Welcome to Industry Insider by Behind Sport. Our latest guest is Senior Lecturer in Sport Business, Dr Dan Parnell!


Tell us about yourself, what is your current role and what roles have you done previously? 

Hello, I am Daniel Parnell. I am a Senior Lecturer in Sport Business at the University of Liverpool Management School. In addition to this role, I also hold a number of public engagement positions to support my research and impact. In this respect, I am the CEO of the Association of Sporting Directors, co-founder of The Football Collective and a trustee of my local football club, the Shaftesbury Youth Club. I also sit on the Advisory Board of the Sports Think Tank, tutor for The FA on their Talent Identification pathway and have recently accepted the position as a trustee for the national sport leadership charity Sports Leaders UK (SLQ). Beyond this, I regularly consult with football clubs and have held a range of project management and research roles in football and academia. This all started from a playing football and was helped along when I started coaching football at the age of 17 (I am 35!). Since then have worked in many amazing organisations in the third, public and private sector, notably Everton FC and their community arm Everton in the Community. The golden thread between all of my positions has been football and people who are committed to improving themselves, organisations and society.


What do you do in your current role?

Within my current role at the University of Liverpool Management School I am fortunate to work within an incredible team at the Centre for Sport Business.  My colleagues are immersed within exciting teaching and learning activities with our students, alongside some fascinating industry partnerships.  My main role is to contribute to outstanding learning environments and experiences for our students, alongside ensuring our research and scholarships tackles the big industry challenges.  The relationships between the Centre and industry makes us ideally placed to do this, whilst ensuring our students have research informed and real-life classes that equip them to operate successfully within the industry. Here I teach on our Sport Business and Management MSc and Football Industries MBA, which both attract high quality students from around the world.  In addition, I tutor on the League Manager Association diploma, which is headed by Professor Sue Bridgewater.  This combination and variety of courses presents an incredible mix of environments, experiences and challenges, which is everything I could have hoped for when I started working in academia. I also supervise a number of Professional Doctorate students at Liverpool John Moores University. These students work in elite level football, are experts in their field and are passionately committed to learning, personal development and enhancing the performance of their organisations.  The exchanges I have with all of my students are the most rewarding part of my job – it means I get to meet many fascinating people every single year and I take great pride in playing a small part in their learning journey and take every opportunity I can to learn from them.

Here, Dan Parnell took his students with the British Council to share experiences and practices around rugby and football in Medellin, Colombia. Four of his students hosted a talk and session for over 100 students on the first day. Medellin, Colombia.


Outside of teaching and learning, The Football Collective, which is one of our proudest achievements. When the initial group of 10 founded the organisation in 2016, little did we know we would host conferences and events year upon year, starting in FC United (Manchester, 2016), the University of Limerick (2017), Hampden Park (Glasgow, 2018), Bramall Lane (Sheffield, 2019) and Football in Lockdown (online, 2020). The membership has grown to well in excess of 400 scholars from around the world, we have developed a professional mentorship programme, alongside a successful book series with Routledge, a thriving podcast and most recently we have organised over 30 online seminars during lockdown. I stepped down as Chair in May 2020 to focus on ensuring the sustainability of the collective, which has continued to go from strength to strength.

Our first conference with The Football Collective outside of England. Left to right: Dan Parnell, Joel Rookwood, James Carr, Martin Power and Paul Widdop (Football, Politics and Popular Culture Conference, 2017)


As the custodian and CEO for the Association of Sporting Directors, I am responsible to working with the Board, Management Committee and Technical Committee, to ensure the organisation delivers a high-quality experiences for and service to our global membership, alongside ensuring the organisations future sustainability is firmly secured. Through the association, our members create what I would describe as a pioneering environment for leaders to support, connect and develop. We help our members prepare for the future challenges of the game and strive to be research and expert informed in our practice. This means drawing upon our collective industry and research networks to get the very best people within the organisation to support our members. The association is a genuinely collective effort, from colleagues on the Board, through to our global membership, and including students from the various courses I teach on at ULMS who take the opportunity to work with leaders in football and put their skills and expertise into action through joining the team at the association.

Our Sport Business and Management MSc students are joined by two of my former students, Neil Sang (football intermediary) and Tony Asghar (Sporting Director, Dundee United FC) for a critical analysis of the football industry.


Beyond this, I am regularly invited to talk at different universities and organisations, which I love as I get to meet new people and brilliant colleagues working in academia and industry. I am also currently involved in a number of other activities, including one-to-one private consultancy across football covering aspects from quality management, executive mentorship, professional development, leadership and recruitment. This means close working relationships with owners, CEOs, sporting directors, loan managers, first team managers and academy managers. These experiences are based on my genuine passion for the game and have helped me develop a critical and comprehensive understanding of the football industry, which informs much of my teaching and scholarship. Some of my recent projects include:

  • helping an owner of an English Championship club recruit a sporting director;
  • writing the recruitment process for a first team manager;
  • writing the organisational structure and job specifications for the Board members, director of football and head coach for an English Premier League CEO;
  • advising an English Premier League first team manager on Board structure and effectiveness;
  • conducting a rapid research report for football leaders in England on the state of grassroots football.


What does a normal week look like for you?

There is no normal week!  My teaching and scholarship provide a routine that is my main priority. Ultimately, my focus is on my students on the various course I contribute to. However, the pandemic has thrown in some challenges! Now more than ever, our students need our support and for us to be accessible.  Given lockdown we have been able to provide extensive support to students online, through calls, messages, WhatsApp’s, Zoom and MS Teams. In many cases, the flexibility and situation has meant we have had to virtually connect to ensure progress and make it a success. I am excited about being back in the classroom, whilst also capitalising on technology we have not heard of yet to build incredible learning experiences. Most people close to me, will also know I spend a lot of time on the Wirral’s stunning coastline, with Betty.


How did you end up where you are right now? When did you know you wanted to work in sport?

There was no plan. It would be easy to offer some tangible steps in hindsight, however in reality I finished school and loved football. I went to college to learn more about football and at the time, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to go to University (the first in my family). We didn’t really understand the process, so I applied to Liverpool John Moores University – hoping to learn more about football! Fortunately, I was accepted and worked hard (at times) alongside having a lot of fun. There has been plenty of highs and lows between starting my PhD to arriving at the University of Liverpool – full of exciting challenges, complete gambles and a continued combination of loving football, working hard, lots of reading, learning hard, a bit of luck (including on the streets of Medellin) and many incredible relationships and friendships has been a major part of my journey. I now have a plan, but it’s not unique – more football, more good people and focused hard work – hopefully it works out.


What are you excited about in your industry at the moment?

Most industries are being prompted to change due to the pandemic. There are major challenges that are known, and likely many more that are unknown. There is no getting away from the seriousness of the situation and I am fearful for the uncertainty this presents for many workers – for people, their families and our communities. However, as much as we know things will be different and I wholeheartedly believe we will come back from this stronger – that we will build back better. This is what not necessarily what excites me, but what gives me hope.


What is the one piece of advice you would give to someone wanting to work in the sports industry?

There is lots to say here and one piece of advice is simply not enough. However, the one I give is the gateway to broader success, so here goes:


Build positive relationships

Your relationship and communication skills are critical for the development of an effective network in the football (or any) industry. An effective network of people around you, will support critical reflection, learning, innovation and in-turn successful performance. Of course, you need to know how to develop this, who with (and who to avoid), what questions to ask and of whom, but this is critical to becoming a better person and becoming a success.

My closest colleague, ally and friend – Dr Paul Widdop. Quality relationships are not easy to come by, some are the easiest.


How to follow Dr Dan Parnell on social media…

You can find me on LinkedIn or Twitter.


Thanks for reading our Industry Insider feature with Senior Lecturer in Sport Business, Dr Dan Parnell!