Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Business of Sport

Earlier this month I spoke at the Leaders in Performance conference at Chelsea Football Club in London. James Worrall and team at Leaders in Football, who run the event, brought together coaches, managers, performance directors and other sport professionals for a one day conference. There were concurrent conferences for leaders in football, and leaders in sponsorship. In all, 1000 delegates from 40 countries representing 28 different sports.

Sport has grown to be a very big business, with PriceWaterhouseCoopers estimating annual global revenues for professional sport from gate takings, sponsorships and media rights to rise 3.8% a year from US$114 billion in 2009 to US$133 billion in 2013. It’s no wonder there are conferences about how to run a better sports organization (especially as a bunch of them are up to their eyes in debt).

A decade or so ago I co-authored Peak Performance: Business Lessons from the World’s Leading Sports Organizations. Five of the lessons we took from sport to business are:

  1. It all starts with Purpose and a Dream.
  2. It’s not about Team.
  3. It’s about The Last Detail.
  4. BFI’s.
  5. It’s not about Managers or Leaders.
At this year’s Leaders in Performance, I turned this idea on its head and offered some wisdom from the business arena that sport professionals could benefit from:
  1. Nail down Respect (essential at a time of debt bombs, matchfixing, ambush marketing, penalty dives, Tiger, manos de dios)
  2. Unleash the unreasonable power of creativity (ask the crazy questions “what if?” that create transformations)
  3. Inspire your own people first (give them Responsibility, Learning, Recognition, Joy)
  4. Make a real difference (the role of business is to make the world a better place).
The leaders, innovators, and executors within a sports organization are just as valuable to creating the inspiration and respect that people look to clubs like Chelsea (who have a real performance leader in Mike Forde) and the New York Yankees to provide.

As the world of professional sport continues to grow and gain more influence, it’s important for leaders to gather together, share valuable knowledge, and reaffirm their professional values. Looking around the room and seeing Johan Bruyneel, Gianluca Vialli, Arsène Wenger and many more was fun, and I even managed to talk some rugby with Brian Smith, and Martin Johnson.

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