It’s not often we get to witness organizations that have reached the pinnacle of their industry collectively demonstrate an egregious lack in judgment, let alone admit to their mistake and backtrack within 48 hours.
Yet that is exactly what we saw with the here-today-gone-tomorrow European Super League.
In the aftermath of the ESL’s evaporation, the most-asked question has been, “How did the owners of 12 of the most storied sports franchises in the world get it so wrong?” It’s an excellent question and there is a lesson for all of us in the answer.
When you’re talking about billions of dollars and the people who control them, the easy answers are “greed” or “hubris” or similar unbecoming personal traits, and it is highly likely those were in play to some degree in this situation.
But more importantly, the leadership of these clubs made an error that others throughout sports make every day. (They just did it on a colossal scale for all the world to see.)
They forgot to put the fans first. They prioritized the enterprise. From a revenue and shareholder value perspective, the ESL had the potential to exponentially improve their fortunes, so like any good business owner, they pursued the opportunity.
Incredibly, they forgot that the ultimate source of those dollars is the fan, and they neglected to account for fan response to their initiative. It would not have taken much research to determine that the idea for the ESL would be widely rejected, yet the clubs either did not ask the question or ignored the answer.
Your organization would not make that same mistake, you say. You conduct fan research; monitor and engage through social media; collect and analyze reams of data on interests, lifestyle, behavior, etc. Your goal is to constantly improve the experience of being a fan.
But all of that does not equal putting the fan first. In an excellent recent opinion piece for SportsPro, two leaders of the German agency Jung von Matt SPORTS deftly explain the difference and offer this sage advice:
“The regularly proclaimed fan-centric approach of rights holders is too often based on a transaction-driven and platform-driven logic: trying to drive the digital journeys of people rather than understanding their attitudes and motivations as part of their self-concept and buying decisions. Data alone won’t do the job. Brands need to understand the zeitgeist to build and grow human connections, for example by creating value-driven communities and cultures that people want to belong to.”
Focusing on short-term sales and neglecting long-term relationship-building isn’t going to earn your organization the universal scorn heaped on the ESL. But neither is it going to ensure your current fans stay in the fold, nor will it attract the next generation of diehards.