It's 11.30 July morning. The weather is inclement at 40 degrees C. Former Davis Cupper Vishal Uppal is at the Delhi Lawn Tennis Association (DLTA) courts at South Delhi busy training a 13-year-old tennis aspirant. After coaching, his morning schedule, the Busan Asian Games bronze medallist in doubles, would head to his sports management firm, Sports Boulevard. Uppal retired in 2007 from tennis and within a year opened his own company to handle promotion of budding tennis star Somdev Devvarman in India, apart from handling other sports events. From a player to becoming a sports manager was a natural progression, says the 33-year-old. While donning the cap of a sports manager can happen naturally for players once they hang-up their boots, how would you embark on sports management as a career? Well, being an enthusiastic sports follower is not the criterion, but at best, stepping stone if you want to be a sports management professional. On the face of it, the profession seems glamorous where one gets to hobnob with icons but slip into the role of an executive and the realization will soon dawn that glamour will play its part much later, first it is sweat and toil.
Role of a sports manager
Whether you operate as an independent sports manager or are employed as an executive in a sports management firm, the role involves a five-fold function: business development which means signing up with sportspersons, sponsors and generating revenues for the company. Client servicing, planning, strategizing and execution of events are the other two roles. Promotion and research form the final components. Says Sunil Yash, ex- branch director of Percept PR, a Mumbai-based sports management organisation, " manager's job begins from conceptualization and finishes with flawless execution.- Brandon de Souza, MD& CEO of Tiger Sports Marketing says: The basic role is to ensure maximum return on investment for the client.- Promotions include media coverage which involves articulate handling of the press. A player-turned- manager approaches the job differently from an employee executive. The former, having played the game, tends to adopt a protective mentor attitude as far as handling his individual client is concerned whereas an executive is often criticised for taking a clinical approach to clients, putting revenue generation ahead of players' needs. Ideally, there should be right mix of passion and business-orientation to represent the client,- says Yash.
Sports management courses and institutes
There are only a handful of institutes dedicated to teaching games management as a subject. The turf is usually the bastion of professionals or former players. The students trained formally very rarely manage to break into the big league. Unless of course they are enterprising enough to crack it through self-labour and work their way up.
Sometimes, it is difficult to fill up even 20 seats,- says Prof. V.K. Dabas, Head of Department, (Sports Management and Sports Journalism), Lakshmibai National University of Physical Education, Gwalior. Giving his take on the dismal enrolment figures the professor says, The qualification is not yet recognised in India for government jobs.- He is hopeful that the Commonwealth Games will help get sports management education some recognition and create lucrative job openings for freshers.
A challenging career
Getting sponsorships is one of the most challenging roles of any sports professional. In a country where cricket prevails over all other sports, convincing corporates to fund events or sportsperson is an uphill task. Says Uppal, playing tennis was like doing MBA whereas being a sports manager is akin to pursuing a PhD.- Corporates usually look at low cost and high-impact investment. Therefore large doses of creativity and innovativeness are required on the part of sports managers. They are mostly expected to weave magic out of the modest budgets. As a manager, your performance graph is closely linked with the rise and fall of the sportsperson. A lot depends on the performance of the sportsperson, their career chart and their past history,- says Latika Khaneja, director of Collage Sports Management. Uppal agrees. When a player becomes a brand, he forgets becoming a player-, he adds. But endorsements are equally necessary, to cover operational costs, he emphasises.
Good knowledge of various sports, networking skills, innovativeness, convincing power and leadership skills are some of the &lsquomust-haves' in a manager. Certain situations warrant quick decisions. There could be a situation when promised delivery by vendors fail to happen, celebrity doesn't make timely appearance, rain creates a havoc and so on. In such cases a professional is expected to take timely decisions to avoid a crisis situation, says Yash.A manager should he humble and respect a sportsperson, only then he will start respecting everything the player does,- says Ganesh, who headed Adidas India for seven years till 2004. The ex-head also points that sports managers should learn to be mentally strong. We don't teach either the sportsman or the manager how to handle failure,- he further points out. Multi-skilling can come in handy. There are multiple role-plays for a sports professional, ranging from raising professional bills to instructing the banner people on layouts to organising extra police force for events and even taking traffic permissions.
Job scope and salaries
The scope of growth for sports professionals is limited. This is primarily due to our obsessive focus on cricket,- says Ganesh. India has not produced enough champions in fields other than cricket.- Because of limited opportunities, the growth of professionals too is constricted. At the entry level, salaries can be anywhere between Rs 10,000-25,000. Working independently afresh without any experience is strictly not advisable,- says D'Souza. Those interested should first acquire skills, build contacts and gain at least 2 years of experience before floating a company.- While the West has lineage and legacy as far as sports and sports management is concerned, India is still in it's infancy.