The general economic indicators for France last year might not have been the most exciting, but sport, at least, is a growing business of increasing opportunity
It’s the evening of a match at the Parc des Princes: Once, the country’s premier venue for soccer and rugby internationals, its principal role is now that of billionaire-backed Paris-Saint-Germain. Zlatan Ibrahimovic and his team-mates run out before thousands of excited fans who have paid the price of a theatre or a meal out in a nice restaurant to be here. And why wouldn’t they? Football is a great spectacle, a sport practised by millions of French citizens and, after years of France being out of the “super-duper” league in terms of money spend, it’s now a growing multi-billion-euro business that’s swimming against the economic tide.
In 2009, the national sporting spend of the French was almost €35 billion, or 2% of the GDP of the country, according to the national statistical organisation INSEE (Institut National de Statistique et des Etudes Economiques). Households represent almost half of that figure (€16.5 billion), with the state and local political bodies making up the remaining €15 billion.
As an indicator of the growth in sporting activity in France in recent years, the turnover of sports and leisure clothing has doubled in volume between 1996 and 2006. With one bicycle for every twenty inhabitants, France is fourth in the world in the bike-owning league (after Japan, Holland and the UK). The sporting sector is also an important employer, even if the overall trend has slowed down in the last decade, it’s still growing. In 2008, sport employed about 300,000 people in France, both indirectly and directly, with an equal spread between sporting associations, private individuals and the public sector
“Today, the growth is mostly found in the public sector, even though many associations and sporting federations are making important ground by essentially privatising.” says Nathalie Leroux, lecturer in science and techniques of sporting and physical activity at the Paris-Ouest-Nanterre University. She recently conducted a research programme on sporting management bodies in France. Her results suggest that the sporting sector in France – traditionally running on the energy of of volunteers – is progressively becoming a more private affair: “The proportion of qualified personnel within all sporting sectors is increasing. For example, the sporting associations who are in touch with sponsors need people who are qualified in order to negotiate contracts,” says Ms Leroux.
The federations recruit executives who are specialised in the management of sporting bodies. As for sports companies, they’re looking more and more for people whose qualifications are relevant, be that in a managerial, marketing or legal role. Alongside this growing professionalism, training in sports management has multiplied. Thirty-five universities are now offering general or professional degrees in sports management and twenty-nine are offering master degrees. Half of them are general in nature (sports management or management of sporting organisations), while the other half is made of more specialist areas like sports marketing, sports legal studies or sub-sectors such sporting events management or sports tourism.
“Some of the courses target the particular needs of a region or of a sector – such as the engineering masters in board sports in Bayonne,” says Nathalie Leroux. Even the Schools of Commerce are getting in on the act. There are now 17 masters courses specialised in sport in this elite area of the third-level French educational system
Gurvan Heuzé is a recent graduate one such course – a masters in sports organisations management at Audencia management school in Nantes. This former footballer realised relatively early in life that he would not make a breakthrough in professional football but he still wanted to work in the general area of sport. After going through a school of commerce and a first masters, he went for a specialised masters course at Audencia:
“The first, day, half of the students said that they wanted to work for a professional football club,” he recalls. “Six months later, only one of them had done an internship at a professional club, which was Saint-Etienne. We realised that there were other areas that offered possibilities with even more by way of flexibility and responsibility.” Heuzé did his internship at the sporting association of the Banque de France as a consultant. “I took charge of the redesign of the communication tools and the organisation of a football tournament in La Rochelle for employees of the main European central banks!” The contacts he made during this stage allowed him to land a commission at the Fédération Française du Sport d’Entreprise (French federation of company sport). “Having a network is essential for finding a job in the sporting sector. This is why we bring in many former specialised masters students,” says head of training Stéphane Maisonnas.
You don’t necessarily need a masters to get a foothold in the world of sport. Certain companies such as the sports retailing giant Decathlon recruit at all levels, particularly those who have a completed a course in science and techniques of physical and sporting activities (or STAP). Most of them start out on the shop floor as assistants or heads of range, but the group promotes rapid promotion towards positions of greater responsibility. With the benefit of internal training programmes, the head of department can work himself up to shop director, before taking charge of the development of a product or a brand. There’s only one condition – to be sporty and to love competition. “Companies that distribute sports gear like Decathlon play a lot on the passion side of sport; it’s something that’s important to their clients as well as to their employees, even though the jobs required are actually quite distanced from sport itself. In the jobs which are closer to the playing field, such as in professional clubs, the emphasis is, conversely, more on the qualification and the management competencies required as in any organisation. In these jobs, displaying your passion can be a handicap towards getting a job,” points out Nathalie Leroux. In other words, if you want to work at PSG, you’re better off not going to the interview in a team shirt…