Hated by the fans, crucified by the pundits and publicly decried by the rest of the game, the short-lived European Super League (ESL) is now a thing of memory.
With the announcement on Sunday 18th April that the “biggest” clubs in Europe namely –– AC Milan, Arsenal, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Chelsea, Inter Milan, Juventus, Liverpool, Manchester City,
Manchester United, Real Madrid, Tottenham Hotspur intended to create and join an exclusive ‘Super League’ sparking condemnation from Royalty to the average man, it only took until Tuesday 20th April for England’s ‘big six’ to reverse course and sheepishly move back into the fold.
However, as we reflect on this monumental concept for the game, and it’s subsequent fizzle out, we can’t help but think of what lessons businesses can take from the ESL and was it destined to be doomed?
You never get a second chance to make a first impression
The ESL did not start out on a great footing. Despite hiring InHouse Communications, once described at the “Fortnum and Mason of communications” as it’s PR agency – the ESL quietly released a statement of intent on a sleepy Sunday afternoon. Owners, stakeholders and anyone involved were silent. In fact, the only people to speak were it’s many competitors…. And speak they did. From Gary Neville on Sky Sports to Aleksander Čeferin president of UEFA, and a man whose £1.17 million pound salary (https://eu.usatoday.com/story/sports/soccer/2018/03/16/uefa-reveals-president-ceferin-is-paid-1-64m-salary/33013295/) was directly under threat, filled the void of silence with a stream of criticism and condemnation with phrases such as “It’s an absolute disgrace”, “It’s pure greed. They’re imposters.”, “Snakes” and “liars” being thrown about.
Despite Florentino Pérez, President of Real Madrid and Chairman of the ESL, trying to go on Spanish TV to address the press, the damage had been done. His message of the ESL “Saving Soccer” now fell on deaf ears – people were not looking for a reason to support the league – they were looking for an explanation and a scalp.
Businesses can learn from this – with any news you deliver, good or bad, deliver it first and in a thought-out way with integrity and supporting evidence. Do not release a cryptic or short message without being there to give the answers. All this does is give others a chance to put their spin on it and, more importantly, an opportunity for them to pitch.
Your Employees are your biggest advocates – do not leave them in the dark
“I would love the president of the committee to go out around the world and explain how we got this decision. But I also have my opinion but right now it is just a statement. That is why it is uncomfortable for the managers. We don’t have all the information.”
-Pep Guardiola on the ESL
“It’s a tough one. People are not happy about it, and I can understand that, but I cannot say a lot more about it because we were not involved in any processes, not the players not me, we didn’t know about it. We will have to wait to see how it develops.”
-Jurgen Klopp on the ESL
As can be seen above, what employees don’t know they can’t advocate. Owners made the mistake of releasing details to the public without properly briefing their Managers, ones that literally talk to the press weekly…
When releasing any company news, good or bad, brief your employees. This can be simultaneous if particularly sensitive or restricted or, better if you can, ahead of time. Give them the full picture, how it will affect them, the reasoning behind the decision and how it will affect the operations of the company moving forward. Not everyone may agree with you, not everyone may like it but at the very least everyone will know your reasoning for taking the action you have – and subsequently cascade that information to the market and your customers.
Treat your customers (fans) with respect
“Legacy fans” – two words that destroyed the solidarity fans may have had for any club involved in the ESL. No matter what anyone said about the ESL, pundits, football officials, other teams – some fans may have a lingering sense of loyalty the clubs they have supported since they were children. That is until the words “Legacy fans” were mentioned. Chelsea fans blocked their own team bus, Man United fans cut up their season tickets and Liverpool fans removed their banners from Anfield – bottom line – they all went out of their way to disrupt their club in some form or manner.
Business operates and thrives by attracting new customers – we get it. It does not mean you should disrespect or disregard your current customers. If you work just for acquisition and do not have some form of customer satisfaction and service, you’re going to be sitting on a high burn and churn business. When the customer comes first, they will last – leaving you to concentrate other efforts on building and expanding your business.
A strong supply chain is essential
UK broadcasters are essentially the kingmakers of any sport in this country– with the Jewel being the Premier League.
“We are completely focussed on supporting our long-term football partners in the UK and in Europe, already providing fans with the best live actions from the best football competitions in the world”
“BT recognises many of the concerns raised by many of footballs leading voices and fans, and believes the formation of a European Super League effect to the long-term health of football in this country”
Two statements that in varying degrees decried the formation of a new, and perhaps competing product. With rumours of a deal with upstart streamers such as Dazn, Disney+, Amazon and Netflix floating around – traditional broadcasters were surely concerned – and their coverage showed it. With Sky being instrumental in the formation of the Premier league – they are not against rebels – we wouldn’t hesitate to guess that they are against giving up market share.
For any business it is a valuable lesson – suppliers can be the lifeline you need. Should Sky or BT have been brought to the negotiating table would they have been more sympathetic – maybe, maybe not. What we do know is that good, strong supplier relationships are the key in most businesses. A friend is more likely to be willing to help you out than a stranger or enemy ever will.
Last but not least – create something to help others – not purely for yourself
It can be assumed that the ESL was created purely to line the pockets of the clubs involved and provide a stable income like the NFL franchise system that some of the club owners have interests in.
And therein lies the problem.
This was not a move intended to better the fan experience or improve the football world – it was an implicitly selfish venture in its inception.
Businesses are largely designed to make a profit – otherwise they will not survive… However, they should always at their heart aim to help the customer. As the old saying goes “Never start a business to make money. Start a business to make a difference.”
If the owners of the clubs involved can learn one lesson that entrepreneurs and businesses owners around the world are aware of and is summed up in this quote by Bill gates:
“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning”
Hopefully they learn from this and don’t repeat their mistake.