New location…

2 09 2014

Hi, thanks for visiting, my blog has now moved.

So for all the latest updates on high performing NGBs, customer-led growth and sports business in general please click here or visit

See you there



Re-evaluating the 4 Ps of marketing for sport

10 02 2013

This month’s HBR magazine has an interesting article about rethinking the classic 4 Ps for B2B marketing. Instead of Product, Place, Price and Promotion, the authors propose Solution, Access, Value and Education. As NGBs are largely in the B2B space, rather than B2C, the article has some interesting ideas for sport’s governing bodies.

Instead of PRODUCT focus on SOLUTION
HBR – Define offerings by the needs they meet, not by their features, functions, or technological superiority.

Relevance to NGBs – as NGBs become more customer-focused in their planning and delivery, they are moving from just developing new products to providing the supporting services and experiences that collectively deliver benefits that meet customer needs. Central to this evolution is a deep understanding of their customer’s needs, influences and behaviours, as this enables them to clearly identify solutions that meet the specific needs of their target customers.

Instead of PLACE focus on ACCESS
HBR – Develop an integrated cross-channel presence that considers customers’ entire purchase journey instead of emphasising individual purchase locations and channels.

Relevance to NGBs – it’s often tempting to think about participants in just one place, whether its as a member of one club or on the end of one email address. In reality participants increasingly want choice and flexibility in how they engage with a sport, just as they do with many other brands. Therefore the modern NGB business model needs to consider who its target customers are, what kind of relationship the NGB wants to have with those customers, and who their key partners need to be to provide the range of access those customers want. These partners will include those offering local delivery options and/or online connections.

Instead of PRICE, focus on VALUE
HBR – Articulate the benefits relative to price, rather than stressing how price relates to production costs, profit margins, or competitors’ prices.

Relevance to NGBs – pricing is a common topic within sport, usually in the context of demands for programmes/sessions to be cheaper or free. To be able to achieve scalable growth, the conversation needs to turn to the value sport provides, as many of the competitors for people’s time have a higher price but still offer better/more relevant value. For example, how does the value of the hour of sporting experience you provide compare with the price of a coffee or a trip to the cinema?

Instead of PROMOTION focus on EDUCATION
HBR – Provide information relevant to customers’ specific needs at each point in the purchase cycle, rather than relying on advertising, PR, and personal selling that covers the waterfront.

Relevance to NGBs – in thinking about “grow” & “sustain” plans it can be easy to forget that most participants don’t quickly commit to a sport for the long-term. Therefore promoting the value and accessibility of the solutions a sport offers, needs to be an on-going process for retaining and growing customer engagement. This education can extend beyond where to play and why it’s adding value, to include information about the participation itself. Nike have already demonstrated that the cross-industry consumer trend for accessing and using personal consumption data can be harnessed as a powerful motivator of participation.

Why do we play sport?

1 01 2013

New year is a great time to start or increase our sports participation. For a start there’s safety in numbers, as “do more exercise” and “get fit” are high on the list of annual new year’s resolutions.

But to create a new habit out of these resolutions, personal trainers will tell us we need some extra steps. To succeed we need to set a goal & get a “gym buddy” to help keep us going. We also need to understand and identify our motivation for doing it. Asking why isn’t something we do enough, but only through really questioning ourselves can we understand why we want to do something.

Goals are good, but what happens once you’ve ticked off the race? Buddies are helpful, until they get injured or too busy at work. So if we don’t have a good reason why, then the new behaviour is unlikely to stick long-term.

So why do we play sport? And do we play all sports for the same reason? There’s plenty of research around, telling us the reasons people drop-out of sport or won’t start. But what about the millions that do play? What gets us out of cozy beds or (hopefully) dry houses to ride, run or kick balls around? What drives our love affair for playing, not just watching, sport?

Digging beneath the responses of SportEngland’s satisfaction survey shows that we can participate in the same sport for a multitude of personal yet common reasons. For some it’s about the competition & progression, for some it’s about improving their health or fitness and for others it’s purely social & not about the sport at all.

These motivations become important when we think about the competing activities. Those motivated by specific competition will be less inclined to play a range of sports than those driven to improve their general well being. Equally for those motivated by the social opportunity, a coffee shop or social media chat may be a competitor on a wet & windy day!

As for me, I play football because it’s been baked into my DNA since I could walk. I no longer dream of playing for Fulham or Wales, but I still get excited when a tricky pass or move comes off! They remind me of why I had the dreams as a child.

I ride my bike to explore places while getting fit, I run to remind myself I used to be much faster, and I used to swim because achieving a big goal like a sub-3hr triathlon was impossible if I didn’t.

So why do you play sport? Would you be lost without your regular fix, or will other fun activities replace it before the sun returns?

What’s your sport? A look at what a sport’s brand means to you

6 10 2011

What’s your sport? What is running, swimming or football? As a current, lapsed, potential participant, or as someone that never wants to do it, what do these sports mean to you? What does each sport’s brand stand for, in your eyes?

Strong brands are ones that create an emotional response in people. When you ask them what the brand is, they don’t reply with a list of functions and features. Instead they tell you about it’s benefits or how it’s relevant (or not) to them.

Growth comes from understanding the needs and expectations of the target customers you want to buy/use your brand – a strong connection with them often means a disconnection with others. Those who don’t engage deeply with a brand will usually dismiss it as “marketing hype”. And that’s the point about great brands, they divide opinion precisely because they are distinctive enough for people to have an opinion, as the varying eulogies to Steve Jobs have demonstrated.

Brands drive growth
Growth of the iPad, Starbucks, Manchester United, Ikea – each has invented or re-invented their category and achieved growth and success way beyond the wider market or what was considered normal. Each brand has their passionate followers with whom they deeply connect, and they have passionate detractors with whom they often disconnnect equally strongly. But that doesn’t matter – if you create something genuinely relevant and meaningful, it can’t be relevant and meaningful to everyone.

If you ask someone “what is Manchester United”, you wont get a list of features about ground capacity, employees or their upcoming fixture. Instead you’ll get a story about the role the team has played through someones life, the glory of a great victory, the thrill of watching great craftsmen at work. Or you will get the complete opposite – I’ll stop there before my inner Fulham fan takes over. But regardless of where you stand, its clear they’ve succeeded in growing the revenue and success of the club, by becoming a brand that people want to be part of and engaged with, both on and off the pitch.

The same dichotomy occurs if you ask people “what is Ikea” or “what is an iPad”. But all these brands have achieved stellar growth because their brand has deeply connected with enough people to drive it.

Branding and participation
So in terms of sports participation, my question is this, “what is sport?”. Or to make it more specific: “what is swimming, running or football?”

I chose these sports to get a mix of what gemba sports research call “franchise” sports (those where the number of fans vastly outweighs the number of participants) and “grass roots” sports (where the opposite is true).

The sport of football has a strong brand for spectators and sponsors, whether people and companies choose to engage with it or not. Likewise with the Olympics around the corner, the spectator brand for elite swimming and running will get more and more coverage – which will delight some and annoy others. But that’s why the Olympics works, if everyone cared then no-one would care. It creates a deep level of inspiration and excitement, because it connects with most people but not everyone. If every elite sport became relevant to everyone, they would be passionately relevant to no-one.

But what do any or all of those sports mean to you, as a current lapsed or aspiring participant? What does running, going for a swim or playing football mean to you? Does the idea thrill you or fill you with dread? Are you constantly trying to get friends to join in, or are you always planning to start playing it “tomorrow”? Are you looking forward to your next session, or is it something you keep saying you will do but probably never will (like I do about parachuting)?

Please add your thoughts in the comments below…

The 3rd place…

3 04 2011

I was reading the Starbucks entry on wikinvest the other day. The bit that particularly interested me was the short entry on Starbucks 3rd place – a market positioning based on delivering a differentiated customer experience that became a catalyst for growth within the coffee shop market. growth.
The entry reads: Starbucks’ success is due in large part to the trendsetting triumph of its coffeehouses as an informal and convenient “third place” outside of home and work, ideal both for informal meetings and a quiet moment away from the hubbub of daily life. Wi-fi internet access in all stores also makes it a place where customers can work. Book and music events also take place at Starbucks, in accordance with the company’s goal of making each location a community center of sorts to garner the loyalty of local customers.

It made me wonder whether sport can build on it’s current position, for some customers at least, as being their 3rd place between work and home. What Starbucks did wasn’t new, coffee shops were already a 3rd place for some. But what Starbucks did was build it up into a relevant and compelling customer experience, and one they could use to grow their whole market (not just their share of the existing market).

Golf is a sport that often combines business with sport, and team sports like football create social and community bonds around playing. But how could a sport deliver a customer experience – consistently across all it’s touch points – that set a completely new standard? What would it take for a sport to no longer be seen by its participants as an either/or to working or spending time with the family? Could it be West Wing-style mass jogging networking events, using voice to text software on an iPhone? Or family canoeing days that start with brunch at a cafe, and end at a cinema?

The answer probably isn’t either of those suggestions. But it is out there…

Sustainable business growth at Nike

26 03 2011

Last week, Nike announced their quarterly results. Constant dollar revenues grew 9%, with growth in every geography except for Japan. But it wasn’t the results themselves that interested me; but rather, how they explained their strategy for creating sustainable business growth.

Mark Parker, NIKE Inc.’s President and CEO, said “everything we do at Nike is based on delivering long-term sustainable growth. At the same time, we’re focused on delivering value to our shareholders in the near term. This is the balance you’ve come to expect from Nike, and it remains our commitment going forward.

We strike this balance by leveraging our significant competitive advantages, and chief among them are our authentic emotional connections with consumers, innovative product and retail experiences that lead the industry and a strong NIKE Inc. portfolio that gives us tremendous opportunities for growth and significant levers to drive profitability.

Consumer-driven companies with strong brands and compelling products will be in the best position to maintain their margins, and disciplined companies who are lean and focused on how they use their resources and who are aggressively seeking new ways to grow will prosper. Those who don’t won’t. In that sense, the roadmap for success in the future is no different than it’s always been”

Later in the call Charlie Denson, President of the Nike Brand, added: “As always, we’re focused on managing the business for sustainable long-term profitability. For the Nike brand, that means staying laser-focused on innovation, first at the product and brand level to drive the top-line growth and also driving innovation and discipline into how we run the business.”

While Nike is a multi-national commercial business, I believe there are some important messages here for the UK sports sector; whether the goal is increased profitability, more fans on seats or more participants on pitches, courts and roads.

Nike see their competitive advantages as including “authentic emotional connections with consumers, [and] innovative product and retail experiences”. And the Nike store environment and the style and tone of Nike’s services and communications would confirm this. They lead the market by listening to what consumers say about how they play sport – what it means to them, how it makes them feel and how they want to ‘consume’ it. They’re not bound by the rules of each sport, but rather by the needs of their consumers.

Many people associate Nike with product innovation, whether it’s Nike Air in the 80’s or Nike+ in the 00’s. But innovation also runs through how they manage their business processes and costs. Innovation and discipline is a powerful combination, as the likes of the Barcelona football team or the British cycling team regularly demonstrate. But how often do these twin traits of innovation and discipline emerge within the organizations and processes running sport?

So according to Nike, sustainable business growth comes from:
– being a consumer-driven company (clarity about why you exist, and where your strategic priorities are)
– creating authentic emotional connections with consumers (knowing who you exist for, and why you are still relevant to them)
– delivering innovative and compelling products (aligning what you provide to the people you exist for)
– providing innovative retail experiences (differentiating how you deliver your innovative products)
– embedding innovation into all aspects of the business (creating continuous improvement in both what you produce and how)
– being disciplined, lean and laser-focused (all business processes have a clear and relevant purpose, and are carried out both efficiently and effectively).

These traits exist across elite sport, and no doubt also reflect Nike’s origins with Bill Bowerman and Phil Knight. But they are just as relevant to how sports organisations across the market place could be operating. Can you share a good example of how these principles are being applied within the UK sports market…?

Governing the business of football – the A-League and English Premier League search for the same answers

21 04 2010

Football club ownership is in the news in both hemispheres at the moment. In the UK, Manchester Utd and Liverpool fans are both protesting about the investment approach taken by their American owners. Co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett have decided the business culture clash has gone on long enough, and put Liverpool up for sale. But the Glaziers, at least publicly, have no plans to sell despite the on-going green and gold protests from Utd fans.

These owners under seige come from a US sports model where debt is heavily leveraged against the club’s assets. But the average UK fan prefers that owners dip into their own personal wealth to support the extravagent player purchases that defy business logic. Last financial year, Chelsea reduced their losses to 47 million pounds (down from 70 million), while Man Utd actually made a pre-tax profit of 48 million pounds. But while Utd’s finances remain supported by heavy debt, Chelsea’s have been propped up by their owner Roman Abramovich. In fact Chelsea can now claim to be effectively debt-free, after Abramovich converted all his interest-free loans to the club into equity. Strangely, I can’t recall hearing about Chelsea fans protesting about the amount of money that Abramovich is personally losing, despite the Daily Mail last year estimating his investment at over 700 million pounds.

After taking over West Ham earlier this season, David Gold told the Daily Telegraph “The place was a car crash. “Every page we turned in every document revealed yet another problem. It was the worst set of figures I have seen. ”You have to say I’m certifiable – potty. There’s no other business like this. In fact that’s a misnomer, it’s not a business. We’ve lost the plot. It’s insane.” The current plight of Portsmouth, Cardiff and Crystal Palace (and before them Bradford, Wimbledon and many more clubs in the Football League) shows that the insanity is widespread and lessons have yet to be learned.

The basic principles of profit and loss haven’t been ignored to this degree since the dot com boom allegedly changed the rules of business. It did in many ways, as the music and publishing industries will testify. Yet it still proved that consistently running up costs higher than revenue eventually leads to collapse – as the glorious rise and fall of Boo proved.

In a bid to take clubs back to business school, Michel Platini has launched UEFA’s answer, a club licensing discussion paper. If implemented, the proposal marks a significant change in European football. It brings in an new era of regulation that franchised sport in Australia and the USA already knows well. According to UEFA, the future is marked by “discipline and rationality”. and they believe, it would stop clubs such as Portsmouth going into administration by forcing them to live within their means. While not easy to achieve, this is a fine a necessary goal that reflects business rather than sports reality.

The UK’s politicians have also got in on the act, with Prime Minister Gordon Brown saying recently that debts at some clubs were “too high” and warning them to “look very seriously to their responsibilities to supporters”. Labour are taking this issue seriously enough to include football reform in their election manifesto, claiming that they want to give football back to the fans. The proposals under review include clubs having to give as much as 25% of the club to fans. UEFA’s Platini has applauded this approach, saying that supporters were the only people who had a genuine “identity” with clubs.

Fans owning clubs is not new, with fan groups called “socios” owning 25% of 4 of Spains top flight clubs. But even there all is not good in the business of football, with players threatening to strike in a bid to receive unpaid wages. According to Michel Platini, the German model is the way to go, with 51% of each club being owned by the fans.

So what does all this have to do with the A-League? Well club ownership is the talk of the town here in Oceania too. A-League clubs Adelaide and Brisbane are already under FFA control, and in the last few weeks the two most recent expansion clubs – Gold Coast and Queensland Fury have come under the microscope. The Gold Coast have struggled to connect with their local community. Average home crowds were 4,488 despite the club boasting some big name players and being in the running to win the league until the very end. Meanwhile, owner Clive Palmer raised the ire of fans and the FFA with unpopular moves to restrict ground attendances in a bid to control the finances.

Up in Townsville the Fury also had a big name signing, ex-Liverpool player Robbie Fowler. But their maiden season didn’t fare as well, as they narrowly avoided finishing bottom of the table and attracted an average of 5,884 fans. After having put AUD $2.5 million into the club, sole investor Don Matheson can no longer sustain it. While this isn’t a good situation, it has at least opened the FFA’s eyes to the situation, with CEO Ben Buckley saying “to be successful long-term there needs to be wider community and corporate support for North Queensland Fury and it cannot be left to one person to drive the club”.

Giving the game and the team’s “back” to the fans is a popular approach at the moment, but on it’s own it doesn’t guarentee that the business itself will be run anymore successfully. Alongside the community support and involvement is required top level financial governance, a customer-focused business model and strong leadership. It’s not a new approach, but unfortunately it is still not common sense.

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