Managing Expectations: The New Season
Expectations are always high ahead of the new season: a fresh beginning and high hopes for the new campaign.
The question is: how to manage them?
Setting expectations is about finding the sweet spot between optimism and realism: set the bar too low and fans will question your ambition as a club; too high and you risk having to explain the consequences of perceived under-achievement. This is the dilemma that football’s leaders face ahead of the new season.
Come what May, success will be defined by results and league table position – “the league table never lies!” as the saying goes. Clubs, however, have the opportunity before the season kicks-off to set expectations about the realistic targets – which invariably comes down to managing…
- Preconceptions (what people think will happen), and
- Communication (how well you describe what is likely to happen).
Preconceptions are typically formed on the basis of past results, so understanding previous benchmarks is a great starting point. The table below summarises the points required for success (whatever this means to your club) in the English leagues over the past 10 seasons. So, for example, the average points required to stay up in the Championship and League One is around 50, while Champions League qualification in the Premier League typically requires a 70-point haul – and so on…
Targeting points rather than final league position is a much better way of setting goals and managing expectations. Why? Take Tottenham Hotspur as an example…We can realistically assume that their target over the past 5 seasons has been to finish in the top 4 and therefore qualify for the Champions League. During this period, Spurs have secured at least 69 points on four occasions, yet have finished in the top 4 only once. So while this would have led to some disappointment, Tottenham’s results have actually been in line with what is normally takes to secure Champions League football. In other words, they can count themselves as somewhat unfortunate as factors outside of their control have played a part in their perceived underachievement (you may recall Arsenal ruthlessly securing 26 points from a possible 30 at the back-end of 12/13 season to leapfrog Spurs into fourth). As ever, context is key, but setting the perspective. In the case of Spurs (and any other teams with the top 4 in mind), if they continue to hit the 70 points mark then they stand a good chance of qualifying for the Champions League over forthcoming seasons.
Communication also plays a vital role. We should not assume that everyone is clear on the plan or what is likely to happen this season. It is important to explain to all key stakeholders – ownership, players, staff and of course the fans – what to expect.
An important point to finish: managing expectations isn’t necessarily about being conservative – it also represents a great opportunity. The most successful sports teams, products and businesses succeed because they exceed expectations in innovative ways. In the above example, if ‘normal’ is the 70-point Champions League qualification benchmark and you deliver something better than normal, you win!
So the question for your club then becomes: what are other clubs doing today to reach expectation, and what can we do to exceed it?