Insights from Asia: Football’s Flywheel
COVID-19 has forced the world into collective lockdown and created a chasm in the sporting calendar. Sports organisations the world over are scrambling to find a way forward, while trying to limit the economic damage in the short term.
Asia is leading the way in finding a route out of the crisis, with South Korea’s K-League being the first major league to return to action. The 8th May saw Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors beat Suwon Bluewings 1-0 in a game where the final result was less significant than the fact that the game was played at all. And their success in being the first to return live football to our living rooms has brought significant benefits to the league in terms of exposure and revenue, having confirmed over 20 deals with international partners to broadcast their games in the absence of any competition. The high viewing figures for the weekend’s German Bundesliga fixtures provide further evidence of the potential opportunity.
There is a clear incentive for rights holders to resume their competitions as soon as possible to steal a march on the competition, but doing so is not a question of choice, generally being dependent on the spread of COVID-19 being under control in their respective countries.
While ensuring readiness for a return to action when circumstances allow, many sports organisations are trying to look beyond the current hiatus. We are involved in a growing number of conversations with those who are eager to build a strategy that will serve them beyond the ongoing crisis.
This requires both an assessment of what might change as a result of the pandemic, and a re-evaluation of each organisation’s goals and strategies to achieve them. While all strategies are different and tailored to the specifics of each organisation’s context, there is some consistency between what each organisation is ultimately trying to achieve. Often goals are aligned or are reliant on one another – the objectives of a club, a league and a broadcaster, for example, are often interrelated.
Jim Collins, in his seminal book Good to Great refers to the ‘flywheel effect’, a key principle of which is that an effective strategy requires a great deal of initial, persistent effort but that once momentum has been built, the effects can be self-sustaining.
We have built on this concept to develop football’s flywheel, which demonstrates the connected nature of club, league and broadcast objectives and the various strategies available to build the momentum needed to generate change.
This generic framework helps to structure our strategic discussions, and ensures that our strategies are designed to generate the momentum needed to help our league grow for the long term.
There are many examples of leagues using the different strategic levers from Football’s Flywheel to get it turning. To name a few, the Premier League’s unmatched broadcast rights growth was a result of their focus on marketing and commercial sales, the Belgian Pro League restructured their league format in 2016 to increase the competition’s appeal to fans, while MLS in the USA and CSL in China have both invested in high profile European talent, most notably through LA Galaxy’s signing of David Beckham in 2007.
In the post-pandemic world, those that can turn the wheel earliest and fastest will be best placed to succeed in the long run. The K-League is already showing us the way, and it is up to other Asian leagues to follow suit.