The world of sport sometimes looks like the world of business. Professional athletes talk about managing a career at the highest level, and give their advice to entrepreneurs.
Manage fundraising, attract sponsorship, and organize meetings. This is the daily routine…. of the athlete. There are nearly 4,000 professional athletes in France, according to the National Association of Professional Sports Leagues. The sportsman’s agenda therefore resembles that of an entrepreneur. “The daily life in motorsport is a real business,” confirms Romain Dumas, a professional motor racing driver for eighteen years and two-time winner of the Le Mans 24 Hours. Reports must be made after each race: technical reports and race reports for engineers. We take care of booking planes, invoices, etc. We also have to manage the partners, present new cars for Porsche all over the world. »
This multi-activity has increased since the arrival of digital technology, facilitating in particular the bringing together of sport and marketing. “I do a lot of things at the same time,” admits Mohamed Medelsi, a professional break dancer for the past five years and now at the Paris Opera. I have to manage contacts by email and phone for invitations to events and competitions. “In this context, the proper use of social networks has also become essential. “I regularly post photos and videos on Instagram and Youtube. It is thanks to this that I now have three sponsors. »
The search for sponsors and funding is the first of the difficulties for both top athletes and startups. To sign these contracts, shining by its performance is not enough. “The question is how we will seek partners to improve training conditions and aim for a little more high performance,” says Marie-Amélie Le Fur, an eight-time Paralympic Games medalist from France. At thirty years old today, she says she has changed her strategy: “I had to launch a more aggressive approach to finding sponsors if I wanted to achieve my ambition for the Tokyo Games next year. I work on the brand image I can convey, something I don’t know how to do naturally. “To sell itself, therefore, the use of “personal branding” is gaining in importance, as in entrepreneurship.
With hindsight, the forty-one year old racing driver Romain Dumas analyses the shift in the qualities needed to make himself known. “At the time, we were standing in front of a partner with a portfolio, with press clippings! In twenty years, we have gone from the promotion of know-how, with sports skills, to that of interpersonal skills, with the appearance of social networks. »
Knowing how to surround yourself
Like the entrepreneur, the athlete must know how to form a high-performance team. In the service of the athlete, according to Marie-Amélie Le Fur: “I have several coaches, but it is me who manages my career on a daily basis, who defines my objectives. It allows me to invest myself better and not to suffer. “In turn, then, to advise entrepreneurs: “You have to be patient. It is important not to try to move forward alone, even if you have to remain the owner of your project. It is also essential to always know how to communicate, especially with your family, to share our project with them, and not to create an imbalance. »
Michael Kuzaj is convinced of the importance of family. He is the agent but also the companion of one of the three best French tennis players today, Alizé Cornet. According to him, this double hat acts as a catalyst. The young man likes to bring his discipline closer to the company: “It’s an individual sport. The entire structure is managed by the player at the beginning of his career and, as he becomes more professional, by managers and agents. A player can surround herself with physical and mental trainers and physiotherapists, which represents between 50,000 and 150,000 euros of expenses over a season, including travel. »
Knowing how to bounce back
Nevertheless, between sport and business, Michael Kuzaj considers failure as the common denominator above all. “Failure is a recurrent feature of tennis. The players lose most often every week. It is necessary to know how to manage this failure, to analyze it, to achieve success. You have to have strong values to avoid frustration. “Financial risk-taking is also another common point: “Beyond 100th place for girls and 200th place for boys, it is no longer profitable. »
Managing failure also means having a great ability to adapt, a bit like when a start-up adjusts its offer or its business model to be more efficient. And for that, no secrets. “Organization and anticipation are the keys to success. You can’t be in the reaction, you must always be in the projection,” concludes Marie-Amélie Le Fur.