Alumni Interview, masterSport | Niccolò Donna, head of FIGC Research & Development

After graduating in Economics at the SAA in Turin, Niccolò Donna earned the masterSport International Master of Sport Management. He has worked at Juventus FC and Lega Serie A, before joining the Italian Football Association (FIGC) in 2011. He had a role of Bid Dossier Coordinator for the FIGC’s bidding for UEFA EURO 2020 for the 2019 UEFA European Championship Under 21. As well as teaching on the masterSport course, he currently holds the role of Head of Research and Development for the FIGC, and he is the author of the main publications aimed at representing the figures of Italian football, the main trends in progress and the strategic profile of FIGC, such as ReportCalcio, the Italian FA’s Integrated Report and  The Income Statement of Italian Football.  

Why did you choose to take up a postgraduate qualification in sports management?  

After my first professional experience at Juventus, I realised that I wanted to work in sport but I also thought I needed some specific training in top-level sports management before I could seriously start out on such a career path. The sports sector is rather peculiar: it works very differently to nearly all the other traditional economic and industrial sectors. I thought I needed to learn more about this fascinating but complicated world before I could potentially become a part of it. 

What was decisive in selecting the programme in question as your chosen course?   

MasterSport offered the best teaching programme and I was particularly interested in the lecturers, some of whom were also involved in the FIFA Master – another course I would have liked to attend. I was impressed by the overall organisation, which was clear from the initial application and selection process for the course, and most of all the high percentage of placements with leading Italian and international sports organisations. From the very first interview I had in San Marino, I knew it was the right choice. I found a common language with the other candidates and the professors of the selection committee, and this feeling of being in sync remained throughout the Master. I thoroughly enjoyed it from a professional and personal point of view. 

Are there any experiences from your time on the course that stand out as being particularly important to your development?  

I think where MasterSport most aided my development was helping me work out which specific areas I was most interested in within the world of sport. Nowadays sports organisations have a vast range of strategic objectives and activities and the Master was key in helping me understand that I should go down the path of researching and studying economic, financial and strategic profiles within the sector. I loved the topics in the lessons on sport’s industrial profile. That is what has enabled me to combine one of my great passions with my work – a privilege many people do not enjoy. That was the greatest gift the MasterSport gave me. 

How often do you use what you learnt on the course in your work at the Italian Football Association? Can you provide some examples? 

The knowledge and skills I learnt during the lessons on the football industry, on business models and balance-sheet analysis enabled me to later take up a position at the FIGC Study Centre and produce official FIGC publications like ReportCalcio (which for the last 12 years has analysed the state of Italian football, partially through comparisons on the international stage). More generally, MasterSport was crucial for my personal and professional development. It helped me build up a network of contacts with companies and people working in the sector which is still very useful to this day.  

What made you decide to become a junior professor on the course and contribute to its teaching? 

I began teaching almost immediately after I finished my MasterSport, giving lessons on the business models of Europe’s top five football leagues, based on my end-of-course dissertation. In the years that followed, my work at the FIGC Study Centre enabled me to expand the topics I covered in lessons. More recently I’ve had the honour of setting up a “Calcio” Module as part of the MasterSport curriculum which is the result of a strategic partnership with FIGC. It means there’s more in-depth analysis of the different areas within FIGC and students get to see the bigger picture: analysis of the international landscape in the value creation processes of football organisations, and a specific case history of the biggest Italian Sports Federation. 

What would be your advice to new students starting on the same course this year? 

Make the most of this opportunity to take part in a fantastic learning experience, both in terms of the lessons themselves and the quality of life in the cities hosting the courses. Above all, make sure you use the experience to lay the foundations for your own career in the world of sport. My personal advice would be to try to interact with the professors as much as possible during lessons. It’s often the case that when a student asks a question or makes an observation and shows an aptitude for critical analysis, the professor bears it in mind in their assessment of the student, which can help in planning the placement process. 

This article is part of the 2022 SportBusiness Postgraduate Rankings. To browse the entire report and view the overall tables, click here.