When it's a question of sport, one man has the answers

December 14, 2007

Profile: Simon Chadwick Professor of Sport Business Strategy, Coventry University.

Few scholars can say that an encounter with the North Korean football team, at the age of two, set them on the path to their current job. But then, in many ways, Simon Chadwick is not your typical academic.

The recently appointed professor of sport business strategy at Coventry University has often forged his own course. His reward is that he is now well on the way to establishing the academic legitimacy of a subdiscipline that was once considered by many in the sector as risible.

"A lot of academics sneer because they still see sport as just a hobby. But I think attitudes are thawing," he says.

The lifelong football fan, 43, was never likely to be distracted from his pursuit by the murmurs of traditionalists. A varied career has taken in professional management, further education teaching and years as a lecturer in business studies before he launched himself as a full-time expert on commercial sport.

"It was quite a career gamble," he says of his appointment to the Football Business Centre at Birkbeck, University of London, in early 2005. "If it hadn't worked out, I might well have ended my career as a lecturer. But luckily it paid off."

The increasing study of the area has coincided with the escalating commercialism of sport. The founding of English football's Premier League in 1992 was significant, as will be the 2012 Olympics, he says. Professor Chadwick argues that, with a value of about 2.5 per cent of Britain's gross domestic product, sport is an industry comparable to cars or steel.

His research areas are in sports branding, marketing, sponsorship and fan behaviour. If you ever need a valuation of Lewis Hamilton's earning potential or David Beckham's brand, then Professor Chadwick is your man.

He grew up in a family of football fanatics in the shadow of Middlesbrough FC's old Ayresome Park ground. In 1966, aged just two, he was photographed with North Korean and Russian players before the World Cup games held in the town that year. He attended his first Middlesbrough game aged six.

He graduated from Leicester Polytechnic in 1987 and then worked as a personnel manager and a teacher. After completing a masters at the same institution in 1995, appointments in the business schools of Coventry and Leeds universities followed before he gained his PhD in 2004.

Then came the appointment at Birkbeck's Football Business Centre and the full plunge into his specialism. "Three years ago, I took the decision to be a community builder," Professor Chadwick says. "Hopefully that has been, and will be, successful.

"I'm not a dyed-in-the-wool academic, or someone who sits in an office all day and worries about that next journal article. I like to work with different types of people - with young people, who are often so fresh and lively, and with practitioners who live in the real world and have to make things work.

"We have a lot to learn from North America, where sport is taken seriously in even the very top universities. The UK is a long way behind in the way it treats sport and the number of sports academics it has."

His success has brought him "dream roles" at major football clubs and bodies such as FC Barcelona, Atlético Madrid, Germany's Bundesliga and the Football Association. He earns about £1,000 a day for his commercial consultancy work but says he also does a significant number of pro bono projects.

Professor Chadwick denies that the increased commercialism he has championed has had a negative effect on sport. "It's important to make a distinction between managerialism, managing resources efficiently to enable you to continue to exist, and commercialism, which is just about making a profit," he says.

"Sport has to develop with a large degree of social responsibility. More than in any other industry, this is important. The European sports model - the pyramid system and community links - is socially and culturally embedded and, unlike the US, was not set up to be a business."

As for the future? "I want to develop the Sport Business Research Centre here at Coventry. We're launching a masters degree in sport, and I want us to undertake applied research as well as develop our consultancy role and training provisions. I want the centre to be the hub of a network to further advance the study of sport.

"I want to be perceived as a leader in my field; someone people refer to when they need help."

And he gets to spend a lot of time watching high-class sport. "It's a very nice fringe benefit," Professor Chadwick admits.

Leicester Polytechnic (BA in economics,1987), De Montfort University (masters in corporate strategy, 1995) and Leeds University (PhD, 2004)

was personnel manager at North East Breweries during a time of great industrial conflict. I didn't enjoy it

is to make academics and practitioners realise that the professional management of sport is important

is talking about the Middlesbrough FC result on a Monday when we have lost.

I want to be working at a senior strategic level with an international organisation such as Uefa or Fifa

A man walks into a butcher's shop and asks: "Have you got a sheep's head?"

The butcher replies: "No, it's just the way I part my hair."

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