HRM in the A-League: an interpretive study investigating recruitment and retention practices in the 'Global Game'

Wilson, Alec John
Phelps, Sean
Wright, Richard
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Master of Business
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Auckland University of Technology

Professional sports teams according to Madura (1982) possess very similar Human Resource Management (HRM) characteristics to those on display in many other business entities, especially those located in the small-and-medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) sector. Research investigating the HRM processes of Professional Sports Organisation (PSOs) has predominately focused on player recruitment systems, with little attention being given to the degree which sports organisations apply established workplace HRM selection processes to athlete selection procedures (Bradbury & Forsyth, 2012). Other aspects of the HRM framework (e.g. orientation and socialisation, training and development, and retention) have, to date, largely been ignored from a sport management perspective. The football-related literature in this area, for example, is dominated by examples of labour migration, which is heavily influenced by World System Theory (Magee & Sugden, 2002). While further suggesting that football players are nothing more than commodities which can be sold or traded resulting in either a net profit or loss (Maguire, 1999).

European clubs at the core of world football dominate the transfer market and acquire the best talent. The financial muscle of these particular clubs along with other “push” and “pull” factors has led to a global migration of playing talent, as players now of all ages seek new opportunities to continue plying their trade. To date, current sports migration literature has neglected the connection between player migration and organisational HRM practices, a connection that needs to be established given that a PSO’s success significantly relies on their ability to arrange their playing resources into a collective group, a process that has the potential to generate a competitive advantage.

Currently, player registration periods in professional football are a hive of activity, as players and their agents seek new opportunities to advance or prolong their athletic careers, while the clubs utilise these periods to restructure their own human resource portfolios, to satisfy the needs and wants of their key stakeholders (fans, sponsors and financial investors). Traditionally, football clubs recruited players from their own local community, but with the diffusion of the “global game” clubs are increasingly looking further afield to uncover new playing talent, searches that typically occur across the following three distinct levels; (1) between clubs competing within the same competition in the same country, (2) between clubs competing in different competitions in the same country, and (3) clubs competing in different leagues in different countries.

This thesis adopts the traditional HRM framework provided by Hoye, Nicholson, Smith, Stewart, and Westerbeck (2012) to identify and analyse the recruitment and retention processes employed by football franchises in Australasia’s only full-time professional league (the A-League). The interpretive investigation was completed via an abductive mixed-method case study approach, where data was collected in two consecutive but distinct phases. Statistical data related to player recruitment and retention was collected, revealing the average age for a local player entering the league (23 years) was noticeably different to the average age of a European player (30 years old) and that, on average, these foreign imports – most of whom were found to be attack-minded players – spent less than two years playing in the competition. These findings were used as a platform (i.e. conversation-starter) to complete eight semi-structured interviews with purposefully targeted individuals involved in contract negotiation proceedings. To ensure information was gathered that presented the perspectives of both sides interviews were completed with both franchise CEOs and player agents.

Concepts identified during these discussions were refined to explain why the A-League HRM processes surrounding recruitment and retention of football players has evolved in such a manner, while also allowing an “A-League specific” HRM model to be developed. Overall, it was concluded that A-league HRM processes are vastly determined by aspects associated with relationships, responsibility, and reputations. The identification of these three key factors allowed recommendations to be generated to allow all current and any future A-league franchises the opportunity to develop more sustainable HRM strategies, such as developing a formal induction program for all new players. Other recommendations for future research are also presented.

Football , Human Resource Management , Professional sports organisation , Recruitment , Retention , Interpretive
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