When calling or Zooming from what we once called our “home office” (it’s now “the office”), one topic takes precedence with certainty.
Regardless of the nature of our inquiry, the sports biz cognoscenti invariably want to discuss their workplace concerns: How to attract workers when there are 11 million employment vacancies and how best to retain workers when close to 25% of those already employed are seeking new jobs .
Perhaps the most baffling workplace issue: Since a hybrid office/home workweek will undoubtedly be a principal remnant of the pandemic, what about networking and instilling company values? Is it possible to have a corporate culture when no one’s physically present in the corporation? As the foremost “who-you-know” business, success in sports is predicated on developing a network. Don’t tell us that can be done over Zoom; After 22 months we’re convinced that a simple voice call demands more attention to detail.
“This is the ultimate relationship business, and it’s largely based around events,” said Frank Nakano, JPMorgan Chase managing director, sports and entertainment marketing, a 30-year industry vet. “How that can or will return is a big issue.”
The job market in sports has never seen this level of opportunity — or pay.
“It’s the most competitive war for talent I’ve ever seen,” said Chad Biagini, president of executive search firm Nolan Partners. “Historically, talent wanted to move to New York, San Francisco and LA Now, if they want to move at all, it’s to Florida and Texas. Still, half the people I speak with are working remotely and loving it; the other half can’t wait to get back in, so they’re looking for a new job.”
While Zoom calls have bridged the gap to keep offices and employees connected, it has introduced culture challenges.getty images
Prodigy Search saw business jump 70% from the lockdown year of 2020 and is forecasting a 60% increase in business this year. “Qualified candidates have two or three opportunities to choose from at any one time now,” said CEO Scott Carmichael. “The biggest change in placement is that after salary, the first question now is always whether the job can be remote.”
Diversity is driving more placements than ever and more jobs now include DEI as a job function. How about “chief people and inclusion officer” as a title?
Buffy Filippell said her TeamWork Online site, which reached a new monthly high of 4,000 listings in early January, has seen a 5% increase in diverse applicants and recently brought on six HBCU schools to their TeamWork U program.
Michele James at James & Co. said that 76% of the candidates her firm placed last year described themselves as “diverse,” up from around 50%. “End users and colleagues are holding their organizations to task now,” she said. “They know now that to monetize diverse audiences, you need diverse leaders: representation equals revenue.”
Len Berna of TurnkeyZRG said there’s more demand to recruit talent, especially diverse talent, from outside of sports, but “the pool of candidates from outside of sports willing to come in and work all the necessary events is much smaller now.”
How hybrid the workplace will remain is an unanswered question.
“Business is good, and I truly believe our work has been too good,” said Chris Weil, chairman and CEO of IPG’s Momentum Worldwide, with sports-heavy clients including American Express and Verizon. Momentum is hoping to have employees in the office two days a week by the end of February, because “eventually I think we’ll all have a culture issue if we don’t,” Weil said.
“Relocation is markedly more difficult now,” said Jed Hughes, who heads Korn Ferry’s sports practice. Hughes estimated that pay for top sports execs has increased 15% to 20% since the onset of the pandemic. The biggest changes in recruiting? “You’ve got a generation that grew up online, which might make you concerned about their personal skills. … The job that has changed the most is the general manager role. That used to be only about talent evaluation; Now those same people are dealing with everything.”
Retention has never been more important, and it’s starting to be a service routinely offered by executive search gurus, like Bob Beaudine, president of Eastman & Beaudine. “The only thing worse than investing in people and having them leave is not investing in people and having them stay,” he joked. “We’re at a time when employees need to be celebrated and reminded they’re on a team. That’s really tough when your whole department is working at different places — and it also means you’d better be granting more autonomy now, because ducking into someone’s office to check off something isn’t an option.”
Biagini stressed communication, recognition and reward as essential retention measures. “One of the most important retention tools is to constantly challenge your high performers,” he said. “When they are bored, that’s when they leave.”
Terry Lefton can be reached at email@example.com