An Inside Look at the World of Sports Recruiting

As the sports industry has evolved, so too have the search firms and recruiters who find talent for the sector. Kevin Carmichael of Prodigy Search recently spoke with Hunt Scanlon Media about the evolution of the sector, how Prodigy Search itself has changed, and what he expects for the future.

February 23, 2023 – Given the search industry’s knack for finding a need and filling it, it was only natural that recruitment firms would soon step to the fore in the sports sector, which has become a growth area for executive search businesses. Many C-suite-focused recruiting firms are now active in the sector and some specialize only in the sports field itself. In what is seen as a growing trend, sports organizations continue to look outside their respective leagues – and countries – to find executive talent. With so many changes in the sports industry in recent years, executive search firms have stepped up to better understand what type of leaders are needed in the sector.

“When I think of the changes in the sports industry over the past 10 years, I think of new technology and platforms, emphasis on fan experience, engagement, and facility upgrades, increased focus on data capture and analytics, and an emphasis on international growth and global expansion,” said Kevin Carmichael, partner at Prodigy Search. “I’ve also noticed the evolution of ownership groups wanting to diversify their holdings to include multi-team and various business interests – like HBSE, Elevate, MSE, KSE – similar to the traditional MSG, AEG, MLSE models.”

“The last three years, post pandemic, we have continued to see hybrid working environments,” Mr. Carmichael said. “Organizations have had to evolve and be more flexible given remote work through the pandemic. Many, if not most, of our clients have adjusted to a hybrid working structure three days in two days remote. Most of our clients do want staff in-market, whether presently local or open to relocation, but there is more conscientious of a work/life balance and flexibility.”

The United States Curling Association Selects Prodigy Search for Find New Leader

The United States Curling Association (USCA) has retained Prodigy Search to lead in its hunt for a new CEO. The CEO is responsible for providing strategic leadership for the organization, working under the general authority of the Board and directly with the staff to establish long-range goals, strategies, plans, and policies. This individual is the day-to-day leader of the organization, executing the organization’s strategy and overseeing operations of staff at all levels. 

Candidates should bring a successful track record of leading major business units, ideally with strong experience in the membership-based non-profit world, ideally within the Olympic Movement. They should have experience in creating, designing, and implementing a strategic vision in line with USCA’s values and desired future state. In addition candidates must have demonstrated the past ability to gain key constituency (including board, staff, athletes, and USOPC) support, commitment, and action to meet goals consistent with USCA’s values.

Mr. Carmichael also pointed to DEI – citing an increased importance of an inclusive working environment, creating opportunity for minorities, new strategies, and policies that go beyond hiring and retention to also focus on inclusion and belonging.

Serving Sports and Entertainment Organizations

Prodigy Search, which has been involved with the sports and entertainment business for years, is one of the sector’s leading boutiques. The firm has placed hundreds of candidates into a variety of functions and roles. It represents all disciplines, including senior management, sales, marketing, operations, and administration.

Prodigy’s client roster reads like a Who’s Who of the sports world. It includes: the Dallas Cowboys, New York Yankees, Los Angeles Lakers, Pittsburgh Steelers, TD Garden/Boston Bruins, AEG Worldwide, Liverpool Football Club, United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee, Oak View Group, Live Nation, PGA TOUR, Legends, the TGR (Tiger Woods) Foundation, and Endeavor.

Related: Prodigy Search to Recruit CHRO for FIFA World Cup 2026

Aside from the traditional sports space, over the years, Prodigy Search has expanded by bringing its expertise from the traditional sports business to the “non-traditional” sports space. Prodigy Search has done work throughout the ever-expanding esports industry; sports technology industry; and education and nonprofit industries. Today, the firm’s senior partner involvement, high level of service, and transparency of process have presented opportunities to expand beyond sports and entertainment.

Mr. Carmichael is involved with all aspects of Prodigy Search’s executive search division, working with some of its clients including teams in the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL and NCAA. A passionate sports enthusiast, he grew up around the sports industry and has spent the past 10 years working with Prodigy Search, developing into one of Prodigy’s top recruiters.

Mr. Carmichael has recruited and filled many senior level searches, including roles with Delaware North, TD Garden and the Boston Bruins, Denver Broncos, ASM Global, Madison Square Garden Entertainment Corp., Sodexo Live!, and the U.S. Center for SafeSport. He has represented Prodigy Search at industry events and conferences including the National Sports Forum, Sports Business Journal’s AXS Sports Facilities & Franchises and Ticketing Symposium, VenuesNow, and Sports Business Journal Awards.

Mr. Carmichael recently sat down with Hunt Scanlon Media to discuss the evolving sports landscape and how has firm has grown over the years to adapt.

Kevin Carmichael
Kevin Carmichael

Kevin, what do you foresee for the future of the sports industry? 

Continued evolution of data capture and emphasis on fan experience through new technologies. Las Vegas and other markets (Seattle) prepare for potential relocation or expansion franchises. Continued growth on facility development and entertainment districts (Like LA Live and Dallas’ The Star District) globally with major powerhouses like OVG, ASM Global, Legends, and MSG Entertainment. Digital subscription services for teams/organizations – creating their own platforms and unique content and realize revenue opportunities. Hospitality – ease of purchase, quicker/shorter concession lines through contactless payment. NIL – college space, sports betting continues to evolve. Women’s sports also to continue to grow and be more mainstream in terms of coverage, viewership, and long-term financial commitments.

Do you get any hires who have no particular interest in sport who still prove to be effective? 

As a recruiting firm, we stress the importance of a diverse candidate pool, with respect to every meaning of the word. Candidates that come from different/adjacent industries and have varying backgrounds, experiences. Often times our candidates aren’t huge fanatics. They didn’t grow up playing sports. They just see sports as another business.  The candidates believe they bring value with a unique skill-set but also an unbiased look at things without the mentality of this is the way our industry has always done this.

Can you share your personal/career growth within Prodigy/recruiting/sports and entertainment industry? 

With Prodigy: Leadership role within company – strategy, ideation, new product/service offerings, decision making leadership. I’ve been more involved with business development and pitching prospective clients over the last few years. I’ve been on the forefront of Prodigy’s diverse recruiting efforts in terms of tracking, benchmarking, and accountability. I also play a major role within Prodigy’s DEI educational initiative working closely with our board of advisors. That led to the creation of Prodigy’s DEI toolkit.

A lot of our growth has come from client referrals, word of mouth, and the reputation we have built with senior executives over the years.

With recruiting, I’ve gone from co-leading and assisting on searches and handling junior positions early on in my tenure 10 years ago to leading the pitch and proposal with a new client, to being the primary contact with the client on a search from start to finish. I’ve also worked on larger roles at the VP-level up to the C-suite, gaining respect from senior leaders internally and externally. I’ve also taken on countless global searches, including a recent placement in Mumbai, India. Being present at industry-leading conferences, both presenting and attending is also important. I’ve also become known as Kevin from Prodigy Search and not Scott Carmichael’s son. I have built personal brand over the years and have garnered relationships with industry professionals from senior executives down to mid-level management leaders.

Can you provide an overview of Prodigy Search’s growth externally”

I’m not sure the specific year this started, but it happened somewhat organically. A lot of our growth has come from client referrals, word of mouth, and the reputation we have built with senior executives over the years. From the non-profit side of things, we have had a great deal of success working with nearly 20 Olympic NGBs since our first CEO placement with USA Luge in 2013. Since then, we’ve placed over 60 executives ranging from CEOs, executive directors, and CFOs to board chairs and committee members. We’ve also worked a great deal with tech start-ups and agencies, placing SeatGeek’s EVP client partnerships (one of the first 20 employees), and working with global agencies such as AEG, OVG, Legends, MKTG, Roc Nation, Premier Partnerships, and SportFive.  A few entertainment specific clients we’ve worked with over the last five to 10 years are TopGolf, Live Nation, Six Flags Entertainment, and BaAM Productions. Our rebrand from Prodigy Sports to Prodigy Search wasn’t superficial; it was a direct reflection of our work outside of just teams and leagues and our aspirations to recruit in other areas more loosely connected to sports and entertainment.

Can you provide an overview of Prodigy Search’s growth internally?

As one of the leading boutique search firms in sports and entertainment, Prodigy has grown the size of its staff from four (two recruiters, two admin) in 2013 to our current staff of 10 full-time (six recruiters, two researchers, two admin). We also plan to expand our team with three to four new full-time hires by the end of 2023. We have increased our overall offering as the recruitment industry has evolved over the years. From detailed candidate profiles, behavioral assessments, thorough background and reference checking to retention strategies and market and talent mapping and compensation studies. Another area where we have grown is in the DEI space. From our own internal diverse recruitment strategies to launching a DEI educational initiative inclusive of a board of advisors of eight to 10 senior executives across multiple industries. Our DEI educational initiative seeks to identify and address critical talent acquisition, human resources, and organizational behavior issues facing the sports and entertainment industry. Our DEI board of advisors aids us in learning from, challenging, collaborating, and holding all teams, leagues, agencies, and executive search firms, including ourselves accountable, on these critical topics.

Related: Hiring Top Talent in Unprecedented Times

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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