Bernie Callaghan: Clubs need astute commercial leaders to survive

I'm lucky enough to be heading down to Wembley this weekend for the Cup Final between Sunderland and Manchester City. There’s going to be some high emotions at the event, whatever the result

Bernie Callaghan
Bernie Callaghan

I’m lucky enough to be heading down to Wembley this weekend for the Cup Final between Sunderland and Manchester City. There’s going to be some high emotions at the event, whatever the result.

Football is a sport which sparks passionate support – nowhere more so than in the North East. It is also a huge commercial concern.

The industry contributes more than £1bn a year in tax revenues alone to the UK economy. So who leads the business of football?

It’s obvious that football clubs have to be seen as strategically directed enterprises to survive. That means astute commercial leadership, and that is where football and universities are moving closer together.

At pitch side, the role of the football manager has changed radically as the profile of the game has risen, and the need to understand the complexities of its globalisation has come to the fore.

Sharp leadership skills are evident in those football managers that command respect and team commitment from players, deal with pressure from supporters, investors and sponsors to achieve great results and integrate public relations demands with relative ease.

Off the pitch, football clubs are diversifying their income streams, expanding their roles as business and community leaders and searching for ways to make the whole business of football economically sound.

Business and management skills taught in university business schools are being used more and more by football leaders and managers. The talents developed through leadership development and MBA programmes are necessary to drive forward such a fast-changing, powerful industry.

Global television coverage of events such as the Cup Final provides a powerful platform for the region, which universities benefit from in seeking to recruit overseas students.

Learning to be more innovative, flexible and reflective in your management style helps football managers stay in control, as it does for those of us in equally stressful careers, far removed from the football field.

Those skills can also keep an important urban resource – the football stadium – busy and profitable despite the vagaries of the football leagues. This weekend, however, is not about the business of football but about the passion that drives thousands of loyal supporters to follow their clubs across the country season after season. Dare to dream!

:: Professor Bernie Callaghan is dean of business and law at the University of Sunderland

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