The Blues Are Going Up

2nd May, 2014

While our March Trends Breakfast explored the world of Sports Sponsorship and Society this week’s blog post will try to deliver some transferable lessons from the football pitch for the board room – with tomorrow being the 46th and final day of the (regular) English Football League season.

We could wax lyrical about the passion and excitement that exists beneath the FA Premier League summit, we could lament the grotesque concentration of TV money and private wealth in that top tier, the vast fortunes paid to modern footballers, the prices charged to regular fans, the inadequacy of many footballers as role models for the nation’s youth and the unaccountable ownership model. Or perhaps we should highlight the pitiful contributions made by the very same FA Premier League collective toward the development and maintenance of the grass-roots game in this country.

We could even choose to reflect on the volume of coverage given to the dismissal of David Moyes by Manchester United – with the FT particularly keen to explore the business ramifications (and we did like this Marina Hyde piece in The Guardian).

Instead we will take a look at the success of Leicester City in the 2013-2014 season. With the Foxes returning to the Premier league after 10 long and often difficult years there is much for a supporter to reflect upon – before one starts to consider the challenges facing the club in the Premier League.

Below are 10 broad lessons from this year’s success which could be relevant to your organisation:

Resilience – during the second half of last season Leicester City collapsed dramatically – losing any chance of automatic promotion and eventually scraping into the sixth and final play-off spot before losing in extra-ordinary circumstances to Watford. The players, management, staff and fans came back even more determined; the owners kept their nerve, evolution not revolution delivered success.

Leadership – considering what happened in the second half of last season, no-one would have argued if the management team had been dismissed. Many fans felt the same way and it is hard to believe now that we weren’t impressed when Nigel Pearson remained, let alone when there were no major transfers. The owners showed the courage of their convictions and didn’t bow to populist pressures.

Egalitarianism –under the ill-conceived reign of Sven Goran-Eriksson (2010-2012) LCFC spent a huge amount of money buying or loaning players of dubious pedigree and commitment. The cut-price galactico strategy failed – with Sven and his squad paying the price.

Data Science – much has been made of the value of a settled playing and management staff. The difference has been delivered through continued refinement of technique and approach and the use of state-of-the-art sports science. The margins are small between victory and defeat.

Adaptability – the Thai billionaire owners led by Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha have steadily emerged as fantastic owners of the club since completing their purchase from Milan Mandaric in August 2010. The initial approach under Paulo Sousa (briefly) and then Sven Goran Eriksson proved to be flawed and they were ready and willing to go back to the future – bringing Nigel Pearson back from Hull.

Simplicity – consistent team selection, consistent formation, old-fashioned flying wingers, pace, commitment, energy and at least as importantly discipline (with an excellent record this year). Every player has been a star.

Financial Stability – the owners have given the club a new sense of stability, having underwritten the debts incurred in previous seasons they have now converted their debt into equity leaving the club on a sound financial footing for the challenges ahead. Their commercial strategy has been spot-on with few complaints about pricing from fans and regular price promotions attracting new supporters.

Support Base – in 2008-2009 Leicester spent the only season of their proud 140 year history in the third tier of English Football. The supporters stayed loyal despite some dire predictions. An average home attendance of almost 18,000 – peaking at over 30,000 for the final home game – was rewarded with the league title and an immediate return to the Championship. This year’s average attendance is around 25,000 – with tomorrow’s final fixture attracting 32,500 (sold out).

Community – we really are all in it together at Leicester City, rarely can the players, management, supporters and owners have been operating in such apparent harmony. Leicester is famously a major sporting city including the Leicester Tigers, Leicester Riders, and Leicestershire CCC.

Communication – the club has developed an array of fan fora and communication channels for supporters, a vital aspect of the community successfully built around the football club and extending into the wider catchment area and beyond. Their multi-channel approach has been excellent including the continued focus on the Leicester Mercury together with digital & social media.

The BBC also put together a list of 10 reasons for Leicester’s success here.