Spanish football giants Real Madrid and Valencia have both dedicated significant resources in recent years toward partnerships with local educational institutions, helping to educate the next generation of administrators. Real Madrid Graduate School director Emilio Butragueño and Jorge Coll, director of the ESBS – Centro de Formación Fundación Valencia CF, tell Bradley Rial the strategy behind the connections.
The global nature of the sports industry has been reflected in recent years by a proliferation of postgraduate sports management degrees with a truly international focus.
Amongst these, course operators have been increasingly teaming up with partner organisations at the heart of the sector – particularly professional football clubs.
In Spain, for example, Real Madrid and Valencia are two high-profile LaLiga clubs to have committed resources towards academia, in partnership with educational institutions.
The Master in International Sports program at the ESBS (European Sport Business School) – Centro de Formación Fundació Valencia CF has been supported by Valencia for more than 10 years.
The Real Madrid Graduate School – Universidad Europea programme, meanwhile, stretches back to 2006 and was an initiative that was initially encouraged by Real Madrid president Florentino Pérez.
“Pérez’s extensive business knowledge revolutionised the way in which the club was run,” Emilio Butragueño, ex-Real Madrid striker and the current director of its Graduate School, tells SportBusiness Professional. “Pérez’s arrival paved the way for a new and very successful management model which involved maximising the club’s resources.”
In such a partnership, the stature of the club helps to amplify the course to a wider audience.
However, Jorge Coll, director at the Centro de Formación Fundació Valencia CF, is keen to stress that sharing resources, rather than simply marketing the course, is the primary goal.
“It is not a collaboration between a club and a university or a sponsor; it is a strategic approach and a shared philosophy,” Coll says.
The Valencia-supported program, for example, comprises the club’s area directors as lecturers, while the club’s Foundation board members are among the course’s advisory committee, along with representatives of the ESBS business school and professionals from the sports industry.
“The advisory committee is the core of the programme, allowing us to make improvements every year,” says Coll, who adds that the course has grown organically from within the sports industry, with sports executives at its heart.
One of the most conspicuous benefits for students in postgraduate courses that have such high-profile links with a sports organisation is the hands-on experience in a real-life working environment.
“The students enjoy the club facilities, they have classes in Mestalla Stadium or at the Foundation itself and there are internships and even work opportunities with the club,” Coll says.
Similarly, students of the Real Madrid Graduate School – Universidad Europea programme have access to the club’s infrastructure, including its Santiago Bernabéu stadium and the Ciudad Real Madrid training complex in Valdebebas.
“Each Master course also has a co-director who is a senior executive of Real Madrid, which adds a great value to the school’s students,” Butragueño says.
Mirroring the clubs’ international ambitions and business models, the programs adopt a global rather than domestic outlook. This is in the knowledge that those who wish to prosper in the sports industry often have to move abroad.
As an example, LaLiga’s Global Network has stationed business development executives in targeted growth markets worldwide over the past two years. For students who seek a career in international sports administration, a spell on the banks of Lake Geneva in Switzerland is almost certain at some point.
To equip students with the skills required, Coll describes a “practical and global approach, based on experiences and case methodology”.
He adds: “Another key element is to get the best students to enrol with us. Admission processes are crucial to detect talent and we try to have the best in our program year after year.”
Butragueño says that students have to be able to adapt to “the needs of a global environment”, especially considering the industry’s “constant transformation”.
He adds: “For example, when I made my debut for Real Madrid in 1984, we travelled without a fitness coach; but this would now be regarded as quite extraordinary. We have to take on board changes and be fully prepared, with the finest professionals, to adapt and continue to be competitive. Education in this field should reflect the changes.”
The course providers have also worked hard to adapt, with a greater emphasis on online resources – a particularly popular option for students who are already working in the sports industry and perhaps already have work-related responsibilities that force them to study remotely.
“The academic training offered by the Real Madrid Graduate School – Universidad Europea includes online courses, such as the Executive MBA in Sports Management or the Specialised Programme in eSports Business, which allow students to combine studies with other activities,” Butragueño says.
“This allows them to balance training and employment more flexibly. As a cutting-edge institution, we guarantee the same level of quality in training for all our students, either based on classroom or online teaching.
“On the other hand, the online platform offers an innovative training methodology that affords great flexibility and autonomy for students who can adapt their study plan to reflect their needs. We believe that it is essential to provide our students with an academic model that allows them to complete their studies based on a program that is most suited to their circumstances.”
However, Coll notes that face-to-face skills must not be forgotten in an industry in which relationships count even if, via the internet, “we can have access to the best professionals in the world, from our house, at any time”.
He adds: “We work constantly on the methodology of the online Master, with the aim of offering the student the best possible training from home.
“We work in a turbulent atmosphere that changes very quickly. Students must know the different tools at their disposal, from the ones that business science offers for management to the strategic approach, but above all, they must acquire both personal skills and the use of new technologies to face a global and changing environment.”
The connections that can be established via these courses translate into enhanced career opportunities.
Real Madrid’s workforce includes 40 alumni from the school, while more than 90 per cent of students are employed in the sports industry within eight months of graduating, with organisations such as basketball’s NBA being just one destination.
Similarly, Valencia’s course opens doors in the broader sports sector, rather than just football.
“The objective of the program is to train managers in the sports industry in general,” Coll says, referring to the latest figures from SportBusiness that show that 88 per cent of students were in employment in sport within six months of graduating.
“Given the international nature of the program, we have students working in many countries around the world,” he adds. “We work with a mentoring system to facilitate the employability of students in the sports industry.”
The world of higher education, for a number of reasons, is changing – from rules regarding fees and attracting foreign students to the introduction of state-of-the-art learning facilities that reduce the need for face-to-face learning.
For programs that are operated in partnership with clubs, establishing links with other institutions further afield is a natural step.
For example, Real Madrid, building on its partnership with Universidad Europea, has previously worked with the likes of Harvard University.
“We reflected on the matter internally and decided that we should share our experience and knowledge with those who wished to become part of the sports sector,” Butragueño says. “We started by considering who might support us in this venture and, as Universidad Europea shares our values, gives us international exposure and provides access to academic structures, we decided to undertake this project with them.
“We aim to continue to build on the success of Real Madrid Graduate School – Universidad Europea as a global reference, to extend international alliances and to further enrich the experience of all the students.”
He adds that such partnerships can provide a platform for significant growth.
“We are well aware that these kinds of programs often require a huge effort on the part of students and some of them are unable to come to Madrid,” Butragueño adds. “For that reason, we have to be able to reach to those places where there is extensive interest in learning from our professionals.
“As part of our effort to reach various parts of the world, we maintain agreements with prestigious international universities. For instance, we have an agreement with Columbia University in New York and the Beijing Sport University. These kinds of agreements help us to learn and expand in the world of sport and this has to be one of our objectives.”
Meanwhile Coll believes the sector is on the cusp of a revolution as he highlights the challenge of continuously improving postgraduate courses to “adapt them to the reality of a global industry” in the context of a “very complex environment”.
He says: “I believe that the university model as we know it now will tend to disappear. We need specialised and practical centres that adapt quickly to the changing needs of the industry.”