Graduating from the AUC School of Business with a bachelor’s in business administration in 2013, Karim Fathi knew what he wanted to do with his career: to work in sports business and management on a global scale. Nearly five years later, it is safe to say that he is set to do that well into the foreseeable future, with his hard work leading to an established position in the France offices of global sports agency Lagardère Sports. Recently, he was chosen by Front Office Sports among its 25 Under 25 list of top sports professionals who are judged to have had considerable success in their young careers.
On the occasion of this distinguished listing, the AUC School of Business spoke with Fathi to find out about his journey and the elements that he feels are shaping the industry in the region.
What is the root of your passion for sports management?
I was always interested in sports as a whole ever since I was a kid; [I was] mainly into football. As time passed by, I became interested in reading about sports, [in] writing about sports, [writing about] games and in learning more about the structure of sports entities and sports teams – so taking it more from the technical side, as in what is happening in the game, but more from behind the scenes to make it all come to life.
When I was in high school, I used to write for Goal.com, which was back then – and still is – one of the leaders of sports news around the world. I volunteered there, then worked part-time over the summer covering African football news. From there, I felt that this was something that I was interested in and something that I had a passion for not just as a hobby, but as something that I can further pursue and go forward with.
Looking back now, how would you describe your experience in AUC?
It was good. It was quite interesting because I started, in the beginning, studying mechanical engineering for two years. But then, I felt that that was not what I wanted to do, that this was not what I was interested in or where my passion lies.
I was always interested in sports business. The closest thing that was most relevant to it in AUC was obviously business administration. I [also] had a great interest in marketing, so I switched majors. I spent an extra semester, but I had a great time, enjoyed it, lots of friends, good atmosphere, learned a lot – especially from a business side.
What was the shift like for you from mechanical engineering to business?
It was quite complicated. In the beginning, I focused on making sure that I could check all the boxes and fulfill all the requirements to declare and graduate. I believed it was doable, and obviously, I got a lot of help from the School of Business in putting me on the right track to graduate in time and to make sure that I take all the right courses in time. It went flawlessly I’d say.
Do you feel that sports content and management are untapped in Africa?
Yeah, it hasn’t matured yet a hundred percent. Not a lot of people see the true potential in it, so they’re just doing it for the sake of doing it. But all over the world, it’s an industry with billions of dollars invested across different segments of the sports business and management industry. I see obviously that there’s a lot of potential. Some countries in the Middle East have capitalized on it before others like the UAE and Qatar, [and] now Saudi Arabia a little bit and also Morocco; others are yet to see the true potential and value. There’s a lot that has been going on in Egypt over the past few years development-wise. It [the industry] has progressed quite a bit, but there’s also a lot to be done.
Where do you feel the biggest areas for development are?
I think in Egypt, the biggest area that can be improved is just the privatization of sports entities so it becomes more of a free-flowing market where you can have lots of investors, lots of people from outside of the country interested in the product that you are selling.
Then you have also [the fact that] all games over the last five years have been played behind closed doors. That obviously affects the entire sporting model. No fans [means] lost revenue in merchandising, lost revenue in ticketing, lost revenue for sponsors trying to get exposure inside the stadiums. So it [the industry] has been mainly dependent on TV rights in the past couple of years. And that’s not enough for it to be a sustainable business model. Of course, I am talking about football in Egypt because it is the biggest sport. Then again, you have all these different other sports that could be developed likewise.
How do you feel that other sports in Egypt could be developed?
I think it all depends on the exposure and the effort of each sport and what it is doing to try to grow. But I think that it is obviously best to look at them from the grassroots and start from the bottom before going on up, just to pique the interest of people who might not be aware that a certain sport exists. It takes time, but if done right, you should have a wide fan base.
What advice would you give students wanting to pursue a career in sports management?
[I would say that] If you have that interest, then you got to be involved in some sort of capacity one way or another. When I was trying to [break into the industry], whatever I found I jumped for. For example, I volunteered for the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Istanbul, so that was a great opportunity as well. I’d say be involved in anything sports-related, and based on that, you’re going to find your niche, and then you can build on it.