The European Super League (ESL) was 48 hours of ‘business leaders’ getting everything wrong.
For those blessed enough to have missed it – The ESL was a group of European football’s ‘biggest’ clubs breaking ranks to establish a new continental competition.
They came from 3 countries (3/44 so stretching ‘European’ a bit), included neither of last season’s Champions League finalists (not particularly ‘Super’) and eschewed promotion, relegation or any real jeopardy at all (not really a ‘League’ then?).
Within hours fans, players and governing bodies had disavowed the scheme, with severe sanctions already being prepared.
Within 2 days it was virtually mothballed.
The marketing lessons from the whole sorry affair are as clear as they are useful.
So let’s look at some of them here – and then never speak of the ESL again.
- Fans come first
The main justification for the ESL was to attract ‘future fans’.
This came with some baseless guff about ‘millennials’ and ‘premium experiences’. The same uninspired ‘insight’ that has been largely discredited for years.
‘Legacy fans’ i.e. those who’ve always supported the clubs, both from the stands and with their wallets, were completely sidelined.
Told what they were getting rather than asked what they wanted.
The uproar was universal, best articulated by Curva Sud, AC Milan’s Supporters Group.
This, coupled with counterpunches from footballing bodies saw all English teams pull out of the agreement – swiftly followed by most of the others.
So what we have here is a classic example of seeking new customers at the expense of old ones.
And as Dave Trott points out – that’s rarely the wisest, or even the most financially prudent move.
- It’s a team sport
Almost immediately after the ESL announcement, it became blindingly clear that the coaching and playing staff of the teams involved had no idea what was going on.
The people responsible for the action on the pitch, for delivering the highs and lows of the beautiful game, for capturing the imaginations of generation after generation… were neither told nor consulted.
As soon as it was obvious that the ‘makers’ of the ‘product’ weren’t on board, and that prize assets would walk, the whole sordid strategy was dead in the water.
The lesson here is glaring.
It’s not that you shouldn’t ever go for seismic change. But you need to be united (sorry City) as an organisation if you have any hope of getting it to stick.
That means internal transparency and consultation from the get go.
Staff are your most valuable asset. If something is emphatically rejected, then that’s what it is.
- Avoid the void
Due to coronavirus, football has been played behind closed doors for more than a season.
The novelty of hearing sweary words bouncing around cavernous yet empty arenas has well and truly worn off.
But these echo domes exist to save lives.
The echo dome that owners have willingly created in putting the ESL plans together should act as a cautionary tale.
Here, executives have made decisions that in their mind can’t be wrong because the money is there.
Had they asked anyone outside their mahogany, masturbutory boardrooms they’d have soon realised that football isn’t business as usual.
Its popularity stems from giving the industrial class a glorious distraction from the perils of working life.
Of course, it has evolved with the times, but try and turn it into some overly-sanitised, sport-in-name-only and what makes it special will die.
So, when considering fundamental change, carefully choose and use outside counsel as much as possible.
Agencies, consultants, AB testing or good old fashioned surveys, Take your pick.
It’s the only way of guaranteeing objectivity.
- Don’t get too big for your boots
Chronic hubris brings us neatly to the next point.
If you have to call yourself ‘super’, there’s a good chance you aren’t.
Take Spurs. They haven’t won anything for 13 years, let alone the European Cup. They’re struggling in the Premier League and with repayments on their shiny new stadium.
AC Milan haven’t won Serie A for 10 years. Inter 11. Barcelona’s talisman recently tried to force a transfer via Burofax. Manchester United have lost 4 semi finals in a row etc. etc. etc.
It all reeks of “When you’re good you tell people. When you’re great they tell you”.
Drawing parallels with our industry then – show don’t tell.
A bad product can only be advertised around for a short time and cherry picked brand purposes last even less.
If you say you’re one thing but it turns out you’re not – it’s a long way back.
One well judged Twitter poll could have avoided all this. Now 12 of Europe’s ‘elite’ clubs are irrevocably tarnished by this greed infused garbage.
And the actual sanctions are still in the post.
When all is said and done, the moral of the story is pretty simple.
Whenever you’re faced with a personal or professional decision from here on out, think – ‘What would the ESL do?’.
Then do the complete, total and utter opposite.