October 26, 2018 – Executive search firm Nolan Partners has been retained by the Indy Eleven, a professional soccer team, to find its next CEO. Jeffrey G. Belskus announced he will step down from the role toward the end of the year. He will continue in the job until a successor is chosen.
Chad Biagini, managing director of North America for Nolan Partners, is leading the assignment.
Indy Eleven is based in Indianapolis. Founded in 2013, the team made its debut in the North American Soccer League in 2014, before moving to the United Soccer League this year.
“Indy Eleven has experienced several years of solid growth,” said Mr. Belskus. “Professional soccer has a bright future in Indiana, and I’m very pleased to have contributed to its growth. I’m also thankful to my entire team at Indy Eleven for their hard work and dedication. I look forward to working with Ersal Ozdemir (owner) and everyone at Indy Eleven on a smooth transition.”
In hiring Nolan Partners, the team cited the firm’s “extensive experience working with global soccer brands.” Recently, the search firm placed former Liverpool CEO Ian Ayre as the first CEO of Nashville MLS.
It is unknown whether Indy Eleven will go the same route and pluck talent from overseas, but it has certainly become a trend for sports teams in the U.S. to look for leaders in foreign markets.
Recruiting Overseas Leaders
“It’s an exciting trend, and we feel fortunate to contribute to this evolution of sports executive talent,” said Mr. Biagini. “Sports is a global industry. The talent on the field/ice/pitch/court has been competing for decades. Teams search the ends of the Earth for their top athletes and coaches, and we’re now seeing an equal commitment to excellence when it comes to hiring business executives.”
Sports and Entertainment Expansion Elevating Search Business
Over the last 25 years, the sports sector has grown into a formidable global industry. Historically, professional sports teams operated on a relatively modest level, with league officials, team owners, managers, and coaches surrounding themselves with people they knew and trusted from their own small worlds. College sports teams relied on in-house search committees and word-of-mouth recommendations. Familiarity, however, can also breed contempt.
Teams with huge followings like the Dallas Cowboys, Real Madrid and Manchester United have seen their valuations soar into the billions of dollars. That’s attracted search firms – big time. Seasoned recruiters now provide strategic planning advice, in addition to talent identification services, with the capability of applying their findings to speed along the process in the hunt for talent. Here’s some further reading from Hunt Scanlon Media.
“Teams and associations should embrace the opportunity to hire the best talent they can and not limit their searches to a smaller geography,” he said. “Similarly, sports executives should consider exporting their skill-set. Not only is it a great professional opportunity, it’s an incredible personal adventure.”
“In the case of soccer teams, soccer is relatively young here in North America,” Mr. Biagini said. “We have a fabulous and rapidly growing league led by some of the best talent in all of global sports. But the sport of soccer is still new when compared to the hundreds of years of history in European countries and the U.K. Soccer executives from Europe can bring a different level of knowledge of the sport.”
Nolan Partners, founded in 2006, focuses exclusively on clients in sports and sports-related sectors. The firm has conducted more than 250 senior executive placements across 16 sports, including swimming, tennis, race-car driving, cricket, rugby and football/ soccer.
Nolan Partners works with clients that include world-renowned sports clubs, governing bodies, professional leagues, venues, broadcasters and major corporate organizations involved in sports. Among them: the English Premier League, Manchester United FC, Liverpool FC, beIN, Chicago Cubs, NBA, NFL, Rugby League International Federation, Wimbledon, Mercedes Formula One, Breeders’ Cup, Yokohama F. Marinos, and the British Olympic Association.
Mr. Biagini has more than 10 years of experience in executive search, representing a wide range of sports clients including Ultimate Fighting Championship, WWE, Special Olympics, and teams across Major League Baseball, National Hockey League, Major League Soccer and the NFL. Throughout his career, he placed more than 200 senior executives across the industries of financial services, consumer products, technology, private equity, automotive, non-profit, media & entertainment, sports management, aerospace and higher education.
Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor; and Andrew W. Mitchell, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media