When an industry shakes up – economics, business model shift, regulation or game-changing new kid on the block can all be the culprits – consolidation results. Period. Full-stop. Some surge, some wither & die, but most often, the middle of the pack huddles for survival.
Sports groups – time to huddle up.
I’m often looking at models back & forth across the U.S. – Canada border since I do business in both places, and one of the most striking differences is in the number of organizations delivering sport programs and/or administering sport competition. You’d think – smaller population – fewer groups, right?
Wrong. By a long shot. And before you assume I’m starting a whole U.S.- Canada thing, know that by training I’m an economist and a business person. I’m relatively border agnostic, but I do get passionate about the number$$$$. And this is about those number$$$$. And how few of them there are to go around…
Take snow sports. You know, snowboarding, alpine skiing, freestyle skiing, cross-country skiing, ski jumping…..you get the drift. Up north – where these are more popular (based on percentage of the population that has tried or regularly engages in these sports) there are 9 separate organizations covering snow sports at the national level. Yes, I said 9. Nueve, neun, neuf, — no kidding. Nine organizations vying for corporate support, paying for administrative overhead, trying to get the media’s attention – in short, duking it out for more resources & attention. While they work under an umbrella, the Canadian Snowsports Association that acts as their official link to the International Ski Federation for revenue transfer, but on all these other fronts it’s every man for himself. If you keep drilling down – you then have provincial (state) organizations for each sport — so assuming a bit of provincial consolidation (thank you Maritimes!), you’re talking 6 or 7 groups, and below them countless local clubs. Yes, they do all show up on the same field of play for competition, but to the detriment of the system’s potential, that seems to extend beyond the field of play into the front offices, where no one is winning right now. And it’s about to get worse.
What does this picture look like to the South? Very different. One group. US Ski & Snowboard Federation. Uno, une, un (hmmm…..if I add a few letters I could almost swear I see the word united emerge). And the grassroots system is tucked right in underneath the mother ship. If I’m a sponsor and I want to shift my focus from Shaun White and Hannah Teter to jason and jenny from the Sugarbush Jackrabbits I can do this at the front counter. I stay with the group. I’m a satisfied customer because you’ve met my needs without me having to go out shopping. And most importantly, the dollars I’m bringing you that help support media relations and bookkeeping and the web site for Shaun & Hannah aren’t going anywhere, because they are shared with jason & jenny from Sugarbush. This is basic stuff — we’re talking Sandbox Management 101.
I shouldn’t just pick on snow sports, this is rife among other organizations, too, north and south. The U.S. has similar situations with competing youth baseball leagues (Little League, Babe Ruth League and now, Cal Ripken League). Once upon a time MLB had competing leagues as well, so did the NFL……..but it didn’t last, and as we’ve seen on several occasions, the upstart newcomer hasn’t been successful in breaking in. But maybe that’s not the best comparison. Soccer is probably better, since they operate on a more analogous club-system, but not all clubs have yet solidified their base all the way down to the grassroots.
The bottom-line is this: If you’re operating a club anywhere from the local community level to the national elite it’s time to take a good fresh look at the landscape and get on the wiki-mode of operations. Without breaking into Kumbayah, it’s time to get realistic about your competition (YES, you do have competitors — substitution theory – look it up), your opportunities (they are drying up) and get downright scared straight about your costs (you can only pare the apple so far before there’s no flesh).
When that last corporate partner says, “I’m sorry, we’re going in a different direction this year”, you’re going to need a life line. You want to be sure that “Phone a friend” is one of the options. You want to be one of the guys in the huddle — not the one left out in the cold.
Can’t stand the guy down the road / up or down the ladder ? Get over it. Have your people call his people and figure out how they could work together and leave the two of you out of it. By the way, if you have this attitude and you’re running a youth sports group, time to retire. No place for that kind of thinking at that level…but that’s another blog.