Know the score Nov 28, 2022

KNOW THE SCORE: Governance in football

KNOW THE SCORE: Governance in football

KNOW THE SCORE is a series of talks where TISA Group invites interesting guests to talk about the latest trends, challenges, and best practices at the intersection of business, sport, and technology.

Recently, Jakub Perdjon caught up with Nigel Fletcher, CEO of the International Sports Convention, one of the biggest sports & business conferences in Europe.

Nigel Fletcher has impressive experience in the sports industry coming from his career path.
Graduating from Loughborough University, one of the best sports universities in Europe, had a huge influence on Nigel’s career. Doing football coaching badges up to UEFA B and working for Bobby Charlton Soccer School and doing summer camps coaching children in the USA gave Nigel big experience for the future. He brought an American customer-centric approach blended with education to the UK and then decided that the business path rather than the coaching path is what he wants to follow. In 2004, Nigel’s career accelerated when he started working at FIFA. His responsibilities in the Development Department were to work with and manage relationships with over 200 National Associations. His projects were dedicated to the infrastructure of artificial turf pitches. Experiencing two World Cups (Germany & South Africa)were eye openers in terms of venue management and the importance of all the details which run into that.


The interview between Jakub and Nigel led us to some interesting conclusions on:

  • How was the International Sport Convention initiated?
  • What are key traits for a person interested in a job in the sports industry?
  • Legia Sport Business Programme.
  • The governing bodies in football.


Jakub Perdjon: Nigel, working in the Development Department at FIFA was surely connected with visiting different Football Associations, what did you see there? 

Nigel Fletcher: I saw how important the infrastructure is at a national level, and whether you can roll that out regionally and locally is of huge significance. PZPN (Polish Football Association), English, or German FA may have some very nice headquarters, but a large number of national associations didn’t even have their own building. They didn’t have a headquarters so establishing that was the first step, and then the following action was building technical centres, pitches, and artificial turf pitches around the country. 

Jakub Perdjon: The experience you had at FIFA must have had an impact on your future decision about establishing your own conference – the International Sports Convention. What were the reasons to start?

Nigel Fletcher: Indeed, between 2005 and 2009, I attended lots of events in different countries and spoke at a few conferences on stadium or venue management or football business. What I felt back then was that there wasn’t any global event that really brought sports and business together. There was nothing that was interrelating broadcasting, OTT, streaming, brands and sponsorship, digital tech, fan engagement, event governance and integrity. So I saw the opportunity in bringing this together — to gather the audience and do the networking on an international level.

Jakub Perdjon: How did ISC evolve up until now?

Nigel Fletcher: A lot has changed from when we started back in 2010. We’re now obviously 12 years later, and we’ve had to develop the event as the industry has changed. We’ve had to focus on what the industry prefers in terms of venue and delegate experience. Before the pandemic, for example, we may have been seen as an events company, but now I think we’re more transformed as an event media and education company. We’ve done over 100 podcasts since the pandemic, we’ve done lots and lots of webinars, and we’ve done more and more thought leadership reports. We developed the IC Academy 15 online courses in the business too. As of right now, we’re one of the three or four biggest events out there. The key point in our evolution though was when we moved to our new venue and location – Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, so everything is like a five-star experience now.

Jakub Perdjon: As you speak about the evolution of the ISC, I am curious: how did the participants benefit from the Convention over the years?

Nigel Fletcher: What we’ve looked at is how to continue evolving the delegate experience from both a social networking and a kind of continuous learning content perspective. In terms of the benefits of the International Sports Convention, we’ve always focused on the content, the speakers, and the scale of the content and the program. The key is the knowledge you gain through networking at masterclasses, thought leadership roundtables, private dinners, and drinks receptions. These are all part of the experience at the event. 

Jakub Perdjon: A lot of young people seek a career in the sports industry. Could you tell us which skills and traits are necessary for a young person who wants to maybe start a career similar to yours?

Nigel Fletcher: I think communication is crucial, meaning not only talking but also listening. Communication with your colleagues, communication sternly, and then adapting to different audiences. I think that’s a very important trait, just generally. Moreover, if someone is at university now studying economics or general management, for example, that’s an opportunity to try and trial different career placements, internships, to get some work experience, and to meet a lot of people and do networking. This way, students may find things they like and things they don’t and that’s great. What I’d like to outline is that most students have plenty of time on their hands, and what they do with that time can be very important in how their career evolves. I think there are many students who think – “Ok, after my bachelor’s, I’ll do my master’s, and then I’ll go to the job market.” Suddenly, they may find out that it is very competitive, and having that kind of work experience, which I mentioned before, is key during that time.

Jakub Perdjon: When we talk about students, education, and networking, the Legia Sport Business Programme comes to mind. 

Nigel Fletcher: Exactly.  LSBP is the educational initiative that was developed by ISC and Legia Warszawa, the most prominent Polish football club. The aim of this partnership is to help our participants understand the practical aspects of the sports industry over the course of the partnership. Mr Dariusz Mioduski and ISC decided to start this programme in 2021 as both parties saw an opportunity in the Polish market. Previously, we had already developed certain things in the education market, and to us, it seemed quite obvious that there was nothing really in terms of sports education, sports management in the Polish market in comparison to the US, UK, and French markets, which are areas with significant competition. 

Jakub Perdjon: Who are the applicants, and what benefits does it bring to the participants?

Nigel Fletcher: We look at each application case by case in terms of why they want to do the course in the first place, so there is no fixed target person. In terms of age and experience, these are recent graduates as well as people with experience in different areas who are interested in the sports management industry. When it comes to benefits, that will definitely be the practical experience and the industry speakers. At the event, participants get access to the International Sports Convention, the Science and the Football Congress. Recently, we have participated in the Polish Coaches Conference. They had a keynote speaker, for example, Marcelo Bielsa. We want this course to be practical; last month (October 2022), our participants were the second cohort that experienced the match day and the operations behind the scenes and what goes into delivering a football game from a technical (broadcast & media) and marketing perspective.

Jakub Perdjon: With your vast experience, you probably know much about the governance of football. Could you say something about the structure of governing bodies in the UK?

Nigel Fletcher: First of all, I want to say that healthy governance and having good structures with non-conflicted governing bodies are very important. The example of putting the nail in the coffin by proposing the Super League shows that very clearly. Fan ownership, involvement, and engagement are all important factors in building a stable club.

Jakub Perdjon: How are clubs being governed?

Nigel Fletcher: Football clubs are, or should be, at the heart of communities. Many of these clubs stretch back decades, if not centuries. And therefore, it is very much a community asset that needs to be cherished. It needs custodians because owners come and go, but the football club stays. Well, there have been too many examples where successful business people have come into football and then their business has been left outside, and there have been other business people coming in for the wrong reasons, to strip the assets and turn it into a property for apartments or buildings, and this is very bad, no matter what level it is.

Jakub Perdjon: What are some examples of the importance of good governance?

Nigel Fletcher: There are examples of Berry Football Club, Macclesfield, and others that have literally gone out of business due to poor management and overall poor governance by football owners. On the other hand, there have been many great examples of clubs returning with a fan-centric governance approach, such as Wimbledon FC, Bath City, or FC United of Manchester, which have fans and the community at the heart of governance and the club’s decision-making.

Jakub Perdjon: So the fans are very engaged in the UK when it comes to governing their clubs, right?

Nigel Fletcher: Yes, just a few hours before the Super League was announced, it already had put the nail in the coffin from an English perspective. English football fans, whether Chelsea, Liverpool, or Manchester United, the so-called “Super Six” were against this. They would rather have Tuesday evenings at Stoke City, rather than play Juventus or AC Milan, as the Super League governors wanted.

Jakub Perdjon: Can we look at the football structures in the UK more closely?

Nigel Fletcher: The governing body is supposed to regulate and govern the game, but the governing body in the English FA is very Premier League-dominant in all its structures and compositions. So it’s not independent, it’s not a public body, and it doesn’t come under the Freedom of Information Act. Therefore, the governance is pretty poor. There’s no accountability. Basically, it’s all done behind closed doors and decisions  are made for the few, i.e. Premier League

Jakub Perdjon: So what do FIFA and UEFA say about this?

Nigel Fletcher: The UEFA and FIFA articles of association state that a Football Association should be the eminent organisation. But the Football Association of England is, like most FAs, composed of clubs, leagues, and regional FAs, but in the English case, the power base and key decisions concern the Premier League. Hence, the British Government set up the fan-led review and one of the potential areas to implement is an independent regulator to govern the game.

Jakub Perdjon: How do fans get involved in clubs?

Nigel Fletcher: Fans should be involved in whatever way that is. That may be having a seat on the board, but it may also just be engagement and open communication between the custodians and the fans. Those clubs are best structured. Unfortunately, most of the time, that is not the case. Obviously, building fan engagement with digital solutions and technology is great too. Ultimately, though, the core of the club should be its governance and communication.

Jakub Perdjon: How is it with elite clubs in the UK?

Nigel Fletcher: In terms of pleasing all the fans, the bigger the club, the harder it is. In elite clubs the fans are global, but clubs at whatever level shouldn’t forget that they’ve stemmed from factories, churches or working-class areas and that first and foremost club is at the heart of the Community. If clubs forget about it, it leads to that kind of displeasure about how some of the owners govern and how football clubs are run. Obviously, this kind of fan ownership is probably best suited to smaller, local clubs.

Jakub Perdjon: Did you see some of that good governance in Poland?

Nigel Fletcher: I think that the development of Polish football is really getting gradually stronger. Increasingly more clubs have great stadiums. They are now investing in academies and the youth, so that is great.  Each club needs to know where it stands and what its ambitions are. Nevertheless,  being realistic here is critical to achieve your goals.  

Clubs should be building a sustainable future, and yes, you may want to win on the pitch, but winning isn’t everything. We have seen the boom and bust scenario too often, where clubs spend too much and then, a few years later, financial problems occur and the clubs are out of business for several years.