This weeks interview includes sports industry professional Stefan Dagher. Stefan has represented the industry on many levels, from The FA, UEFA, EL-EF Sport and much more! Today, he talks about the sports industry hustle, finding your niche, networking and maintaining resilient in a world where you’ll experience lots of adversity.
Q1) Stefan, thanks so much for joining me on this exclusive interview. Can you kick it off by discussing how your career began in sport?
When I finished my A levels, I didn’t know what I wanted to do apart from sport being my sole focus. Therefore, I started researching, and as I’m from Belgium, the sports market is nowhere near as big as it is in the UK. I then came across an opportunity to study Football Business & Media at UCFB Wembley for three years.
However, I understood that while studying, I need to get work experience. Thankfully, I came across a part-time job at The FA as an Event Coordinator. I was at The FA for three years, and it taught me the essentials of running events in the sports industry. Unfortunately, when my University studies came to an end, there wasn’t a full-time job available at The FA, this is when the real world came alive for me.
I volunteered at Euro 2016 as a media and broadcast assistant which was a brilliant experience to understand another side of global events in football.
During the summer after graduation, I was applying for jobs left, right and centre. I reached out to companies like Sky, BT Sport, football, sports media agencies, but I had no luck, unfortunately. However, in September, sports agency EL-EF Sport gave me a chance to run as their football business executive. This role taught me the business side of football as their primary services orientated around operating events. I started as an intern for three months and stayed on full-time for a year.
While on my job hunt for three months, I took a turn away from sport to work for a transport solutions company called Driving Force Global as their event coordinator for two months. I wasn’t for me and then I returned to where it all started back at The FA. But this time, as their player status administrator. This appointment provided me with insights around how clubs generate money, processes behind creating regulations alongside how agents negotiate deals regarding transfers.
Unfortunately, my sports career journey is on pause due to COVID19, but that’s how it started.
Q2) You’ve had a varied set of roles within sport, from event management, business development, media & broadcast and administration. How has each of these experiences enhanced your sports career portfolio?
One piece of advice I’d like to pass on regarding this question is to know your area of expertise. Finding my niche is why I branched out into different areas, as this helped to understand where my strengths lied.
In football, you need to learn on the spot. In my first role at EL-EF Sport, the director said to me, “here’s your phone, you have an internet connection, go for it”. Being chucked in the deep end caused me to make mistakes. However, I learnt from them and built the desire not to give up. Reason being that I cannot see myself working in any other industry.
Q3) I also see you’re a multi-linguist, how beneficial has this been towards gaining international sporting experience?
I grew up in Belgium, and I happen to be half-English. I went to a French school and studied French & German at A level. I picked up Spanish very well, I’m not fluent, but I can have general conversations which helped me get my first job at EL-EF Sport.
The director of the company asked me, “what can you bring to us?”. I told them I could speak French, which was brilliant as France was where they wanted to expand their clientele.
In sport, you’ll be communicating with people all across the world and speaking multiple languages adds authenticity and comfort to the individual.
I’ve attended football award ceremonies that attract many delegates from across the world. The fact I could talk in different languages meant this increased my opportunities to build my network. Plus, while working at The FA, I was working amongst agents from Spain and overseas.
Moral of the story, don’t underestimate the advantages of speaking multiple languages in an international industry.
Q4) Can you explain if you had a method to build and sustain your sports industry network?
Do not underestimate the power of networking, even sending an email, direct contact or attending events are effective ways of developing your network. For example, if you’re at an event, attendees usually have business cards; therefore, before ending a conversation, ask for a business card, so you have their details in print. The next day, follow up with that individual thanking them for their time and elaborate on your initial discussion. Also, don’t be afraid of getting rejected; it happened to me but see how far I have come.
My career opportunities revolved around direct contact. For example, I met Martin Tyler at an event, and I was inspired to base my University dissertation on him. When I came towards finishing my degree, I got in touch with him to see whether he could support me getting some work experience at Sky. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen, but the approach can be a game-changer when utilising your network.
Always remember, you create your own luck.
Q5) From each of your appointments, what has been the most important lesson you’ve learnt to leverage your career?
Taking advice from as many people in the industry as possible. In the grand scheme of things, gaining an insight into the ‘behind-the-scenes’ of the industry has been the biggest lesson, such as how the sector generates money, understanding how marketing works and generally applying these learning experiences. This will help you to learn what you’re good at and what you can improve on.
Also, your first job won’t be your last job in sport.
Q6) You seem to have a very positive outlook despite the competitive and adverse nature of sport. What helps you to embrace challenge?
Just accepting you’re in an industry, so many people want to be in, it closely matches up to becoming a singer, actor or another superstar. Over one hundred people want to be in the industry, so you must build and pursue your own path. Whether that’s by networking, taking any job, you can and create an experience to demonstrate you can add value. Also, you will experience rejection but think of it as starting from the bottom and your climbing to the top of a mountain, the feeling will be rewarding when it happens.
Q7) Throughout your sports career journey, how important is it to stand out from the competition, and how did you stand out to receive such an aspiring career?
Not giving up. I appreciate there will be months down the line of unemployment, but I will still keep going due to my passion. For example, the directors and the heads of the industry didn’t get their positions overnight from the beginning of their careers; they waited years for their opportunity.
I can’t see myself working in another industry, and if I am, it would be short term and anything longer than that would be against my will.
If you can make your passion your job, nothing is better than that, but you need to work for it. For examples, the best singers and actors in the world would have had to experience rejection, adversity and challenge so often. Still, it would have been one opportunity that provided a life-changing moment. Think about this on your journey.
Also, don’t see working outside of sport as a setback. Many professionals in the sector have come in from different backgrounds, and it has served them well as they can transfer a different mindset to help them stand out.
Q8) Reflecting on this conversation, what advice can you summarise for someone wanting to break into the sports industry?
Set yourself realistic targets and take it to step by step. Don’t be afraid to start small and create your own luck by networking and relentlessly searching for opportunities. Volunteer your time to prove your passion, as I did. Understand your field of expertise and build up your portfolio in that. Lastly, working outside of sport can be a good thing to transfer into the industry to stand out.
Wow, what an insightful look into Stefan’s sports career journey! He has demonstrated that working externally to sport can work to your advantage to stand out; the desire to not give up is an essential to be successful and the opportunities your network can leverage to land you that chance of a life-time, to work in sport!