Someone told sports content's biggest lie... again
I heard it again.
At an event a few weeks ago.
The biggest lie in sports digital.
An articulate, clearly committed and presumably talented CEO in a high-profile sport uttered it as he gushed about his club’s progress on and off the pitch.
“Content is king,” he proclaimed discussing the recent investment in his creative team.
Without thinking, I immediately sprang to my feet and shouted in that polite-but-rude British way.
“Err… excuse me. Really!?,” I began as 200 heads craned around in my direction. “Look, your team is doing OK, pretty well even. You’re a midtable side, perfectly capable of silverware if the chips fall your way and you make some decent decisions.
“But you have just thrown what I can only presume to be a sizable chunk of your playing budget on one of those flakey but talented internationals. He’s a real back page AND front page merchant isn’t he? Yes, he’ll initially get some bums on seats and, with his ability, lift the crowd to their feet sometimes too. But will it last? And does his history suggest the investment of time and money is worth it?
“If you really, really, really believe what you say then bin him or sell him at the nearest opportunity. Give his place in the squad to your most talented teenager. It will be great faith in the youth policy and you’ll have a ton of cash to spare. Your playing potential will still be 95% of what it is now.
“Then you can invest all that cash in your content team – people, equipment, training, hey even a strategist like me to bring it all together. Plug, plug.
“I’d venture that throwing even half of Flash Harry’s salary would fund the most talented, best-resourced creative set-up in your sport in this country for a good few years to come.
“I’d venture that throwing even half of Flash Harry’s salary would fund the most talented, best-equipped creative set-up in your sport in this country for a good few years to come.
“If you add the right tactical and emotional support – a clear strategy, proper gravitas in the business, the latitude to fail and protection for their priorities from those who wish to dilute their output – then you could sow far-flung seeds of real meaning among your fanbase. You might get a set of supporters attending every other week because of who you are and what you do not the scorelines you can produce. A clever content team with a long-term strategy can reveal and amplify that special something in sport that makes us turn up or switch on when we know (or even because) the team don’t deserve it. People want a Saturday replenishing their soul after the working week sapped the spirit; something that reminds us of deeper emotions: who we are, where we come from and the communal joy of sharing an identity.
“Your supporters want to love you, you just need to give them a reason. Great results are …well… really great but they are never, ever, ever the whole story. Every piece of content or communication must reek of what you stand for and re-enforce why they, the paying public, think you are special.
“But you won’t will you? Your coach has been moaning at you, hasn’t he? Blaming his own ineptitude and inability on the fact we just need a bit more pace/inventiveness/experience in the back/middle/front and this lad is ‘a bit special’. So you toss another few per cent of your turnover at a player your data analyst showed you that oh so impressive spreadsheet about.
“Let me tell you something, you aren’t going to do a Leicester. Even Claudio Ranieri doesn’t really know how he did it or he would not have been sacked three times since lifting that Premier League trophy.
The supporters will be calling for player signings too, often unreasonably so. That bluster does not help at times but clearly defined messages and real care allows the sensible to police the ‘knee-jerks’
“Anyway, even if you saved on the those-who-cant-be-touched at the training ground, you would just double down on a few more salespeople (sorry I mean business development executives), buy that CRM system you read about or something else that looks good for the club’s immediate bottom line or, more realistically, the top line of your CV.
“Yes, I know the supporters will be calling for player signings too, often unreasonably so. That bluster does not help at times but clearly defined messages and real care allows the sensible to police the ‘knee-jerks’.
“Yes, we know that the books need to be balanced and debt kills clubs. But really it is only supporters, their turnstile clicks, TV eyeballs and purchasing pockets, that sustain them anyway. They literally pay for the boss’s mistakes because they will be there long after their regime has gone. The story will always persist and if you tell it patiently you get paid back handsomely with no-one feeling ripped off.
“So why not give them something of which to be proud. A long, broad, deep story that binds them as a community and family, something that makes them a little better than they might be. If you don’t have an obvious history then find a cause, a USP, a difference… a bloody point!!!
People want a Saturday replenishing their soul after the working week sapped the spirit; something that reminds us of deeper emotions: who we are, where we come from and the communal joy of sharing an identity.
“Then tell that tale consistently, clearly, carefully and beautifully. It will very gradually make your club something close to result-proof.
“Because sport never starts and ends those who cross the white lines.
“And as for the little white lies you just told, keep them to yourself.”
With that, I sat down in silence, slightly bemused at my own bravery.
Then, one clap at a time, the applause started. It rippled around the room until the entire room was standing.
Finally, with red-faced reticence, the CEO slowly got to his feet and joined in.
* Names have been withheld to protect the innocent. And….errr…so have some important facts. My rant never happened, except in my Walter Mitty-like daydreams as I sat at the back of the conference hall listening to the talk. However the CEO’s quote, the nature of the club, the headline-grabbing player and the essential fallacy, yes that is all true.