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The future of the sports industry in Italy between sustainability and generational turnover

Sport, thanks also to its exceptional worldwide diffusion between the 19th and 20th centuries, is increasingly becoming a fundamental activity in the individual and social lives of millions of people. 

Indeed, numerous philosophical and psycho-pedagogical studies have shown that the body and its movement are the basis of human development from an intellectual, cognitive and personality point of view. 

A cultural dynamic that increasingly places the emphasis and attention on sport both in its recreational and training dimension and in its competitive declination. From this point of view, motor and sports activities have the great ability to convey a framework of values based on cooperation, solidarity, socialisation and self-control. 

The health emergency linked to the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic has imposed stringent restrictions that are essential to safeguard public health, which have naturally also involved the world of sport, culminating, during the general lockdown, in the suspension of all forms of activity, both amateur and competitive, national and international. An extraordinary event that has only one historical precedent: the years of the Second World War. 

Leisure time

In our country, sporting activity, also understood as leisure time, has taken on an ever-increasing economic dimension, transforming itself from an initial mass phenomenon into a real market phenomenon. 

In Italy, according to ISTAT, there are 20 million people who practise sport in an amateur manner, to which must be added at least 12 million members, between promotional bodies and CONI.

We asked Fabio Casu, Professor on the Master in Sport and Lifestyle Management at the Business School in Rome, to analyse and examine this issue in more detail: 

“The sporting world has been through a very delicate and difficult time in the last two years. Of course we have to distinguish between professional and amateur sports, and between individual and team sports. Professional sports have not experienced any specific problems, of course before and after the total closures, because they have been able to adopt the health safety protocols in their venues to contain the pandemic. For the world of amateur sport, the situation was immediately more complex, mainly due to the lack of economic resources. Many activities came to a halt and most athletes had to stay at home.”

How habits are changing

According to the survey ‘The impact of Covid on the sporting activity of young people’ conducted by IPSOS, the world leader in market research, in collaboration with the Spallanzani National Institute for Infectious Diseases, the Policlinico Gemelli and the Bambino Gesù Children’s Hospital, the Italian sporting population has been forced to make drastic changes to its lifestyle, including with regard to sport, changes that will also have an impact in the near future.  

In fact, before the pandemic, most sportsmen and women regularly went to their gym or sports centre several times a week. The emergency situation has opened the door to a ‘hybrid’ way of understanding sport. During the lockdown period, indoor activities were replaced by online and outdoor courses and livestreamed training with recorded sessions on demand, which made it possible to take lessons outside one’s own area, or to open up to other disciplines never practised before.

“It might sound paradoxical, but I would say that in a way, during the pandemic, there was a positive effect for sporting activity, a real rebound. Being housebound inspired new approaches: people wanted to go out, so even those who didn’t use to be active started running, for example, or going to the park, so as I said, in a certain perspective, we had a change in habits, with positive repercussions in the economic sphere as well. For example, if there are more people running or walking there will be more customers for the sports uppers industry.

As far as fans following sport on TV is concerned, we didn’t see any change, because even during the worst pandemic period, sport continued to be broadcast on TV”.

Emerging sports

People approach sport at any age and with different motivations. Understanding the motivational processes involved in taking up a sport is undoubtedly one of the subjects that arouses much interest among sports psychologists and marketing managers. 

Certainly from this point of view the capacity for identification and empathy that professional athletes are able to produce in spectators plays an essential role, because emotions are an essential element that appeal to the sense of belonging and in this way re-propose the phenomenon of tribes. The experiences of a sportsman’s victories produce a ‘contagion’ effect because they lead to a condition of emulation and as a direct consequence produce an increase in the number of practitioners and members of that very discipline. 

Of course, the most popular sport in Italy is football, which is part of our culture and history. But in the last year, for example, there has been a lot of running for the reasons we know. In addition, we have seen an increase in the number of spectators in all those disciplines that were the protagonists of the recent Olympics and that have taken Italian athletes to the highest podium. I am thinking of athletics and volleyball. However, believing that it is only a medal that will attract people to a given discipline is a mistake dictated by a superficial approach: on the contrary, the strategies implemented by the federations are very important. The actions taken to promote a sport are fundamental to attracting new sportsmen and women. The Golf Federation is certainly a virtuous example.

Sports management

Over the last twenty years, the turnover of sport has grown exponentially and is increasingly becoming a business. In 2018, the Italian “sport industry”, in fact, had exceeded 8 billion euros and despite the last 24 months can be considered years to forget, sport is still a sector on which to continue to focus. 

Sport is a very powerful channel of communication, capable of reaching a truly vast audience: the direct audience, which witnesses the event in person, and the indirect audience, made up of users who follow the event via television, the press, radio and social networks. The emergence of management applied to sport is a direct demonstration of the relevance of a sector that represents a significant source of economic induced activity, growth and employment, which requires a managerial mentality and management. 

The management of sport, in fact, encompasses a series of very different activities that require specific professionalism with particular attention to organisational, legal and administrative aspects. The manager in this sector plans, organises, manages and verifies the implementation of plans and projects even in non-sporting areas as he or she has management skills.

 “I think that from a managerial point of view, we have two main factors that must guide the actions of the sector: one is the awareness that sport is a real economic industry, the other is the aspect related to its sustainability. The first aspect requires a professional, managerial approach, where skills must be specific to the implementation of winning business models. 

In addition, the sustainability aspect can no longer be ignored. We must consider the organisation of any event from the point of view of environmental sustainability, but also economic and social sustainability. 

A managerial perspective and a sustainability perspective are a winning combination. If you work in this field you have to be able to understand all the different facets of the sector and have the know-how to overcome critical issues.”

The importance of technology

The increasingly widespread use of technology in sport will bring about many changes in the near future. In fact, there is currently no sports club that does not use digital tools to engage the public through its website, social media and of course e-commerce. 

“In Italy we will see a sort of ‘generational change’ in the top roles of sport in the coming years, both at private and institutional level, and the next managers will have to be able to take the baton bringing new ideas and above all new skills. For a new start, we also await the funds and projects that will come out of the National Recovery and Resilience Plan, to foster well-being and social integration. It will be very important, of course, to monitor that the implementation of the projects is consistent with their objectives and inspiration.”


Business consultant and lecturer for universities and companies. For over 15 years he has worked in the world of sport at institutional and private level. He is currently Managing Partner of Moduslab, an innovative startup that defines development models for the sustainability of organisations, and President of AICSO (Italian Association of Chief Sustainability Officers).