Winning The Future – Sports As Inspirational Player

May 27, 2013

Presentation Summary

Kevin Roberts speaks at the SportsAccord conference in Moscow about the state of international sport and the potential of its association to inspire athletes of the future.

Sports accord

Like many of you I’m here because I love sport, in all its facets as a:

  • Player – Soccer, cricket, rugby, tennis
  • Coach – Rugby
  • Administrator – NZRU, USAR, NZ Soccer, Americas Cup
  • Sponsor – Steinlager – XXXX
  • Fan – ABs, Man City, LCCC

And I find it hard to distinguish one role from the other. I’m just a sports nut.

We live in a VUCA world: Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous. The challenge to sport is to reframe the world as Vibrant, Unreal, Crazy, Astounding. superVUCA.

Our challenge? How do we, together, take sport forward in a VUCA and superVUCA world.

There is Good News, and there is Bad News.

First, The Bad.

Instances and even patterns of lockouts, corruption, voting fraud, match fixing, doping, violence, ticket inflation, burnouts, content piracy, poor infrastructure, elite fiefdoms (representation of women in sports leadership is static at 13%), grotesque pay, racist chanting, crap administration, gender bias, sportsmen as bad role models for young people, and finally, the gross commercialization which is causing consumer alienation.

And now the Good News: Sport is still about the dreams of participation, transparency, equity, democracy and diversity, upping participation to build healthy lives, building the world as an all-inclusive sports stadium.

On the specifics,

  • sport is growing 6-8% pa enabling investment, sustainability;
  • sport is more accessible to players and audiences because of better formats and rules (cricket to wrestling);
  • sport is a lever for character building in developing regions (e.g. Kerela in India, Namibia, Madagascar);
  • unquenchable thirst for live televised sport; sport is the backbone on which broadcast and cable networks live;
  • digital revenue is a lifesaver, there is a huge market for sports-based video games; and
  • new teams and new leagues (e.g. ManCity and Yankees form MLS team, NFL partners with Premier Rugby League in the USA (why League!]);

So how do we all work together to help make the world a better place through sport?

“Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.” – Bill Shankly

Before we tackle the future, let’s quickly remind ourselves why sport can create a better world.

Sport can create a better world because by core definition it is competitive. Vince Lombardi said: “Winning isn’t everything, but wanting to win is.”

Sport showcases human potential. And uniquely through sport we can shape humanity.

Sport is a key vehicle for reducing the gap between the haves and have nots. It is truly The Working Man’s Ballet…an escape route for many born into poverty and underprivilege.

Sport can create a better world because it develops people everywhere, building physical and mental health, promoting social inclusion, fostering cooperation and community.

Sport can create a better world because sport’s currency will grow. We live in the 20/20 always-on, instant-everything ‘sport my way’ Age of Now.

People today live in and for the moment – a psychological state that live sport delivers on like nothing else.

Sport can create a better world because it unites everyone.

This incredible universal language harmonizes us, be it:

  • Iran, Russia and America locking arms to keep wrestling as an Olympics sport, or
  • The Olympics itself – drawing the world together to celebrate the best we can be.

So whether you own rights, draw fans, operate events or package content, you are – one and all – under mega-moral obligation to help get this business of sport right.

The Love / Respect Axis is a fast intuitive reality. Let’s check the state of the sports industry. Is it here…

Love Respect Axis Lovemarks


  • Low Respect. Low Love. Some say professional sport has been dragged down into this pit by the sum of its parts. This is where the Bad News lives.
    Critically, there is a disconnect between fans, administrators and players. It’s a Consumer Republic, and the supply-side is serving itself. It can’t last.
    NBA legend Wilt Chamberlain: “Nobody roots for Goliath.”
  • High Love. Low Respect. High-intensity gambles, quick profit cycles. Here live screen sport lives, pumping the industry, constantly revolving but easily forgotten. The creative zone of “NEW” “WOW” and “GONE.”
    This is the ‘win at all costs’ adrenaline zone, unbelievable yet unaccountable, entertainment over participation, simulation over reality, thrill over safety helmuts.
    Fad credo? Worship the money god, sacrifice the people.
  • High Respect. Low Love. Respect is the foundation we must build across sports sectors, organizations, processes and people.
    Respect increases investment, fandom, general interest.
    Respect is non-negotiable yet unremarkable, the hallmark of a brand. No Respect, no Love.
    But remember, good is the enemy of great.
  • High Love. High Respect. Is it better to be just respected, or to be respected and loved? No contest!

This is how you get lift off in any field, and win big on it – whether you’re commercial, governmental or a cause.

To help elevate the world of sport, the value that you create as owner, administrator, sponsor, broadcaster, trainer or ‘property’ should be in this zone.

Where do you sit? Where do you want to sit? Are you a Brand or a Lovemark?

  • Brands are owned by companies, marketers and stockholders. Lovemarks are owned by the people who love them.
  • Brands are built on Respect. Lovemarks are created out of Respect and Love.
  • Brands build Loyalty for a Reason. Lovemarks inspire Loyalty Beyond Reason. Beyond Attribute, Benefit, Range, Price.
  • Brands aim to be Irreplaceable. Lovemarks are Irresistible.

Lovemarks has 3 secrets that pump life into brands.

  • Mystery is inspirations, dreams, icons, myths and stories, past / present / future together… it’s what we don’t know that has most value.
  • Sensuality is Sight, Sound, Scent, Touch and Taste, the enthrallers of emotions. Consumers operate on all five senses. Most brands operate on one or two.
  • Intimacy is empathy, commitment and passion. Most organizations do Intimacy badly or wrong or badly wrong.

The secret is to put yourself in the heart of the audience. Not bringing them to you, but asking to be invited into their individual hearts.

Building respect and winning love is about leadership, leading through actions that turn lives around.

Here are 3 Leadership Actions to help you lift the industry and make the world a better place, and win.

Action #1 Lead with Spirit

Success in creating anything of value starts with a Dream.

When we are purpose-inspired, we respond to the only audience question that actually  matters, the question on every sports viewers’, fans’, players’ and payer’s lips.

Not how good are you, not how cheap you… but:

“How will you improve my life?”

Answer this, and you become priceless.

Inspire people to become the best they can be in pursuit of a shared purpose.

To inspire externally, create movements – inspiring others to join you. Marketing is dead! ROI means Return on Involvement.

To inspire internally, give and demand four things:

Responsibility, Learning, Recognition, Joy 

Action #2: Lead with Creativity

You may have the strongest army—but it cannot conquer ideas.” – Shimon Peres

In a superVUCA world, the crazies reign. Creativity has unreasonable power. Creative leadership is the difference.

Creative Leaders generate lots of small ideas, continuously.

Creative Leaders reframe constantly.

Steve Jobs, presence into absence. Just don’t remove too much….

Creative Leaders Surprise with the obvious.

From ‘Soccer Golf’ to ‘Space Pen’ – To develop a pen that could write in space, NASA spent millions on advanced technology. The Russians used a pencil.

Creative Leaders Ask 3 questions of any idea:

  • Will people want to see it again?
  • Will people want to share it?
  • Will people want to improve it? 

Action #3 Lead with E’s & F’s

  • Enthusiasm – from the Greek “enthusiasmos” (literally, having the god within you.)
  • Execution

A D E:                From                To

Assess                50%                20%
Decide                30%                10%
Execute               20%                70%

And keep the 3Fs front of mind:

  • Fans– giving voice to the fans in every sense. The C3 secret of sport is Chanting, Cheering  and Celebrating. Learn from the Welsh at Cardiff Arms Park. Sport is about radical optimism, and sport is about moving forward together.
  • Fun – Being fit and participating is fun; and having fun is better than the alternative.
  • Focus– The important, not the urgent. If we get 5% of the decision-making in world sport better, a tipping point to good things can cascade.

As you go forward in sport, put every single decision you make to one test:

Will this make the world a better place?

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