No future is worth more than your legacy

I must confess, I am not a great football fan. 

I can easily be swept up in the emotional rollercoaster of a World Cup, but you are unlikely to find me at Stoke on a rainy Tuesday night.

Nevertheless, it is a sport (or should that be soap opera?) that is hard to ignore at the best of times and even more so in the last couple of weeks.

If we were all back in our offices, then it is a fair assumption that the rise and fall – for now - of the new European Super League would have been the talk of the water cooler.

There has been many a column inch written on the subject over the past week, very little of it in support of the now failed initiative although there has been something of a consensus of its inevitability in a sport where success is defined as much in monetary terms as it is in silverware. 

The protests that followed the announcement were laced with irony of course, particularly when led by players earning millions of pounds a year from clubs that are mired in hundreds of millions of pounds of unsustainable debt.

But regardless of the fact that football threw open its doors to unrestricted market forces a long time ago, when it came to the European Super League, there was a united feeling across football that a line had been crossed – it was a decision that had been made with absolutely no consideration at all for the respective club’s fans.

Well, I should actually clarify that – it was a decision that gave no consideration to the existing fans, or as the ESL described them, ‘legacy fans’.

Instead, it was a vision that was focused not on the fans that have supported the club and helped make it what it is today but was much more interested in what the ESL called ‘fans of the future’ – fans from around the world with disposable income and a thirst for European football.

Professional football is a business and always will be but there are those that will argue that the loyalty and tribal nature of its fans means that it is unlike a more conventional business.

Well, to a degree this may be true but the fundamentals about business and the relationship with what football clubs call fans and we would call customers or clients is far closer than one might imagine.

It is no coincidence that this provocative initiative has emerged at this moment in our history when so many industries have been savaged by the pandemic and yet the virtual opportunities have never been greater.

Football clubs are not the only businesses having to adapt and evolve to stay relevant in a fast-changing world – it is something we are seeing in many businesses in every conceivable sector. 

However, as we have seen so clearly in the last week or so, it is an incredibly delicate balance that has to be struck by any business that aspires to embrace the opportunities of the changing demographics in our society.

A business should never underestimate the value of those customers that have helped it to establish itself and they must never be forgone in the rush to win new business.

Well served customers are incredibly loyal – they may not wear a scarf with your company name on but they will be some of your most important advocates in an increasingly competitive world. 

They will be the customers who share your values and have kept you true to them over the years, the ones who stuck with you when times may have been tough. 

Now change is inevitable. Most successful businesses are continually changing and innovating to retain that competitive edge but to go on that journey without your legacy customers, as the ESL would describe them, is to undermine the very thing that gives your business its strength.

Every business needs ‘fans of the future’, they are the very lifeblood that drive growth and success but they should not be pursued at all costs, a lesson that the owners of the 12 breakaway clubs will have learned, potentially at some significant cost, in the last week.

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