Sporting governance from the grassroots right up to the elite level can be complex. Sporting directors and administrators must deal with demanding stakeholders, from passionate fans to government funding bodies, multiple reporting structures and regulations, maintaining financial sustainability and much more.
In February, the AICD gathered together three leaders prominent in the South Australian sporting community at an event in Adelaide to discuss how sporting boards can meet the high expectations placed on them. Former South Australian Motor Sport director Dr Amanda Rischbieth FAICD, the Honourable Katrine Hildyard GAICD, a South Australian cabinet minister and chair of the SA Women in Sport Taskforce, and Sturt Football Club President Jason Kilic reflected upon the challenges they have faced in the past and what modern sporting boards should be doing to stay on top. People and skills emerged throughout the evening as areas where directors must focus their attention.
There are added complexities for sporting boards to navigate when it comes to managing stakeholders – not only do boards have to think about the athletes and sponsors, in many cases there will also be members, fans, media and owners. Understanding the nuances of catering to and dealing with these different audiences is crucial.
Sporting boards need not be comprised entirely of experienced directors or die-hard fans – both parties have things to bring to the table. Rischbieth says “experienced directors can bring skills and experience from other boards, while directors who are spectators, participants or fans of another sport can observe and improve their understanding of those other sports and business models, then leverage to improve their own products and offerings.”
Having directors who are passionate about the sport if a great asset, said Hildyard, but if people have no other governance skills and you don’t conduct skills audits to ensure you have the right skills across the board, it could be problematic.
A board’s ability to govern well can have significant impacts upon the sport itself, but also Australian sport more broadly, said Rischbieth – without a strong governance focus, one board’s actions (whether it be through inexperience, failure to properly manage risk or otherwise) could potentially undermine confidence in the Australian sports industry more broadly.
Sporting boards are under pressure to grow while maintaining the integrity of the game. In 2018, this means paying attention to trends and changes in technology and solid succession planning. Without the right people on your board (and in the pipeline, should someone step down), boards are “behind the eight ball” says Kilic, suggesting that seeking out breadth of experience, perspectives and skills was key to avoiding skills gaps.
Sporting boards can’t afford to simply play by the same old rules to succeed in 2018. Change is coming, and it’s essential that they have the right talent both in the boardroom and on the field to weather the change.
Questions your sporting board should ask in 2018:
- What do we value in our board members? How different is it to what we value on the field?
- What are we doing to actively address diversity in our sport?
- Where do our skills gaps lie?
- The ways in which people consume sport is changing – are you ready for change?
Success on the field starts in the boardroom. Learn to navigate the unique governance challenges your sporting board faces and excel in your role with our Sports Governance course.