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Three Essential Leadership Ingredients for the Sports Industry Today and in the Future

We depend on strong leadership in times of crisis. Indeed, the current situation underscores the importance of clear strategies and certain key questions for the sports industry as a whole.

  • April 2020

We depend on strong leadership in times of crisis. Indeed, the current situation underscores the importance of clear strategies and certain key questions for our sports clients:

  • Which types of leadership profiles must we demand in the sports industry?

  • Is entertainment the main priority? A sense of diversion from reality?

  • Should the industry focus on connecting its fans?

  • Are sports a vehicle for public health education (physical and mental) and social responsibility?

Tellingly, these questions are equally suited both to today’s relatively unprecedented environment and to periods that offer more stability.

Three core principles that have guided our approach to leadership advisory have surfaced in the sports industry to an even greater extent in recent weeks:

1. Make Diversity a Priority

Sports have a singular ability to connect different demographics. The rapidly spreading health crisis has – headlines notwithstanding – been an equalizer that affects us all. Similarly, communities of fans reflect a diverse group that is both unified and varied in its socioeconomic status, race, gender, age, disability, religion, and otherwise. Leaders and organizations must reflect their customers or they will find themselves out of touch and at a competitive disadvantage in the long term.

2. Push Ahead on Globalization

We need to accelerate the pace of globalization and reward leaders who bring this perspective. The speed with which COVID-19 has travelled the globe has given rise to shared experiences, international compassion, and timely responses. The sports industry has helped consumers cope with an unimaginably challenging situation: for example, fans of the NBA in France remain entertained by classic NBA games on digital platforms while Australians living abroad get their fix of Aussie tennis on Tennis Australia's YouTube channel.

Let’s use this time to further these trends, engender international connections, and focus on leaders with global scope to navigate the years ahead.

3. Non-Insular Backgrounds are Essential

Myopic thinking helps no one. Best-in-class organizations – in sports or otherwise – must, as Bob Iger recently noted, "innovate or die". This can be accomplished only through a fertile environment for exploration and leaders who come from both inside and more importantly outside the sports industry. The examples and rationales are endless: product/technology experts who understand how to engage consumers across the globe can develop SDKs that enhance and accelerate the transition to live event streaming; CEOs and GMs of high-performing operating businesses can – irrespective of industry – bring discipline, strategic acumen, and accountability that professional sports organizations yearn for every day.

These key ingredients should be prevalent among the leaders within the sports industry now and will position its organizations to bring joy to fans today and in the future.

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