So far we’ve covered three core ‘future-proofing’ components for 2022 – fusing the digital and physical offer; building efficiency and influence into your whole supply chain; and readying your business for the economic wilds of 2022.
So, what’s missing? Well, this article was a bit of a test. If you’ve managed to read this far without a nagging doubt in your mind about what 2022 might hold, then you’ve probably not been listening carefully enough recently to your fans or employees.
Put simply, what is missing from the above is purpose. What’s the point of your business? How does it impact on the wider world? What’s the goal your employees are collectively trying to attain? In truth, sport has traditionally had a free pass in this space. As a sports team, for example, the purpose has always been winning, and fans inherited blind loyalty as a birth right. End of discussion. However, current and future generations are more questioning. Winning at what cost? And to what end? How much of a force for good is my team really?
Once the whistle goes, the responsibility no longer ceases. What’s been a trickle in the start of the 20th century has become a torrent, and any organisation that’s not thinking this through is going to come to a sticky end. As Simon Sinek says in his famous TED Talk, ‘Start with Why’: “Very few people or companies can clearly articulate why they do what they do. By why I mean your purpose, cause or belief. Why does your company exist? Why do you get out of bed every morning? And why should anyone care?”
Ironically enough, the tide has finally been turned not by those in the boardroom or the employees in the back office, but the athletes who feature on the field of play whose core purpose has traditionally had the purest focus on winning. What started with Colin Kaepernick has become a torrent of athletes finding their voices for change, and in doing so creating ripples through the entire industry.
One new business which has launched into this space is Maikai, a player representation company with a difference, founded and led by David Ellis, the former chief executive of English rugby union team Harlequins.
“Maikai’s goal is to shape a stronger, fairer, more inclusive world by helping our athletes and our sporting institutions become stronger and more purpose-focused,” explains Ellis. “In my experience sport in general - and Harlequins was no exception - has always been an active and benevolent contributor to society at large. Witnessing first-hand the power of the club, but more specifically our players, to enhance and enrich people’s lives, coupled with the equally positive effect it had on the players involved, definitely sowed a seed for what has become Maikai.”
Ellis has focused the activity of his business around the 17 United Nations Global Goals agenda, officially known as the Sustainable Development Goals, which aims to create a better world by ending poverty, fighting inequality and addressing climate change by 2030.
If you’ve managed to read this far without a nagging doubt in your mind about what 2022 might hold, then you’ve probably not been listening carefully enough.
When asked why, he explains: “There is a phrase I’ve picked up: ’Whatever you care about, whatever you want to change in our world, the Global Goals are our best chance to do it.’ There is already a global agenda and framework which all countries are working towards to help address issues in races and genders, inequality and climate. We don’t need to invent a new one – what we need is to do something about the issues.”
He continues: “There are a lot of athletes who already have a strong, innate sense of purpose driving great initiatives to deliver positive change. We help them find and raise their own voice; we work with them and partners to inspire and drive others to help achieve the UN Global Goals agenda. In doing so we focus on the wellbeing and lifetime prospects of our elite athletes - irrespective of their sport, age or career point.”
This, says Ellis, is a new space and requires all involved to leave some of the traditional pointed elbows in athlete representation at home.
“In supporting athletes long term prosperity and delivering the Global Goals, there is no monopoly on wisdom or approach,” he adds. “We aim to be adaptable, collaborative and foster cooperation with like-minded parties to achieve the best outcomes for the athletes and society. Athletes and brands may use us as their agency or as a platform for support. Other agencies, clubs and leagues could use us also.”
It’s not just the athletes, however. We now are starting to see a more questioning attitudes among employees in passion industries as to the values of their employers. There is rightly an increased expectation that even passion industries treat their employees fairly – something which doesn’t always come naturally.
Sport needs to be very careful or it can expect the same kind of backlash that’s been seen in video gaming, where a countermovement has sprung up called Games Workers Unite which aims to counter some of the arcane management in the industry. The UK branch of the organisation describes itself as ‘a worker-led, democratic trade union that represents and advocates for UK game workers' rights, one which seeks to increase the quality of life for all game workers by campaigning to:
- End the institutionalised practice of excessive/unpaid overtime
- Improve diversity and inclusion at all levels
- Inform workers of their rights and support those who are abused, harassed, or need representation
- Secure a steady and fair wage for all
Ultimately this comes down to offering employees a broader purpose in their work, as well as the organisation as a whole, and a level playing field which rewards success. Sport, like gaming, has plenty of people ready to replace those who are unhappy. But, ironically enough, it’s very likely the unhappy ones you’ll want to keep.
“Great companies don’t hire skilled people and motivate them, they hire already motivated people and inspire them,” said Sinek. “People are either motivated or they are not. Unless you give motivated people something to believe in, something bigger than their job to work toward, they will motivate themselves to find a new job and you’ll be stuck with whoever’s left.”
It’s also not just a case of individuals being happy, but joining that effort up in order to build a compelling narrative for current and future generations of employees. Winning on the weekend is no longer enough. Ellis, for one, recognises the need for leaders to be more active in this space. “The current crisis has really sharpened the focus on needing to be clear what and how we will all contribute to a building a better future,” he argues. “It will be expected from our employees and customers alike.”
Diversity has a critical importance here, of course, at a point of time when ethical expectations and business imperative both demand change. Tony Simpson, partner and head of both the Media Practice and Board Practice at Savannah, wrote in his excellent blog post, ‘The Elephant in the Boardroom’: ‘The food we eat is a blend of various cultures, the music we listen to is a blend of different cultures, the holidays we seek are a mix of different cultures, the sports teams we follow are populated by athletes of different cultures. However, executive power remains steadfastly white, and still, in 2020, predominantly male.
‘For those who seek a return to ‘normal’, it’s just not going to happen. In ten years’ time it’s anticipated that up to 80 per cent of the global workforce will be made up of millennials. Over the coming decades, this group will start to occupy most leadership positions. Their thoughts and ideas will be the prevailing workplace culture. Now take a hard look within your organisation and ask yourself – is your leadership team going to be ready to do business with this new value-focused client base?
‘Generation Z, race and a new post Covid-19 working environment are all intrinsically linked. Merit-based diversity and inclusion are the only options if your business wishes to harness the power of a new and energised global population group.’
Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was forced out of the NFL for using his platform to highlight racial injustice
As well as being individually happy and pulled into a common sense of diverse action and collective purpose, teams and business units will also need to become more joined up operationally as organisations fuse their digital and physical offers. The Drone Racing League (DRL) is a fascinating example of the future sports business, both organisationally and culturally. Evenly split on gender lines, the organisation co-locates educators and marketers, production and software engineers, physicists and data scientists in a single hotbed of talent.
As DRL president Rachel JacobsonJacobson says: “One advantage we do have is that we can throw ourselves into new areas very easily. Since we invented the sport, we can figure out the rules and try new things quickly as we go. That’s just so much fun. I ask my team the whole time, ‘What would you do if you weren’t afraid of failing?’ And we go after those creative ideas. I try to see the world through the eyes of my ten-year-old twins.”
I am fortunate to have led a team at Two Circles whose generations are driving some of these fundamental changes, and know from experience how hard it can be to leave your perceptions, and the ways in which you were taught to lead, even as recently as ten to 15 years ago, at the door. As Ellis says: “To make a sustainable difference - optimism, authenticity and scale are the key ingredients.”
The key for any business will be to work through how this becomes front and centre of everything you do by 2022. This is no time to ignore Sinek’s warning and be ‘stuck with those who are left’.
The story so far
So there we have it. Over the summer, we looked at some Brilliant Basics to buy ourselves some breathing space through 2020. Having done this, we then took time to look at how to build a robust plan fit for the challenging times ahead.
Moving the story on, this article has taken a deep dive into 2022. We have looked in detail at some of the biggest tectonic shifts beyond the bubble of the sports industry, which need consideration in any future. While there is a lot of richness within sport, we also need to keep searching outside. As Matt Deimund says: “As an industry, we need to keep challenging ourselves to look outside. What can we learn from pharma? Or retail? It is a cultural shift for sport to look beyond, but it’s hugely important in order to keep progressing.”
Successful businesses in 2022 will be purpose-led. They will have successfully fused digital and physical into one coherent proposition. They will understand their entire supply chains and be sustainably financed in a way that derives meaning for both shareholders and employees alike. They will feel markedly different to lead, support and work within. That is true for any business – sporting or otherwise.
Using any breathing space you can garner to build a great plan for 2022 is, however, just the start. Next up, we’ll be looking at how to turn a great plan on paper into a great business in practice.
About the author: Matt Rogan has spent his career creating and scaling businesses in the sports and entertainment arena. Having co-founded Two Circles and led the business as chief executive and executive chairman for eight years, he now advises a number of businesses inside and outside sport as a non executive director. He also supports a small number of chief executives in a mentoring capacity. Matt joined the SportsPro team as a senior contributor in 2020 and will be publishing his second book in 2021. Find out more at www.mattrogansport.com.
Read part one, part two and three of this four-part serialisation. You can also read the chapter in its entirety in Issue 111 of SportsPro magazine. Subscribe today here.
Matt Rogan's CEO Playbook, an in-depth practical guide for running a sports business in the wake of Covid-19 - is due to be released in early 2021. Here's the story so far: