April 17, 2024

“The FBA was born to accelerate the professionalization of the football industry by attracting fresh talents from diverse backgrounds”

April 17, 2024

“The FBA was born to accelerate the professionalization of the football industry by attracting fresh talents from diverse backgrounds”

Interview to Kristian Dobrev, Deputy CEO at The Football Business Academy


What inspired the creation of the Football Business Academy, and what sets it apart from other educational institutions in the sports industry?


Many impactful ideas come on the back of crises and in 2015 football was arguably going through a significant one, with various scandals, corruption cases, and consequences of bad management tainting the reputation of “the beautiful game”. While there were some relevant sports-educational programs already in existence, we realized that there was a gap in the market. The FBA was born to accelerate the professionalization of the football industry by attracting fresh talents from diverse backgrounds, educating them in a practical and holistic way, and instilling values of ethics, professionalism, and collaboration. Our Professional Master in Football Business is deeply rooted in these foundations and aligned with the evolving needs of the market.


From 2017, when the FBA was created, until today, football has undergone a profound transformation, from the rise and fall of the Super League, to UEFA's change in the competitive model of European competitions, to the increasing presence of foreign investment in clubs. Has the professional profile sought by the industry also changed?


The football industry has indeed come a long way since 2017 in transforming recruitment philosophies and processes, as well as types of roles, although I’d be careful with generalizing. While a number of organizations and countries have made leaps forward, when looking around the world we see that some obsolete 'old-days' processes are still in place, which makes us understand that  there's a lot of room for improvement. In that context, professionalism, hard work, ethics, and continuous learning are our non-negotiables. We're thrilled to confirm that these values are also greatly welcomed in the workplace, evidenced by the high employability rates achieved by our FBA Alumni. Employability is our main KPI, and we are committed to maintaining it at a very high level. This doesn’t mean that FBA graduates don’t bump into challenges related to nepotism, conservatism, or lack of transparency, but we trust that they enter  the industry equipped with more tools to drive change.

Overall you do see more and more football stakeholders seeking profiles with a football business or at least sport management education, which is an important step towards professionalization.


How does the FBA curriculum evolve to stay relevant in the ever-changing landscape of the football business?


From our inception, our curriculum has been co-developed with and taught by football industry experts and everything that we have done (and keep doing) since is focused on being at the center of the global football ecosystem. As a result, we have a very good pulse on what’s happening and where things are headed towards, allowing us to update our curriculum consistently and thereby ensuring that FBA graduates are ready to tackle the challenges and opportunities the football industry will put in front of them.


Can you elaborate on the partnerships and collaborations that the FBA has established with football clubs, federations, and industry experts? One of your first partnerships was in Portugal, with SL Benfica, how relevant that was?


Going back to when and why The FBA was created, we knew that we couldn’t tackle such an important mission by ourselves. Hence why our tagline is “Let’s build the future of Football together.” That last word says it all. The football entities that we’ve partnered with over the years are not only forward-thinking in realizing that they can (and should) attract the best talents off the pitch, but have also been crucial in making our vision a reality. Having been able to partner with important football clubs and organizations early on in our journey, as was the case with SL Benfica, allowed us to validate our innovative concept quickly and gain industry recognition.


What career opportunities and pathways does the FBA provide for its graduates within the football industry?


Given that we have candidates coming from all kinds of academic and professional backgrounds, and because football stakeholders need professionals with different skill sets, the opportunities and pathways that FBA graduates can and have explored are as broad as you can imagine. We have alumni working on the commercial, ticketing or marketing side of things, others in academy operations, scouting, or data analysis, all the way to major events, (social) media, or as football agents. The FBA empowers them to carve out their own pathway and provides personalized support and attention - both during the program and long afterwards.


How does the FBA foster a global perspective and cultural diversity within its student body and curriculum?


On one side, our marketing and admissions team plays a crucial role in connecting us with  high quality applications from all around the world. Then by selecting football industry experts from different countries, continents, and professional backgrounds, we ensure our curriculum looks at the football industry through different lenses: big clubs, small clubs, governing bodies, agencies, brands… in our view, this diversity helps our FBA Candidates to learn in a more holistic manner, identifying the similarities while understanding the differences.


In what ways does the FBA incorporate practical experiences and industry insights into its educational programs?


Apart from all the classes and guest lectures, which are taught by international football industry experts, our partnerships team ensures that FBA Candidates have different touch points with football stakeholders; from guaranteed internships and networking events, to students business projects and field trips - they all offer exclusive and invaluable insights and practical experiences that go a long way in making sure that they can navigate the complexities of the football industry, from a knowledge, experience, and networking point of view, which are our program’s 3 key pillars.


What role does technology play in the delivery of FBA courses, and how has it enhanced the learning experience for students?


It has been a key part from the very beginning because we wanted to create a hybrid model that would allow us to count on  industry experts from different locations across the globe, while reducing the overall financial investment for our Candidates (as they could potentially keep their jobs at the time and avoid significant relocation expenses). While most of the world first heard of Zoom during the COVID-19 pandemic, we had already been using it since 2017 to teach the online modules. Connected to that, we’ve also evolved our LMS (Learning Management System) throughout the years to make sure we offer the best learning experience. So we’re always on the lookout to see which technologies can have a positive impact on the overall journey of FBA Candidates. One of the things we’re exploring now also from a technology perspective is how to make our vibrant Alumni community even more engaging and impactful, because the numbers are starting to add up quickly!


How does the FBA address the increasing demand for sustainable and socially responsible practices within the football industry?


It all starts with raising awareness and sharing knowledge about these issues. Through classes, guest lectures, field trips, partnerships and other activities, we’ve made sure to incorporate ways through which all FBA Candidates can understand the context and key components of these topics, while offering those who have a specific interest in them the ability to explore them in more depth.


Can you share some success stories or notable achievements of FBA alumni since the institution's inception?


Where to begin!? Our employability report is filled with success stories of people taking a leap of faith, switching careers by doing the FBA program, and entering the football industry (and thereby fulfilling their dream). You of course know that Liga Portugal has also hired several FBA graduates on the back of their successful internships, and we have alumni working across the global football industry - from the biggest clubs, governing bodies, agencies and brands, to smaller ones - each and every one of them plays an important role in The FBA’s long-term mission. On a personal note, every time I receive a message from an FBA Alumni sharing a new job announcement, I feel like a proud parent who sees their kids grow up and accomplish their goals step by step. It’s a special feeling.


Looking ahead, what are the future plans and aspirations for the Football Business Academy in terms of growth, innovation, and impact on the football industry?


We are actually turning 7 years old this week and, even though a lot has been accomplished so far and more than 300 individuals have graduated from The FBA master, we are still just scratching the surface of what needs to (and can be) done - we’re a part of a generational shift that will take time to play out fully. On the back of the educational programs we’ve helped deliver for the likes of AFC and ECA in the past few years (with 400+ participants completing them), we see a great potential in helping current football stakeholders and industry professionals to upskill themselves and/or their members and ensure they are empowered to navigate the changes, trends, and disruptions that the world as a whole - and the football industry in particular - will continue to face. There are other professions, such as being  a doctor, or even a football coach or referee, in which you need to comply with certain qualifications and regularly update them. I believe that if we can work towards a similar mindset and framework for football industry professionals, everyone will benefit, resulting in fewer issues and clashes in the ecosystem, and ultimately improving the reputation (and impact) of football.


What advice would you give to someone who wants to enter the world of football and business?


The most important starting point in my opinion is to know that it’s possible but not easy. Being a fan is not enough; you need to become a great professional. Ask yourself what tangible skills the industry needs that you can bring to the table, and what you can further develop and improve.. At The FBA, we always start with a number of workshops to emphasize the complexities of the world of football so that our Candidates know what to expect and how to best navigate the fluctuating journey in front of them. And with the right mindset, boy is that journey fulfilling!