The Uncomfortable Truth About The Business Of Youth & Amateur Sport.
A guest column from Matt Young.
Editor’s Note: The Physical Movement has profiled the work of Matt Young and his team here. Matt is the founder of Quality Sport Hub whom have worked with multiple organizations including PGA of America & Canada Soccer in supporting their efficiency. He and his team are experienced, capable and bring a direct template for success.
If you’ve ever approached your coach or club manager with a concern about your child’s sport experience, you’re probably familiar with the stock replies:
Seek to understand. 'Before you get all righteous, get familiar with the club'. If this doesn’t give you the answer…
Talk with the coach. If he/she doesn’t give you the answer…
Engage the technical / executive / directors. If they can't give you the answer…
Take it to the next level e.g.: provincial / state, regional, or national sport organization / governing body. And if they don't give you the answer…
Attend the AGM, volunteer, or join the board and “be the change….”
When none of these steps leads to a solution or tangible change (and they usually don’t), you’re left with two choices:
Fall in / tow the line: which is what many in sport leadership positions are banking on, or,
Become ’that guy / gal’ who chases change: which makes you a nuisance.
Having participated in sport for over 160 combined years as participants, high performers, educators, managers, parents, officials, coaches & board members, we’ve become ’those guys & gals chasing change’.
Not because we wake up and ask ourselves who can we pick a fight with today. Because we believe that
a) See Something - Say Something should be more than a feckless campaign &
b) Quality sport is a critical vehicle to physical, mental, social & emotional development. Human development.
It is way too important to sit by and do nothing when you know there’s a better way.
How do we know there’s a better way?
50+ combined years in the personal service & coaching industry running franchise businesses where, if we treated paying customers like many sport organizations treat their paying customers, we’d be out of business. And don’t look now sport but...
The uncomfortable truth about the business of sport is that it is: more than less run by people who do not have business experience.
First, let’s address the notion that 'sport is a business'.
In any scenario where there’s an exchange of money for products & services, you are running a business. That goes for a For-Profit and Not-for-Profit business. And just like the NCAA has had to reconcile ‘that’s the way we’ve always done things’ no longer cuts it with the amount of money being made in college sports, so too do community and amateur sport.
The facts are:
We’re not demanding business experience as a prerequisite for administrative roles & responsibilities
We’re not providing the basic, essential levels of business knowledge, tools or expertise required to support sustainable success across those roles & responsibilities.
Instead, we default to putting the 'great player' in charge, who’s then elevated to the $100k+ technical director, $120k+ executive director, and then board of director positions based on... little more than being a great player. With inadequate training or knowledge of understanding processes like budgeting or marketing and communications strategy.
Or we fall victim to the worst kind of sport leader: those with personal agendas.
'I’m going to coach / direct or become president of this organization in order that I may further my own self-interests’. And increasingly as the norm, these two scenarios are playing out in associations, clubs and organizations across the sport sector at the expense of quality experiences & participation. This is dangerous, fraudulent & unacceptable.
Now, of course there are many examples of good people doing great things in community & amateur sport, so if you are one of these examples, keep up the great work because we need you.
Realize, however that you are the exception, not the norm. This statement is not based on an opinion, rather our experience in the industry supporting sport business growth in youth & amateur sports.
Let’s move to who’s responsible & what is the solution:
Who's responsible is a tough question to answer as youth & amateur sport is a $28+ Billion / year North American industry with no CEO. With so many profiting so much, there’s zero hurry to admit this is a problem let alone attempt to institutionalize this racket. You might as well ask for all of the guns back at the same time. There are few enforceable rules or regulations, and little to zero accountability & oversight. In the USA, there is no Department of Sport. In Canada, there is currently no Minister of Sport and, those we have had in the past, are simply shuffled to fill the portfolio which serves as a double whammy - no sport experience and no business experience.
The institution of sport has been left unregulated for so long, it would take significantly courageous leadership to attempt to wrap our arms around it. Surveying the current political landscape for such leadership doesn’t give us that warm, fuzzy or hopeful feeling.
So if it’s not going to come from top down, it must come from the bottom up.
And in a traditional franchise business, this is exactly where most innovation comes from.
It is clear that the Olympic Movement and Professional Sport Organizations are primarily interested in supporting / exploiting the best athletes. It is also clear that the majority of National Organizations / Governing Bodies operate as pseudo event management company’s with a tendency to hire & prioritize marketing & communications expertise and run everything through those divisions with the goal of positive optics.
While optics and eyeballs on the product is absolutely a main priority for a successful franchise, creating the operating system for their franchisees (provincial / state & local sport organizations) is equally as important. This is the largest gap, hence the largest opportunity in community & amateur sport. We must define how to create quality sport experiences in a significantly more detailed manner than we presently do.
What is not clearly defined, will need to be managed.
Those who suggest there is little appetite for a sport operations system are incorrect. There are many well intentioned, capable people ready and willing to learn the business of sport.
We know this because we’re providing this support for professional, national, regional and local organizations and they are taking small steps at becoming business ready. Implementing sound business strategy does not prevent sport organizations from making money, in fact it helps organizations attract, retain, and grow their membership base, read: businesses.
Bottom line is that we must be prepared to accept the truth about the business of sport before we can begin to reconcile it's operations. People in positions of leadership need to decide if they are willing to park their ego, accept their roles & responsibilities, trust one another, move towards a common goal and ask for help in areas they are not skilled or proficient at vs continue telling others to be patient, while pretending they can do it all. Pretty much the exact same advice given to the millions of participants we coach.
We cannot continue to place people without business experience at the heads of sport organizations and then not provide them with adequate knowledge, tools and resources they need to run the business of sport.
They deserve better.
Our consumers deserve better.
Our sport system deserves more.
More information on Matt and his team’s services: