal reflection – Christian Roberts (ex-professional footballer)

14.00 – 14.30 The role of sport in the development of substance addiction – Dr Camilla Knight, Swansea University

14.30 – 15.00 BREAK (with mocktails)

15.00 – 15.30 How can sport organisations promote health? – Dr Dan Parnell, Manchester Metropolitan University

15.30 – 16.00 A community mobilisation intervention to reduce alcohol consumption amongst sports players – Prof Shane Allwright, Trinity College Dublin

16:00 – 16:30 The ‘Good Sports’ project – Melanie Kingsland, Newcastle University (Australia)

16.30 CLOSE

Sport Policy and Politics: The Inequality Gap

Last week we hosted the 11th Annual conference of The Sport and Politics Study Group, as part of the Politic Studies Association. The conference: Sport Policy and Politics: The Inequality Gap was hosted by Manchester Metropolitan University and held at FC United on Thursday 16 and Friday 17 March 2017.

PSA Conference 138.JPG

The conference brought together an a breadth of sports covering grassroots to elite contexts across a number of disciplines. The keynote speakers, Damian Collins MP and Dr Geoff Pearson (University of Manchester) offered insight into sports governance and research into football hooliganism. We have also had some of the presentation details shared online via Connect Sport and The Football Collective. Any presenters can share their presentations or short blogs on these sites in the future too.

Personally, I would like to thank keynotes for their insight, time and support; the PSA Sport Politics Sub Group for the opportunity to host the conference; Routledge for their contribution, presence and continued support for sport; Dr Peter Millward for his continued guidance and support; to Professor Julia Clarke and Professor Mark James for their support; the Lorganising Team: Catherine Elliot; Anne Thompson, Dr Annabel Kiernan, Dr Sara Ward, Dr Paul Widdop, Jon Sibley, Dr Kate Themen, Dr Chris Porter & Professor Mark James – for helping make this happen; to Gary Lindsey and Katherine Roycroft from the Business School at MMU for their sterling and collegiate efforts around the conference; FC United for their hospitality; and Catherine Elliott in particularly for being a great friend and colleague.

PSA Conference 160.JPG

My final thanks goes the the PSA Sport and Politics collective, the delegates, the people who make the group what it is. I hope everyone can take some time to reflect on and be pleased with their contribution. The enthusiasm and effort will be felt by all present on the days and will no-doubt prove impactful for the new, emerging and establish scholars that make up the PSA collective. My good friend, Kitrina Douglas highlighted on Saturday that if we want to live in a world where people matter, then we have to create that world ourselves. I am pleased that we, collectively, have contributed another year to the history of the PSA conference where people come first.

Follow the PSA Sport group here: @PSASportPol

PSA Conference 029

 

 

Conference overview:

We live in unprecedented times, super austerity, growing income and wealth inequality, Brexit, nationalist political agendas, a rise of the right and left political ideologies, and mass population diaspora have created a vacuum of moral panic and self-reflection. The global and national landscape of sport are not immune to these processes and in many ways prefigures the society it represents.

Traditional powerbases in sport are shifting, the global south with economic resources and political will have a growing influence over sport regionally and internationally. In amongst all of this, the current climate of political instability, scratch the surface and sport has been at the forefront of the political discourse. Perhaps this is embodied in the decision for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. Whilst elements of the country has cheered both the imminent BREXIT of the UK from the European Union, and the athletes leading success after millions invested in Olympic and Paralympic sport at Rio 2016. Other factions of society have expressed counter dismay at the potential negative impact of BREXIT on the economy, how the nation can accept the public funding of elite sport during the harsh reality of austerity measures including public sector funding cuts and cuts to the disability allowances of the most in need across our communities.

At the same time, sport is receiving unprecedented internal investment alongside foreign investment and TV rights deals seeing many of sporting social institutions under the stewardship of foreign owners of investment. This can only widen the disparity and disconnect between elite and grassroots sports and see sport mirroring public policy, where the gap between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ is widening. Yet sport, as many have argued could have the power to unite, to be a resource for hope, to be a source of refuge to the poor and even new migrants. Many in sport are waiting in anticipation for continued elite sport funding and the following investment in community and grassroots sport. Whilst others recognise this could only be start of one of the most damaging public policy eras of our time, with consequences both in the imminent and future decades – something that the power of sport simply cannot reverse.

Manchester is a global city that offers a creative and vibrant environment for cultural and sporting consumption. Nationally, the discourse surrounding ‘DevoManc’ or the city’s  key role in developing the Northern Powerhouse agenda – alongside Liverpool [capital of culture 2008], Hull [capital of culture 2017], Leeds, Sheffield and Newcastle – all of which make significant contributions to what many would refer to as the holy trinity of football, music and fashion.  Manchester, however, punches above its weight, particularly in cultural production. The city’s sports offer range from football teams offering a local and global profile through, from Pep Guardiola and fan ownership, through to Chinese investment. With links to the Middle-East, urban regeneration and a number of innovative sport-based public sector health partnerships. Yet, Manchester is a city of great contrasts, where cultural consumption and vast inequality meet; where significant homelessness persists in parallel with the forward march of gentrification. In sport too, the new powerhouse of English football and arguably the richest club in the World resides within one of the most deprived areas of England. Manchester is a city where sport cuts across policy and politics and where change has happened and is happening.

The Sport Policy and Politics: The Inequality Gap Conference 2017 intends to provide a wide-ranging and interdisciplinary examination of these issues and more. The conference aims to explore the inter-relationship between sport policy and politics by drawing on research from politics and political science and a variety of academic fields, including: sociology, social policy, philosophy, criminology, community and youth work, history, law, geography, and sport studies. Beyond this, we hope the conference is another chapter in the PSA Sport sub-group journey in developing critical debate in a supportive collegiate environment, and that the event creates new ideas, collaborations and research.

 

 — ENDS—

 

 

A feast for wolves China’s richest man is hunting the global sports and entertainment industry

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

From football to movies to Indian cricket, Wang Jianlin’s Wanda Corporation is leading a pack of business interests with the aim of building an entertainment empire stretching from China to Hollywood, Simon Chadwick, Paul Widdop and Dan Parnell write.

Wang Jianlin is China’s richest man, his fortune derived from his ownership of the Wanda Corporation. Wang set up the company in 1988, originally to deal in real estate. Through a process of conglomeration, the business is now also active across the hospitality, retailing, tourism, entertainment and sport industries.

This has enabled Wang to accumulate a personal fortune worth more than US$30 billion, and to build a company currently generating upwards of US$40 billion each year. This is a long way from his origins; Wang started out as a member of the People’s Liberation Army, later becoming an administrator in a local government office in the city of Dalian.

wanda-guanxi-diagram-768x570

Crucially, Dalian had its own football club, which was initially called Dalian Shipyards and later became Dalian FC (when it was taken over by the local government). In 1993, Wang acquired the club, renaming it Dalian Wanda. By the late 1990s, the football club had been sold again, although by this time Wang had already set about creating what has arguably now become the most influential business in world football.

Most people from outside China probably first became aware of Wang in early 2015, when Wanda purchased a 20 per cent stake in Atletico Madrid. At the time, the Chinese businessman talked of his intention to build a global entertainment business that would stretch from China to Hollywood. As the network visualisation below shows, Wang is following through on his intentions.

wanda-guanxi-diagram

We have followed the same procedure here as we did when creating our previous visualisation for Fosun. The outcome of this exercise reveals a network that at one level is very simple: Wanda is heavily invested into activities that can be broadly categorised as ‘cultural industries’. At another level, the network is so complex and diverse that it shows how influential Wang and Wanda have become.

Just like our Fosun analysis, the Wanda network visualisation further demonstrates the importance of guanxi – broadly defined as networks, relationships and connections – in Chinese business. In this network, the right of the diagram depicts an array of predominantly Chinese relationships that underpin Wang’s vision of a global entertainment axis. Whether it is Disney in particular or Hollywood in general, Wanda is already challenging global entertainment’s existing order. Indeed, the ebullient Chinese businessman hasrecently said of Disney that “one tiger is no match for [my] pack of wolves.”

Equally important in Wanda’s network, however, is the role played by both Atlético Madrid and Infront Sports and Media (ISM). Purchasing Atlético cost the Chinese conglomerate US$52 million, and the company has also recently agreed to take-up a naming rights deal on the Madrid club’s new stadium. In recent years, Atlético have been through something of a renaissance, twice reaching the UEFA Champions League Final. Yet the broader network in which Atlético is embedded is possibly more important to Wang’s long-term strategy of building his entertainment empire via sport.

Atlético Madrid are co-owners of Indian Super League football club Atlético de Kolkata. Together, the latter’s group of co-owners is called Kalkata Games and Sports Pvt Limited. The group consists of former India cricket captain Sourav Ganguly, businessmen Harshavardhan Neotia, Sanjiv Goenka, and Utsav Parekh, as well as Atlético Madrid itself.

Many people will recall Ganguly as being one of India’s best ever cricketers as well as one of its most notable national team captains. However, he is now a member of Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket’s governing council as well as being president of the Cricket Association of Bengal. It is worth noting too that Ganguly’s fellow Kolkata group member, Sanjiv Goenka, is also owner of the IPL’s newest team – Rising Pune Supergiants.

IPL cricket is a phenomenon, capturing the attention (and the wallets) of sports fans in one of the world’s most populous nations. Television viewing figures for a round of IPL games are heading towards two hundred million, reinforcing cricket’s position as one of India’s leading forms of entertainment (alongside Bollywood films). And through its investments, partners and connections, Wanda is therefore invested into one of 21st-century sport’s biggest commercial properties.

Wanda paid US$1.2 billion for ISM in February 2015; the Swiss-based sports marketing company manages the marketing and media rights of several of the world’s leading sports organisations. One of ISM’s biggest clients is FIFA, specifically the World Cup, for which it produces television content. This is helpful to Wanda, given its entertainment ambitions, and to the Chinese government and its vision for football. Wanda also serves as a World Cup sponsor, which gives the conglomerate unprecedented access to FIFA’s top decision-makers. This is helpful for a nation intent on one day hosting world football’s biggest tournament.

With the 2022 Winter Olympics due to be held in Beijing, and with China intent onbuilding a winter sport economy, it is helpful too that ISM also represents all seven Olympic winter sport federations, and manages media rights for the International Ski Federation’s World Cup events. This part of Wanda’s network of influence intensifies even further, as China Media Capital (CMC) and Shanghai Media Group (SMG) also have stakes in ISM. This links Wanda into the Abu Dhabi United Group, the China International Trust and Investment Corporation (CITIC), and the City Football Group (which owns a 13 per cent stake in Manchester City).

Beyond these important nodes in Wanda’s network lies a multitude of further, intriguing relationships. For example, there are links to controversial businessman Li Ruigang, who was president of SMG until 2011, a position he now holds at CMC. In another case, Wanda’s ownership of the AMC cinema chain extends the company’s network into the National Basketball Association (NBA) through an AMC board member who co-owns the Philadelphia 76ers.

If, as Wang has stated, his businesses are wolves, then he is without doubt leader of the pack. Indeed, as a voracious hunter who has accumulated massive corporate influence through his knowledge and understanding of guanxi, it seems likely that Wanda will not stop at hunting down Disney. Several of global sport’s leading properties, as well as some of Hollywood’s biggest assets (like Dick Clark Productions, which runs the Golden Globes) have already been gobbled-up. Expect the feast to continue for the foreseeable future.

Is austerity the biggest threat to sport of our time?

This article was originally published on Connect Sport here.

This is a short research note prepared by Dr Dan Parnell and Dr Peter Millward, of ConnectSport, which offers an insight into a recent special issue on sport management in an era of austerity, published in the European Sport Management Quarterly journal.

The research note is based on a special issue edited by Dr Dan Parnell, Professor Karl Spracklen and Dr Peter Millward, which can be found here: Parnell, D., Spracklen, K., & Millward, P. (2016). Special Issue Introduction: Sport management issues in an era of austerity. European Sport Management Quarterly.

What is austerity?

Following Blyth’s (2013, p.2) description, we see austerity as: ‘a form of voluntary deflation in which the economy adjusts through the reduction of wages, prices and public spending to restore competitiveness which is [supposedly] best achieved by cutting the state’s budget, debts and deficits’.

Why is this an issue for sport?

The impact of the economic crisis which has engulfed Europe since 2008 and the subsequent ‘austerity measures’ which have reduced local and national spending on many public services focused on the practices of sport management, has received only scant scholarly attention.

A previous ConnectSport article sheds some light on how austerity can impact sport. There is no doubt public, private and third sector organisations, from grassroots to elite levels have faced challenges as a result of austerity (Parnell, Widdop and King, 2015).

Reduced finances and significant changes to public funding has meant many within sport are being challenged to deliver more, with limited resources and evidence their successes. Indeed, the search (and scrutiny) for value for money is definitely on! As a result, the special issue is very timely for sport practitioners and policy-makers.

What does the special issue cover?

This special issue provides insights on the impacts of policy in an era of austerity utilising case studies from two sporting organisations in two different European countries.

The first paper, ‘Implications of austerity measures on National Sport Federations: The case of Greece’ by Chrysostomos Giannoulakis, Dimitra Papadimitriou, Konstantinos Alexandris and Shea Brgoch discusses the consequences of forced austerity measures, and the implications of having to cut jobs in order to help their heavily indebted economies.

In the second article, by Catherine Walker and John Hayton overview the situation of a third sector disability sport organisation in the United Kingdom (UK), describing how this organisation has navigated austerity by adjusting management practices.

The issues raised in these two contributions present a wide range of challenges and questions for those who research in, and on the impact of austerity in sport management.

The biggest threat of our time?

Some might reasonably argue that austerity-driven policy measures offer the key challenge to the sport disciplinary area so far in the 21st century – and yet, thus far, a clear gap in research around the issue exists.  Our scholarly and intellectual aim in collating this special issue is to trigger ideas, debate and interest with a view to filling this space.

How do we in community sport and research move forward?

Of particular interest, a non-exhaustive list of research ideas in this area might include:

   – Further empirical research on the impacts of austerity measures on sport policy cuts: There is a shortfall of quantitative and qualitative research that explores the physical impacts of austerity cuts to sport policy budgets across Europe.  The Continent has various levels of quality data which exist on this, but in countries such as England seemingly robust data of this nature exists in the Active People Survey.  Data of this nature needs to be utilised and mined to draw up a localised picture of whether or not – or to what extent – sport policy cuts have reduced sport participation at a grassroots level.

   – The impact of sport policy cuts on ‘hard-to-reach’ populations: Some sectors of European societies are well recognised to be ‘hard to reach’ with respect to facilitating physical activity, particularly including sport participation.  The evidence base that exists about those who have suffered through austerity measures might suggest there is overlap amongst the two groups.  Some state-resourced sport and leisure facilities have closed or had opening hours reduced as a result of reduced state resource, particularly if they are ‘committee-serving’ rather than ‘profit-making’.  We hope this special issue may support future research in listening to, and analysing the narratives of those who used those sports facilities that have closed as a result of budgetary cuts, especially if those populations are part of the ‘hard-to-reach’ populations.

   – Managerial dilemmas faced by decision-makers: The processes of gaining ‘more’ (or at least the same) for less presents real challenges for senior and middle managers of state sport facilities on all geographical levels across Europe. Yet their voices – as concerns and/or challenges – have so far not been heard.  A potential research avenue which could spring from this special issue might be to empirically and theoretically understand such dilemmas.

   – Opportunities for public-private partnerships: The reduction in public spending in areas such as sport facilities is assumed to be negative.  Yet such changes in the nature of budgets may open up possibilities for new public-private partnerships, which throw up a host of new questions for sport management scholars.  We hope this special issue might spur on future research in this area.

   – Challenges for elite sport provisions and future achievements: So far, the suggestions for further research have veered toward amateur sport participation.  Yet this is but one (sizeable) part of the web of sport in Europe.  How might budgetary cuts and changes affect elite sport provisions and impact of future achievements?  The voices of coaches and athletes need to be heard to understand this complex set of management issues.

   – Increased accountability of public resources on sport/sport-related projects: The public’s awareness of austerity measures has increased media scrutiny on the use of ever-scarcer state resources spent on sport and sport-related projects.  There have been widespread calls for ‘accountability’ of how such resources are spent.  What does this mean for those in sport management positions? Are new ‘surveillance’ measures put in place, are they helpful (and to who they are helpful/unhelpful?) and how are they managed by key stakeholders in the sport management process?

   – University and Third Sector partnerships: We suggest that this period of ‘super-austerity’ (2015–2020) (Parnell et al., 2016) could provide an opportunity or the platform for sport management to heavily influence the Third Sector sport industry. Academic institutes, particularly those in higher education, are facing their own respective challenges regarding reduced research funding and heightened need for impact. As such, universities may take opportunities to develop meaningful applied research activities and partnerships with Third Sector sport organisations (Parnell et al., 2015); developing university and Third Sector partnerships may help organisations respond to the economic downturn and in turn develop research outputs and tangible impact within the industry .

Summary

Our hope for the special issue is to trigger ideas and interest for a number of potential research contexts to develop and extend our understanding. Ultimately, we feel this important debate has just started and there is much more to add.

To do this, universities have a real opportunity to develop meaningful, collaborative, research-based partnerships that have a high probability of impact in sport-based organisations which need strategic and operational support (Parnell et al., 2015).

Finally, we challenge researchers to extend this preliminary list of ideas and take up the challenge to address this gap in academic and policy understanding.

Forthcoming conference: Readers, whether researchers, policy-makers or practitioners may be interested in the forthcoming Sport and Politics Study Group Annual Conference at FC United, hosted by Manchester Metropolitan University: Sport Policy and Politics: The Inequality Gap. Sport and Politics Study Group Annual Conference, Thursday 16 and Friday 17 March 2017 at FC United. To find out more – click here.

This research note is based on the following article: Parnell, D., Spracklen, K., & Millward, P. (2016). Special Issue Introduction: Sport management issues in an era of austerity. European Sport Management Quarterly – found here (open access is here).

Dr Dan Parnell is an active researcher and senior lecturer in Business Management at Manchester Metropolitan University. His research interests cover the sport and leisure sectors within the UK and he works globally on a number of projects, in particular the social role of sport. Contactd.parnell@mmu.ac.uk or follow @parnell_daniel on Twitter or access his research here.

Dr Peter Millward is Reader in Sociology at Liverpool John Moores University.  Many of his research interests relate to sport and he has published widely in this area.  Contactp.millward@ljmu.ac.uk or follow @PeteMillward79 on Twitter or access his research here.

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