The Birkbeck Sport Business Centre is a specialist research centre of Birkbeck, University of London. The Centre has published research findings in a wide variety of outlets including edited books, academic journals, research reports and conference presentations. Use the links on the right to explore the Centre’s research further.

A brief history of research at the Centre

It first established a programme of research into corporate governance and regulation in the professional football industry in 1999 under the banner of the Football Governance Research Centre. This had followed the hosting of two conferences examining first, the implications of the BSkyB broadcasting company’s bid for Manchester United, and second, the aftermath of its rejection by a decision of the Monopolies & Mergers Commission. Two edited books (Hamil et al, 1999 and 2000) were published summarising the proceedings of the conferences with contributions from key figures in the Monopolies & Mergers Commission investigation including a member of the investigation panel. Another contributor was Mr Joan Laporta, then a member of the rebel socio (supporter member) L’Elefant Blau group at FC Barcelona, who went onto be elected as President of the club in 2003. The approach to dissemination and research exemplified in these two conferences and books demonstrate the philosophy adopted by the Birkbeck Sport Business Centre since its foundation. In essence the Centre is clearly industry-facing.

This research into the BSkyB-Manchester United bid set the tone for further research activities into the governance and regulation of professional football: this became a key public policy issue and the results of the research were actively disseminated through conferences and publications (notably through the annual ‘State of the Game’ study of corporate governance in the English football industry which ran from 2001 to 2006). These reports published the results of survey research that analysed standards of governance across football clubs in England and Scotland, particularly in relation to the role of the board. The reports also considered the regulatory role of the football authorities and recommended further regulation to improve the financial performance of football clubs and to ensure long-term sustainability. This has helped to establish the Birkbeck Sport Business Centre as the leading academic institution in the UK for the study of governance and regulation within professional football.

Over time the research agenda has expanded to consider governance within the wider sport industry. Since 2009, there has been a specific focus on governance in national governing bodies of sport (NGBs). In 2010, the Centre undertook the first ever national survey in the UK looking at the governance of NGBs. Further survey research was undertaken in 2011 with a larger sample that focused on key aspects of non-profit governance within the context of NGBs. These two surveys and our discussions with sector representatives, in addition to calls in the academic literature, highlighted the need for in-depth research to understand board processes in more detail. Building on this survey research, members of the Centre are currently conducting an in-depth, longitudinal case study of a board at an NGB in the UK.

In addition, members of the Centre are engaged in many different fields of research. For example, in 2010, Dr Geoff Walters was awarded a research grant by UEFA (as part of the UEFA Research Grant Programme), the governing body of European football, to conduct a one-year project which focused on corporate social responsibility in the European football industry. The award of 17,000 Euros funded survey research among all top division football clubs in the 53 national associations affiliated to UEFA and among the national associations themselves. The final report was published in 2011 and can be accessed here.

In 2012, Dr. Geoff Walters and Richard Tacon began work on a European Union funded project, led by the Sport and Recreation Alliance. The project is titled ‘Better Boards, Stonger Sport’ and seeks to improve the governance of national sport federations in Europe by introducing a code of good governance. The Birkbeck Sport Business Centre has been working with six partner organisations across Europe to deliver the research component of the project.