Is the sports industry facing a hiring/retention crisis? – Sports Business Journal Leave a comment

The Kraken make a big splash with their NHL debut, while F1 has a blockbuster return to the U.S.
In a word, YES. The number of opportunities outside sports, the impact of COVID on lifestyle choices, and the failure of the industry to evolve and be competitive in terms of salary and expectations have made it more difficult to retain employees as well as to recruit new employees. While the effects and implications of the post-COVID era have been felt for the past year (and there have been some concessions — working remotely, hybrid scheduling and new opportunities to retain the best and brightest), salaries and expectations have not changed nor have they kept pace. It is the failure of sports leaders not to have addressed compensation and workload and it is especially shocking given the myriad examples of Silicon Valley giants like Apple, Google and the like, and almost unbelievably, the quick-service restaurant segment that are aggressively taking on the challenge of hiring not only through better wages, but also through creative and meaningful benefits including student loan relief, tuition credits and day care reimbursement.
In the case of the highly competitive Silicon Valley job market, which existed long before COVID, benefits and incentives included: generous maternity (6 months) and paternity (3 months) leave; stock grants; fertility treatment allowances; on-site wellness classes and workout facilities; tuition reimbursement programs; charitable contribution matches; concierge services (dry cleaning, car charging, travel planning); transportation to and from work; and food and beverages provided on-site. 
On a trip to Seattle last month, I took this recruiting photo (at right) posted at Dick’s Drive-in. That’s a little less than $40,000 annually for a 40-hour week plus benefits as opposed to an entry-level position in college athletics — which may pay $32,000 all in and require significantly more time than 40 hours per week. While I’m not saying people are leaving college athletics to work at a better-paying QSR (unless it’s Chick-fil-A), I am saying that at $32,000 and student debt load, they aren’t staying very long and that’s a problem for the particular institution and the industry as a whole.
Candidates graduating with sports management degrees and other business degrees who planned to work in sports are opting out to pursue other opportunities that are less structured, better compensated and have fewer expectations. Students have been told for years that the work week in the sports industry can often exceed 60-plus hours without overtime pay. Lower base salaries that often lead to monthly financial struggles and early exits from the sports industry are linked to the promise of commissions and bonuses to come. Working two jobs — most commonly as a server or bartender — is very common because the nightly tips help alleviate cash shortcomings. But the negatives I mentioned have always been there. So what changed? A red-hot job market with little competition, and the likelihood of a fast promotion and an attractive compensation package that may also allow for working remotely several days per week.
What can we do to attract entry-level talent and retain that talent as it develops and becomes even more coveted?
1. First, base salaries have to increase. Perhaps this is done for sales personnel by lowering commissions and providing more upfront income. A salary audit in the marketplace of comparable jobs in other industries might prove helpful. Remember, post-COVID, candidates need to be sold on working in sports. The days of taking lower wages for the “privilege” of working in sports are vanishing.
2. Meaningful benefits — maternity/paternity leave, help with student loans and contributions to help offset child care costs — are not only attractive to recruit employees but are valuable assets to retain employees.
3. Realistic working hours and not shaming employees who don’t come in before the day starts or stay after it ends. The issue here is that managers who “came up” in that type of system need to understand that those rules and expectations no longer apply and are in fact detrimental to today’s workforce.
4. Realistic expectations for working game nights. Not EVERYONE needs to be at every game. Create a rotation to make sure everything has coverage on game nights and allow people that worked a game night to start later the following day.
5. Create a personal development plan that clearly articulates a career path and what the expectations are to be promoted. We criticize these younger employees for wanting to advance too fast. Perhaps their expectations are unrealistic because they have no road map.
In the 1950s Bill Veeck had a day care center in the ballpark with the idea that parents would come to the ballpark with young children. Fast forward 70 years and spin the idea to provide in-venue day care for employees during the work day and also during games. Day care licensing is much more restrictive than in the past, but wouldn’t this be worth considering and investigating? Working parents attest that child care costs are a major expenditure and the search for a quality child care facility can be exasperating. Consider: An on-site day care eliminates the need to drop off and pick up before and after work; parents can check in on their children during the work day and quality care that is convenient and affordable can be a tremendous recruitment and retention attraction. If the saying is true that the way to the adult is through the child, this would be a perfect employee benefit today.
Bill Sutton ( is director emeritus of the Vinik Graduate Sport Business Program at USF and principal of Bill Sutton & Associates. Follow him on Twitter @Sutton_ImpactU.
The Athletic may have a new suitor, Meadowlark Media takes a bite at the Apple and USA Network prepares for a new year of sports programming.

The episode looks at the hottest news in the sports industry, including the successful launch of the NHL Kraken and their new Climate Change Arena; attendance challenges facing the NHL; F1’s success in Austin and how that may lead to another race in Vegas; and the pandemic delayed glut of sports programming coming soon to theaters and streaming. All of that, plus RISE CEO Diahann Billings-Burford on building diversity in the sports industry, and SBJ’s Abe Madkour on the challenges facing the NWSL.
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