If there is one underlying conclusion of the changes that are happening in the world, it is that sports industry leaders need to keep up to date and pursue continuing education.
This is why we were looking forward to this conversation with Kristian Dobrev, Founder of The Football Business Academy, who will join us along with around 50 students at WFS Europe. In this conversation, we cover the importance of education and networking in anyone’s career as well as:
The pillars of successful education in the football industry: Knowledge, Experience, and Network
Leadership skills sport business leaders should have to the dynamics of the industry today
The lessons learned from working with some of the most recognized football brands in the world
WFS: The FBA was founded in 2017. Why did the world need The FBA? What was the trigger that motivated the founders to launch it?
Kristian Dobrev: Although we launched in April 2017, we had been developing The FBA for at least a year and a half prior to that – taking the time to talk with various stakeholders from the football industry and outside of it to get the right value proposition. The main trigger that motivated us to start this entrepreneurial journey was FIFAGate, which was a clear signal that something needed to be done to protect the future of football.
That something, for us, was to use higher education as a platform to start training the next generation of leaders in the world’s biggest sport, embracing the values of transparency, professionalism, and ethics that seemed to be fading.
Being entirely dedicated to the football industry was also a unique aspect of The FBA.
WFS: Can you tell us more about your & Mr. Esterer’s story? What changed in the world for them to pursue The FBA project?
Kristian Dobrev: Our paths crossed in London, while we, as well as Mr. Patrick Casteau (another co-founder), were working together at Soccerex. That experience provided the basis for a now decade-long friendship which 3 years into it resulted in us joining forces to pursue The FBA project.
WFS: In essence, both can be considered game changers. What does it take to be a game-changer? What advice do you have for those who have the skills but for some reason do not “take the leap”?
Kristian Dobrev: In my view, all game-changing initiatives tend to start with taking a leap! Ideas are great, but at some point, you have to say to yourself: “let’s give it a try and see what happens.”
Many of us, especially in developed countries, will have a safety net to fall back on if things don’t work out, but you must get out of your comfort zone, silence the nay-sayers (who will always exist), and believe that your team can pull it off.
WFS: Few will argue with the benefits of receiving a well-rounded education to advance in one’s career, but what are the three pillars of a good education?
Kristian Dobrev: I’d say it really depends on each prospective student’s personal situation and profile, as well as their objectives. For our Professional Master in Football Business, our main target audience are career switchers, meaning most of them will have a solid educational and professional background in an area outside of football business, and they’ve come to the conclusion that they want to work in football given it’s what they’re most passionate about.
The three pillars that work very well in this context, and that we apply, are Knowledge, Experience, and Network. When these are combined effectively, dreams come true, and the football industry gets an enhanced talent pool from which to recruit – which is what education is intended to produce.
When combined effectively, Knowledge, Experience, and Network can be a difference-maker for the football industry to acquire talent
WFS: Who are some of your most accomplished alumni? Is there a student that others can use as a benchmark? Why that person?
Kristian Dobrev: There’s way too many for me to highlight just one or two because each alumnus has such a unique background and that translates into “success” differently, but across the board, we take pride in seeing that most of our alumni enter the football industry within 6 months of graduating and then progress their careers within it. From clubs big and small to confederations, agencies, brands, and other football-related organizations, we now have alumni working in pretty much any type of stakeholder and department.
And they serve as inspiration for others; just a couple of weeks ago we invited Zarah Shah (7th Edition), who is now a Financial Planning & Analysis Specialist at City Football Group, to give a little speech during our graduation ceremony in which she shared her story and the strenuous journey of accomplishing her goals and dreams.
WFS: The faculty creates a differential element in any business program. What are the criteria for choosing them?
Kristian Dobrev: Our flagship program – the Professional Master in Football Business – has been designed to cater to the real needs and interests of both football industry organizations as well as the people eager to work for them. Essentially, this meant stepping away from traditional course structures and educational models and creating a more innovative and comprehensive curriculum, in a collaborative way with industry experts.
From the very beginning, we wanted to focus on having a professional rather than an academic faculty, and one that would be diverse in terms of where they live and in what part of the football industry they got (and still get) their experience from. The main reasoning there was that they are in the best position to convey the different realities and best practices of their fields of expertise, while also becoming part of the Candidates’ networks, which are arguably two of the most important parts needed to succeed in the industry.
WFS: How is The FBA preparing for the future of football? How will it adapt its education model based on the technological “disruption” that promises to change the game completely?
Kristian Dobrev: In many ways, this “disruptive” mindset has been a part of The FBA’s DNA since its inception (as demonstrated by our master’s hybrid and practical-oriented model). Even though we’ve only been around for a little over 5 years, we are about to welcome the 11th Edition of our Professional Master in Football Business.
If you’d talk to one alumnus from each of the previous 10 editions, they’ll all have had a different experience because we are constantly seeking feedback from them, observing what’s happening in the world, talking with our faculty and partners, adapting the curriculum, challenging the status quo, challenging our own perspectives on what’s necessary, and so on.
The football industry is very particular in that it’s evolved tremendously over the past 2-3 decades, yet also still has a lot of traditional thinking embedded in it. This creates an interesting dynamic that essentially forces it to rethink business models and explore new opportunities. As a result, the industry is in constant need of bright and innovative mindsets to develop in the right direction. We don’t allow ourselves to become complacent and therefore we try to always stay ahead of the game.
WFS: You have partnered with many top-tier football-related institutions. What has surprised you most from working with them?
Kristian Dobrev: I’m happy to have witnessed a very positive evolution in terms of interest, engagement, and collaboration on various opportunities such as internships, Student Business Projects, career opportunities, and now also tailor-made programs and workshops for their own staff, members, and stakeholders. It’s a learning process for everybody but there are more well-intended people in our industry than outsiders might believe and the interest in education is growing, so sometimes it’s just a matter of timing.
At the beginning, it wasn’t easy to change the mindset of certain people or institutions, but I think it’s fair to say that over time we’ve managed to convey the importance and value proposition of what we’re trying to achieve quite well, which in turn has opened more doors.
Over 60 partners across the globe are already trusting The FBA for their development and we cannot be more pleased with the results of those collaborations, as well as looking forward to generating new synergies with the next ones to come.
WFS: What 3 pieces of advice would you give professionals looking to advance their careers in the football industry?
Kristian Dobrev: Be open-minded (it’s not only about the big clubs or brands). Talk to people (they can help you set the right expectations and share valuable advice) and, remember it’s possible (even if some people tell you otherwise).
WFS: What is the vision for The Football Business Academy over the upcoming years?
Kristian Dobrev: Now that the positioning of our Professional Master in Football Business is solid, we’ve successfully expanded our operations into the B2B segment. Since last year, we’ve secured two great partnerships – with the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and the European Club Association (ECA) – for whom we co-create and deliver bespoke educational programs that address the different challenges and opportunities existing in football. It’s a great way for us to extend our scope and contribute to taking the professional development of those already working in the game to the next level, as well as to continue shaping new leaders in the beautiful game.
What else might come after that? I hope to be able to tell you at next year’s WFS!
WFS: And we certainly expect that you will! To finish up, what are your expectations for World Football Summit?
Kristian Dobrev: I personally love these kind of events as I like to connect (with) people. It’ll soon be 15 years since I attended my first sports business conference (as a college freshman) and have gotten a lot of value from them. As such, they are a staple of our Professional Master in Football Business as we know it’s a great way for our Candidates to learn more and build their networks.
So, I expect them to enjoy the WFS experience and make the most of it, while on a personal level it’ll be great to catch up with many of my industry relations and, as always, meet some new people with whom we can hopefully build the future of football together.
This interview is featured in the latest edition of WFS Digest, our insider’s guide to the latest and most relevant thoughts and practices from within the football industry. You can subscribe to WFS Digest HERE.