Manchester United vs. the Dallas Cowboys: How sports define Business Culture
“Soccer”, the most popular sport in the world, was popularized in England in the 8th century and is known across the globe as “Football”. In 1869 America decided to create its own version of “football” making it both the most popular sport in the United States and a corporate powerhouse. Understanding the differences in the rules of these two sports opens a window into the heart of US business culture. Let’s highlight some of the key American cultural specificities ingrained in “Football”
- Management of volume: an American Football team has 54 players vs. only 11 (14 with the 3 allowed subs) on a soccer team. It defines the processes everyone follows with great discipline, and sport like business must manage to scale.
- Extreme specialization: each player in a Football team has one task (attacking, defending, kicking, etc.) while a soccer player is supposed to be good at everything. Imagine Lionel Messi coming on the field only to kick penalties. Winning requires having the very best player for each single task
- Total segregation of Strategy and Execution: the list of potential “plays” in American Football are all defined before the game. Generally, plays are called in from the coach on the sideline to the quarterback’s headset right before the ball is snapped so before that ball is snapped the entire team knows exactly what they have to do given the call.
- Constant assessment of performance: the only numbers tracked during a soccer game are the goals, and an exciting game can end in a 0-0 tie. American football fans are tracking a whole list of data and achievements for each player, (completed passes, yard rushing, yards after a catch) each quarter, each game, each season. Some even participate in Fantasy Football where they create their own virtual team of superstars and track and score their individual performance regardless of the team performance.
- Massive use of technology: while soccer institutions are still debating the use of video replay during games, football allows for all possible video and communication tools. Sensors are embedded in player uniforms where temperature, heart rate, motion and speed are collected and analyzed to improve athlete performance. This is all in addition to the vast analytics capabilities the best football teams use to draft their players and build a winning organization
- Short cycle of activity: With two non-stop 45-minute halves, a major component of soccer is the fluid continuity of the game. Having four 15-minute quarters, including constant stoppages for short sequences of actions, football permits all sorts of interruptions to a game. The breaks provide opportunities for sponsor advertising and entertainment, but more importantly for on-the-fly analysis, strategy and execution adjustments in the game.
So, while the word is the same, the meaning is quite different in Europe vs. the US and American football directly reflects its business counterparts. It’s all about having a precise strategy, process and squad organized for volume and scale as opposed to a team of talented utility players who perform and react on the field in the moment. And of course, among the many analogies we can make between sport and business, the most intriguing is the branding and marketing power of America to convince hundreds of millions of people to call a game mainly played with the hands “Football”.