It’s my fault…Not Yours!

One of the great books I have read in the past few years is “Extreme Ownership” by retired Nay Seal Jocko Willink. He was the commander of the Seal Team Three made famous by Sniper Chris Kyle and their exploits in 2006 in the Battle of Ramadi. It’s a fascinating read because to me the concept of what he is talking about is so rarely seen.

Willink makes it clear that any mission failure whilst he was Commander was his responsibility. It didn’t matter that as the Commander he was typically at the base during an operation. If the mission went sideways, he didn’t blame the Seals under his command. Instead, he asked himself why it went wrong? Had the planning been insufficient, had he miscommunicated mission priorities, had he not properly anticipated the enemy’s movements, had he not trained his troops correctly?

In November, last year, alongside my friends at Purple Beach and the always excellent Jean Gomes, I hosted a dinner talking about the need for innovation in the sports industry. It was an excellent yet at times troubling debate. There seemed to be a theoretical acceptance that innovation might be necessary but not really much appetite for it — in particular amongst the bigger sports where revenues are at historic highs.

There are many reasons for why this was disturbing — if you are a regular reader of these articles then you will have seen some of my previous thoughts — not least the fact that I believe innovation is inevitable and that technology and its ever presence in our lives is only accelerating this and that if Sport doesn’t embrace it other areas of entertainment could seize the surpass it.

That’s when I realised that it’s my fault.

If the leaders in sport are not seeing the issues, or if they see them but are unable to turn, then its clear that I am not communicating properly. I am not speaking, yet, in the language that they need to hear to embrace the change I believe is necessary.

One of the subjects that I have read a lot about the last few days on LinkedIn concerns Bayern Munich’s decision to have a linear pay TV channel in partnership with Deutsche Telekom. Some overly praised this and others castigated it. Yet, like most things, it’s somewhere in the middle. It is good news that they have launched a 24/7 product but that not cheap and they are not a media company so partnering up is smart. Whilst the focus is on the linear via EntertainTV it will be available on their website and smartphone apps…which is not a million miles from the next step which is a full OTT/SVOD product. That’s genuine progress.

No, it’s not transformational but they are on a journey and will soon — hopefully — begin to see the benefits of controlling the content, presumably controlling or having full access to the data generated and be able to adapt their ‘broadcast’ model as they grow.

SVOD and OTT have been available for over a decade but as with most technologies, it takes a generation to be universally accepted. MLB was at the cutting edge when I watched my beloved Red Sox on back in 2004 beat the Yankees in game 7 of the ALCS from a hotel room in Brasil. Should more clubs that have their own channels be more clearly committed to this space — of course. For the innovators and change agents out there the question, however, is more on how can we improve what we are saying so that the business of sport can change at a more accelerated pace.

For example, should Bayern actually be talking to Facebook about running the channel live on their Platform with Bayern sharing in advertising revenues and having full access to the data? To me, that’s an interesting question and potential next step (though not one I have fully examined as yet).

As part of this new language, we need to accept a few truths.

Clubs get stuck in the weekly run of selling tickets, no matter their size. The need to sell more seats, more hospitality and find new sponsors is unending. This is the model like it or not.

Social platforms as they are today are considered key to marketing in sports clubs, actually, this is often what they refer to as a digital strategy. They are right of course — having bigger audiences on social can be a key ingredient to bringing in more or bigger sponsors because too many C-Suite executives outside of sport that is what they consider important too. Remember sport is not the only sector yet to fully get to grips with a digital world and the perception of big reach on social is in many cases more important than the reality of what that means.

TV is not dead. It’s in decline for sure and sport is in need of finding what it does if the linear model collapses but social and interactive media is rising inexorably but that doesn’t necessarily correlate to the death of TV (yet). The key here is understanding what Kevin Roberts wrote in a recent edition of Sport Business: “Football is not a ‘sit back’ entertainment. It is about the involvement, commitment and passion of the fans…” Big broadcast deals and linear is still the most relevant distribution platform — the trick is to understand that the fan wants to engage whilst watching and making that possible in a way that most benefits your sport/club.

The dinner I am hosting with PurpleBeach this week is therefore about tapping into the knowledge base of someone from outside of sport who has faced similar issues. Tanya Cordrey was at the Guardian which has a daily timeframe, not weekly. The pressure is equally there to deliver results on a rapid basis. If there is an advantage to her it was that it was all too obvious to everyone that the way people consume news has changed and therefore the Guardian’s digital model needed to adapt and quickly whilst protecting current revenues.

It might not yet be so obvious to some execs in sport but it faces similar challenges.

The dinner will be interesting, the debate no doubt will be lively but hopefully, I and my guests will learn more and come out the other side a little closer to my objective of being able to speak in a language that can get the leaders of our sector to embrace innovation.


Jean Gomes:

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