In an exclusive guest column for World Football Summit, Grey Matter Global Ltd. managing partner John Grisby outlines what football’s Perfect Storm 4.0 means for the game and how the European Super League’s rapid birth and demise personified this shift in the very nature of sport as we know it.
For some leaders, the ‘4.0’ concept is very theoretical. It’s interesting to think about, but happening in some other galaxy far, far away. It was hard to understand the value of learning and upskilling – pre-COVID pandemic. But, as we enter a post-pandemic world, people are starting to understand it.
What is sports 4.0?
Sports 4.0 is the fourth industrial revolution in sports. Most people think the fourth industrial revolution is exciting; a lot of artificial intelligence (AI), 5G super fast connections and technological breakthroughs making life easier. In fact, CNN has a series called Saved by the Future – looking at how innovation is enhancing the way we’ll live. But realistically, 4.0 is a lot less glossy and with a lot more pain.
The basic, scientific fundamentals of sports 4.0 – or any industrial revolution – is a change in life conditions. You’re experiencing some elements of change at the moment, making your environment more complex to understand and manage.
Changing life conditions impact a leader’s mindset. To stay effective and relevant, leaders must adapt and change too, by shifting their way of thinking as these conditions are altered. If you don’t adapt, problems will start to accumulate.
The Super League’s Perfect Storm
We’re in an unprecedented time in the history of sport. The sports industry has developed infrastructures over the past three industrial revolutions that laid the foundations for sport as we know it. And, as these changes took place along the way, they caused problems.
While problems are entirely normal, some have remained unsolved and accumulated for the past 10, 20, even 50 years. Eventually, they produce severe situations which are referred to as ‘perfect storms’.
You might think COVID-19 is a perfect storm, but it’s not – it’s a change accelerator. It exposes and accelerates unsolved problems and multiplies the number of new ones, creating situations that leaders struggle to keep up with.
The rapid birth and death of the European Super League (ESL), however, is the most perfect of perfect storms. As the league’s systems and structures developed, leadership did not adapt with it.
The result was a growing swell of unsolved problems. When the league tried to introduce new changes, leadership was out of its depth, both operationally and strategically. Operationally, existing quantities of unsolved problems continued to amass in every area of the business.
Strategically, a complex clash emerged between two totally different sports mindsets – American vs. European. The American mindset is defined by corporate franchise structures, business and revenue, while the European approach is underpinned by club community structures that are tribal and traditional.
New leagues create new problems, and transitions like the ESL require skilful leadership to deal with this type of complex change. It’s ‘sink or swim’ in the perfect storm of sports 4.0.