Decision making in sports management has never been in greater focus. With revenues rising in the majority of the major disciplines, media attention sharpening and the choices made having a more profound influence on commercial, political and social issues, the importance of prudent executive guidance is paramount.
Against this backdrop, a role has gained prominence. Football, Formula One, rugby union, cricket, cycling, athletics and the world’s other great pursuits have all attempted to marry these often conflicting concerns together within the position of sporting director.
To pioneer tomorrow’s leaders who impact social well-being and economic growth, Visionary Sports Investment (VSI) have partnered with Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) to produce the Masters degree in Sporting Directorship (MSD).
The aim is now to deliver this first-of-its-kind accredited qualification in Manchester for the UAE market, equipping sports and business professionals with all the skills and practical experience needed to progress their careers.
E-Sports managing director Gareth Mordey and Hamilton Aquatics chief operating officers Pippa Clarke have already travelled from Dubai, putting them on the same path as a number of high-profile fellow students since it began in 2013.
These include Lancashire head coach and former England spinner Ashley Giles, Manchester United’s head of athletic development Tony Strudwick, ex-Nigeria and Stoke City midfielder Seyi Olofinjana, Oxford United manager Michael Appleton, Audi DTM Rosberg performance consultant James de Mountfort and ex-Doncaster Rovers Belles assistant general manager Becky Easton.
“You are taken out of your comfort zone,” says Giles, who took 143 Test wickets from 1998-2006. “But I feel I have really benefited from the experience.
“The academic side opens your mind to new ideas, but as much as anything else it has been working alongside the rest of the group that has been really important. I have been able to hear and see how other sports deal with issues, and you can’t help but learn so much from their experience.”
Sporting directors provide a figurehead for the institutions they are involved in, helping twin business and competitive interests. They will work to give support to head coaches on the pitch, while often also taking responsibility
off the pitch for the commercial growth which underpins them.
Prominent examples include Monchi at Europa League champions Sevilla and Team Sky general manager Sir Dave Brailsford, while in the UAE ex-West Ham United and Watford administrator Guianluca Nani performs the role for Arabian Gulf League giants Al Jazira.
Manchester is placing itself as the global hub for executive education in sport, with this scheme at its heart. Crucial to this progress has been the strengthening of links with the UAE, exemplified by His Highness Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan’s takeover of Manchester City in 2008.
Regeneration of the east of the city has been twinned by success on the pitch, developments which the vice chancellor of Manchester Metropolitan University, Profes- sor Malcolm Press, would like to re-pay by advancing sporting performance in the Arabian Gulf.
He says: “Sport is deeply ingrained in the DNA of Manchester. It is a particularly proud and exciting time as the city’s football teams prepare for a new season and Manchester-based British Cycling are hopefully set to aim for more Olympic glory.
“At a time when we all have to redouble our efforts to build new global alliances, it is fitting that business relations have never been stronger between the communities of the UAE and our city.
“The owners of City Football Group, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan and his family, have been instrumental in the regeneration of East Manchester since arriving at the club. Their legacy for the city is already written and we are hugely appreciative.
“We also want to give something back and believe that we can play a big part in creating a new generation of UAE sport leaders, educated by academic partners from Manchester and working closely with our colleagues from VSI.
“Three years ago, Manchester Metropolitan University launched what we consider to be the blue ribbon programme in elite sport leadership: a Masters Degree in Sporting Directorship.
“Sport in the Gulf states has never been stronger and we would like to contribute our experience in Europe to educating men and women capable of leading sports to the pinnacle of world sport.”
The MSD is a two-year part-time course which teaches a unique curriculum, designed to give students all the skills required to meet the demands of leading sporting organisations. Covering sports leadership, personal development, masterminding innovation and change, sport governance and best practice – alongside a diverse range of hands-on extra-curricular activities – the course provides unrivalled preparation for the role of sporting director.
With remote study twinned with on-campus commitments, a significant opportunity exists for sports and business professionals in the UAE to gain all the skills and practical experience needed to take their next career step.
“From the conception of the programme we have had interest from individuals and groups in the UAE,” says Tony Faulkner, co-founder and VSI director. “Gareth Mordey from E-Sports in Dubal and Pippa Clarke from Hamilton Aquatics in Dubai are both on the programme in Manchester.
“We have visited Dubai and Abu Dhabi meeting with governing bodies in sport and potential future students. Sport creates a competi- tive mindset, everyone has the will to win but only the very best have the will to prepare to win.”
The course also aims to investigate the process behind sporting success, with the study of neuroscience key. MSD believes understanding the drives behind human social behaviour will lead to improved leadership and results.
Ex-England right-back Easton is convinced this knowledge will allow her to get the very best from herself and those around her.
She says: “Much of the course is underpinned by neuroscience and this on a practical level will really help me in dealing with people.
“Understanding how the brain drives performance is vital in any management position.”
The MSD is aimed for ambitious self-starters who want to take the next step, be that in sports or business. Mordey, of E-Sports, who provide a range of services for children’s sport and coaching, leisure and adult recreation plus corporate sports and events, is set to graduate this year. He is sure taking on the challenge will boost his career
He says: “The Masters in Sporting Directorship course has been a game changer for me personally and professionally. It has enabled me to better understand myself and once understanding myself then understanding others better.
“Professionally the learning, the theories and the models that we have learnt on the course have enabled me to better understand leadership and decision making.
“There is nothing like this in the UAE, the profile of person on the course, access to world-leading talent through pioneering and innovative partners like Manchester City FC, GB Cycling, Saatchi & Saatchi makes this a highly-attractive programme for leaders and potential leaders in sport and business across the UAE.
“I would think this is something the sports federations across the gulf should look into, as this will provide them with a world-leading platform to develop their people.”
From Shane Warne’s “Ball of the Century” to Dominic Cork becoming the first Englishman to take a Test hat-trick in 38 years, and Sachin Tendulkar’s first Test century, the then-named Old Trafford boasts a rich history of magical moments.
Just like when the first Test was played in 1884, cricket has evolved dramatically since then and not more so than the stadium itself.
When Pakistan return to Manchester for the second Test against England on Friday – the first time since 2006 – not only will they be playing at the home of Lancashire County Cricket Club (LCCC) but also Emirates Old Trafford (EOT).
The 10-year sponsorship deal with the Dubai-based airline Emirates, believed to be worth £10million, in 2013, is no doubt one of the biggest signings for the club.
The announcement could not have come at a better time with the £44m redevelopment of the stadia already completed.
That saw a series of changes including a rebuilt pavilion, a new players and media centre, two new double tier stands, the opening of The Point Conference Centre as well as the turning of the square on the pitch by 90 degrees.
Unsurprisingly, after two profitable years in 2008 and 2009, the building works and lack of international cricket saw the club suffer financially with annual losses registered between 2010 and 2012. In the latter year, the figures looked pretty grim with an operating loss of £1.5m.
The figures, while substantial, at least showed the club were going in the right direction after a record loss of £3.96m in 2011.
The return of Test cricket was secured in 2013 with the biggest of them all – the Ashes – and that played its part in securing an operating profit of £3.5m.
“The years between 2009 and 2012 was a very challenging period for us and we had to do a lot of refurbishment on the ground,” said Daniel Gidney (pictured), chief executive officer at LCCC. “The phase development has taken the club forward and we are in a very strong period now.”
There’s every reason for them to be optimistic. In 2014 and 2015, net and operation profits of £793,000 and almost £763,000 were announced and with the Pakistan Test and the T20I in September, it’s likely there will be another positive result this year.
General admission tickets for the first two days of the Test have already sold out, while more seats have been added to the capacity to cope with the demands.
Gidney expects the Test will be very well attended on each of the five days after the club worked with South Asian communities as part of their marketing strategy.
“One of the biggest challenges in the game is trying to convert people who watch the Ashes, which is the biggest thing in cricket, to come to other Test matches at Emirates Old Trafford,” he said.
“There is a lot of interest in Test matches in England whoever the opposition is. But we have to understand what fans want when they come to a stadium.”
To ensure there are high attendances, Lancashire worked with US-based The Aspire Group in incorporating a ticket sales strategy for the matches.
“The club adopted the Aspire Ticket Marketing and Sale Strategy which focuses on greater pricing complexity,” he said.
“This approach stretches pricing so that the best facilities on the best days attract higher pricing. That enables a greater number of lower priced tickets than previously available. This year, on the Saturday of the Test match, the Pavilion Terrace tickets will cost £80 and yet a junior ticket in the family stand on the Monday will cost just £5.”
England and Pakistan will be just among a number of visiting teams at EOT this season.
As Lancashire’s home, the stadium also hosts their English County Championship games including the 50-over and NatWest T20 Blast encounters, with the latter hugely important.
Just like the internationals, the domestic ones are crucial for Lancashire. Last season, the Red Roses were crowned NatWest T20 Blast champions for the first time, often playing in front of big home crowds.
With the shortest format a big draw for families, tickets are available at affordable prices. For example, prices for a T20 begin at £8.50 for Under-18s, while they range from £12 to £17 for adults. Contrast that to the 50-over games, U-18 prices are £7.50, £8 for groups and £15 for adults.
“The English Cricket Specsavers County Championship is very important for us,” said Gidney. “We don’t get large crowds during the season but the T20s helps us. We work hard on our costs and give a good fan experience. The commercial model is based on T20 and when we play we always have a good crowd. From our experience, the matches have proved to be more popular on Fridays as you can get young professionals and families out.”
Unlike football or rugby, whose campaigns run for more than six months, the English cricket season is held from April to September during the spring and summer periods.
But at EOT, even if there is no cricket on the pitch, it’s still business as usual.
Over the years, it has established itself as one of the top music concert venues in the UK. Rihanna and Beyonce are just two of the high-profile artists to have performed in front of thousands of fans.
Gidney admits it is a significant part of their operation as the club gets a big chunk of its revenue from the events business.
The Point centre celebrated its sixth birthday earlier this year and with a capacity of 1,200, it can host a wide range of events from banquets, dinners, conferences and exhibitions.
“The conference and business events can bring in around £5million a year, while day rates would be approximately £50 per head plus room rates,” he said. “For a large event over three or four days, it would be around £100,000 so it’s quite significant for us.”
Another new change will be the £13m Hilton Garden Inn hotel. Replacing the now-demolished Old Trafford Lodge, the brand new four-star 150-room hotel is due to open next summer and will be operated by the club. One of its biggest selling points is that five floors will oversee the pitch which can also be converted into hospitality boxes on matchdays.
“We want to increase our business and need a number of bedrooms on site,” said Gidney. “On its own, it will support events and grow our events. There are some companies who will not choose you if you don’t have any quality bedrooms on site.”
That project is not the end of the journey with EOT looking for more success off the field.
Gidney acknowledges the Emirates deal, whose logo is printed on Lancashire’s T20 jerseys, is of huge significance in ensuring business continues to go from strength to strength.
“They bring so much to us in terms of brand and their partnership is without doubt the best one we have had,” he said.
“It’s really helped us to get out there and create a non-sporting brand particular from the conference and events business.”
With international matches confirmed until 2019 including five World Cup matches in that year, it presents an opportunity for people to not only visit EOT but Greater Manchester as well.
“Prior to the World Cup, we’ll be working with the government funded tourism boards,” said Justin Hopwood, sales and marketing director at LCCC. “We have a role to play to make sure that people have the best experiences, not only with us but other places in the region.”
It’s been 13 years since Michael Jordan last played in the NBA, but you wouldn’t know it from the omnipresence of the Jumpman logo. The iconic silhouette of Jordan rising up for a dunk is not only a mainstay in the basketball universe, but in the cultural zeitgeist.
It’s found on the feet of people young and old, male and female, basketball-lovers and fashionistas everywhere. Such is the breadth of Jordan’s appeal that Dubai, a relatively small but diverse city, now houses a store dedicated to the brand.
The emirate joined New York, Chicago and Hong Kong as the fourth city and just the second outside of the United States to feature a Jordan-only store with the opening in Dubai Mall on June 30.
A store in New York makes sense. It’s where basketball culture was cultivated and continues to resonate. Similarly, Chicago is obvious because it’s the city Jordan spent nearly his entire career, while Hong Kong in many ways is the hub of Asia.
But why choose Dubai, of all places, to open the fourth store? Oliver Pressinger, head of sales for the Jordan brand and Nike Basketball in the Middle East, explained to Sport360 ahead of the Dubai launch: “I grew up in Vienna when the Dream Team with Jordan won the Olympic gold medal in Barcelona. In Austria in 1992, basketball was nowhere. No one played, there was no culture, but you had Jordan. Through his determination, passion and love of the game, he made you want to be like Mike.”
“In the same way Dubai, out of nowhere, has come up as not only an amazing city, but the diversity of the people living here, they have an amazing passion for the product.
“We’ve been tracking it over the past few years. Whenever there’s a Jordan release, or a sneaker culture with limited shoes, we’ve seen amazing passion for the product. To create such a setting, it’s also much easier to bring this product to this region and really celebrate this product.”
Fittingly, the store is located on the ground floor of Dubai Mall, opposite the Jordan brand’s parent company, Nike. Dubail Mall is one of the largest shopping destinations in the world and the city has shown that size certainly matters, but the Jordan store is surprisingly quaint, as far as square footage is concerned.
But while space is kept to a minimum, there’s nothing minimalist about the design. Herringbone hardwood floors make up the entire store’s floor, while the ceiling is covered in lighting options. Speaking of lights, the first direction your eyes wander to when entering the store is at the back, where a centrepiece of the original Wings logo is installed on the furthermost wall.
The logo is LED backlit and designed to change colours. On one side of the store is a three metre-high LED screen showcasing the latest Jordan brand products, while the opposite wall has a digital touch screen, allowing visitors the chance to dive into the brand’s history.
As for the store’s products, there are four categories available: basketball, training, sportswear and young athletes. The performance basketball products are at the front of the store for a reason, as at the core of the Jordan brand is innovation in the sport.
Even the most hardcore of basketball players, however, will have a hard time resisting what is really the venue’s main draw – the legacy pieces and retro styles. Displayed in a glass case are six of Jordan’s most iconic models: VI, VII, VIII, XI, XII and XIII.
The significance of those six shoes is that Jordan wore each one during his six championship runs. In addition to the famed originals, the store is stocked with the “hottest” retros of the past 12 months, according to Pressinger.
These include the Jordan V Neymar collaboration, which has No23 on one side and No10 on the other, as well as the 24k gold-plated Air Jordan 1 Pinnacle. The legacy items won’t stop there though. Pressinger said the store will also feature exclusive product launches, basically bringing Jordan shoes to the emirate you won’t be able to find elsewhere.
“The community in Dubai are basketball-crazy and sneakercrazy,” Pressinger said. “What can you do for them to bring this experience to the younger generation? You and me, we maybe grew up with Michael Jordan, seen him play and idolised him.
“Most of these kids have never seen him play. They’ve seen YouTube videos, but to keep that experience alive, of course we need special product launches. They’ll be coming in a monthly cadence product-drop. We’ll let all the people know who are waiting for that stuff through social media.
“They’ll know when the release is and they’ll be outside waiting for the product.”
It’s fair to ask, however, whether Jordan’s presence in Dubai caters mostly to a niche market, rather than mainstream consumers. The brand dominates in North America with Jordan claiming 58 per cent share of the $4.2 billion U.S. basketball shoe market in 2014, according to SportScanInfo, while Nike (Jordan included), owns a 55 per cent market share among athletic footwear makers, according to NPD Group.”
“In terms of current NBA players, the footwear battle is between Nike’s LeBron James and Under Armour’s Stephen Curry, but Jordan’s sales still dwarf both. Over the years, the brand has also branched out to American football, baseball, track and field, Paralympics, NASCAR, boxing, golf and football, but remains most associated with basketball, which is far down the list of most popular sports in the UAE.”
“There is room for basketball to develop in the region though and Nike are partly banking on unlocking that potential to increase the brand’s reach. One thing we really do focus on is how do we grow that culture of sport and bring that to this region?” said Nike’s Megan Saalfeld, senior director of communications – Central, Eastern Europe & Middle East.
“If you look at some of the stuff the [Nike] teams have been doing here, it’s really interesting. Look at the popularity of running and how many people are coming out to events like ‘We Run DXB’. They also recently launched the ‘Nike Training Club’ in Arabic and seen people pick that up.”
“I think there’s really a lot of love for basketball here. I’ve been really surprised. I obviously come from the U.S. so it’s such a deeply ingrained thing, but here you really do see and feel a love for basketball that you don’t often feel on the other side of the world.”
“For us, it’s about how do we foster it, how do we give people more access to sport and how do we help grow the game?”