January 15, 2019. By Kenneth Russo, Esq. –
A company’s values form its culture, which shapes how a company is perceived. A football club is no different. Taking this approach is the first step to communicating the club’s message and establishing a great culture.
Le Stade de la Beaujoie, Nantes, France
Communicating the company’s message plays a pivotal role in the proper functioning of any business entity. It helps to shape how investors, employees and the public perceive a company. It gives the company direction. A professional sports franchise, given that it is engaged in the ‘business’ of sports, is no exception. The club needs a communications plan to tell its story. That begins by defining a culture, which will be the framework for all its activities. If there is one key trait of the world’s most successful sports teams, it is that have a culture conducive to performing at the highest standards.
Lay The Foundation
Company culture is the personality of a company. It is its mission, its ethics, its values, its expectations and its goals. For a football (soccer, fútbol) club, establishing a great culture should begin by establishing the club’s mission statement and defining the club’s values. Any organisation that has written mission and/ or value statements will have a better sense of where they are going, and this lends itself to better performance.
To do this, find answers to questions such as these:
What are the values that the club would like to have as its foundation?
What will the club’s attitude about winning be?
What goals will the club identify with?
What will be the level of identification with the city or community?
What is expected of players, coaches, and management at the club?
What should the atmosphere and experience be like at the home stadium?
If the club is going to build a stadium, what elements should be included?
What will be the type of players that the club wants on the squad?
The purpose of a mission statement is to provide focus for an organisation, management and staff. A strong mission statement tells you what the company’s business is, its objectives, and how it seeks to meet those objectives. Defining the values will inform everyone at the club what type of culture is expected.
Go Beyond Just Winning
Of course, a football club competing in a league by definition has a goal of winning (or at least one would hope that is the goal!) But to establish the club’s mission and values, it will be necessary to go beyond merely seeking to win. In this sense, how a club wins is more important than just winning.
For example, here is a sample mission statement and values that were developed by Florentino Perez, President of Real Madrid CF, after consulting with the club’s socios (members) shortly after his election in 2000:
«To be an open and multicultural club that is both appreciated and respected throughout the world both for its sporting successes and for the values it disseminates, which, based on the search for excellence both on and off the field of play, contribute toward fulfilling the expectations of its members and followers.»
- Will to win: Real Madrid’s main objective is to strive, to the best of its abilities, to win all of the competitions it enters while showing its commitment, its belief in hard work, and its loyalty to its supporters at all times.
- Sportsmanship: Real Madrid is a worthy and fair opponent on the field of play, upon which it competes with goodwill and respect toward all rival clubs and their respective supporters. Away from the field of play it is Real Madrid’s overriding desire to maintain relations with all other clubs based on fraternity and solidarity and to collaborate with them and with the Spanish and international sports authorities on a permanently ongoing basis.
- Excellence and Quality: Real Madrid aspires to have the best Spanish and foreign players within its ranks, to imbue them with the values to which the Club aspires, and to repay the support of its fans with a sporting project based on quality, discipline, and sacrifice for the common cause. With respect to the management of its activities, the Club adheres to the principles of good governance and strives for excellence at all times.
- Team Philosophy: All those who form part of Real Madrid, be they sportspeople or other professionals, make a commitment to working as part of a team and to give the best they have to offer for the good of the whole without putting their personal or professional aspirations first.
- Training: Real Madrid constantly devotes a great deal of effort to the discovery and instilling of new sporting values. This involves channelling the necessary attention and resources into the youth teams of all its sporting sporting disciplines and nurturing not only the sporting development of its youth players but also their social, ethical, and civic education.
- Social Responsibility: Real Madrid is aware of the high social repercussion of its activities and it is for this reason that it dedicates all the resources within its power to complying with the very highest standards of good corporate governance and the promotion of the best sporting values, to strengthening its relations with its members, former players, fan clubs, and supporters, and to the development and implementation of solidarity projects in favour of the needy both within Spain and beyond its borders.
- Economic Responsibility: Real Madrid is aware that it manages tangible and intangible assets of exceptional value and importance, and it is for this reason that it pledges to administer them responsibly, efficiently, and honestly in benefit of its members.
Spanish rivals Fútbol Club Barcelona, no stranger to greatness, list as one of the core tenets of the club’s mission to « Become the most admired, loved, and global sports institution in the world, » using answers to the questions “Where are we?” and “Where do we want to go?”
Like Real Madrid, Barcelona places their culture at the centre of everything they do, from their everyday activities all the way up to selecting the manager. The club’s motto is “Més que un club” (More than a club) and it is readily apparent that this philosophy embodies many decisions that affect the club. One notable example of this was in 2008, a time when Barça was struggling (by its standards, at least) and the club was searching for a new manager. The club listed specific criteria by which a potential manager would be judged; the criteria chosen related to the club’s culture. While the odds-on favourite to become manager was Jose Mourinho (who had at that time been successful at Chelsea FC), he didn’t meet several of the nine criteria the team sought. Rather than compromising club culture, they hired Pep Guardiola, a former Barcelona player who at the time had very limited managerial experience, but who fit better with the culture.
While those are examples from two of the world’s largest clubs, the same principles apply no what what level the club is on. The key is to craft a mission and values that make sense to the particular club. Even at a youth level, this principle applies equally. Take Weston FC as an example. The club has approximately 1,100 players ranging in ages from 7-19 from all over South Florida. They field approximately 70 teams that play a ten month season in South Florida, around the nation, and internationally. Since 2007, the US Soccer Federation has certified Weston FC as one of 80 US Soccer Development Academy Clubs. The very successful youth club has as its mission:
“To offer a role model program designed to maximize youth soccer players’ capabilities while teaching players good sportsmanship and respect for their coaches, referees, spectators, opponents, and the Game.”
And with that mission, the corresponding value statement is:
“To develop good human beings through soccer training, development and coaching.”
Knowing the importance of establishing culture, new football clubs are defining how they want to be known even before fielding a team on the pitch. Take Club Internacional de Fútbol Miami (“Inter Miami CF”) for example. The club, which begins play in Major League Soccer in 2020 and is co-owned by David Beckham and his business partners, Jorge and Jose Mas, Marcelo Claure, Simon Fuller and Masayoshi Son, already stated that it aims “to be the most inclusive club in the world.”
« Inter Miami CF will celebrate all that makes Miami extraordinary. We will be multilingual and omnicultural. We will harness the city’s great history and unmatched culture to create new traditions, rituals, and symbols that are admired around the world. We will bring world class fútbol to this world class city, once and for all. Fútbol that is as creative, exciting, unique, and multicultural as we are. Fútbol that makes people everywhere wish they could be here. »
“I am a firm believer that sports unites communities,” said Jorge Mas when asked about Inter Miami CF at the recent SoccerEx USA 2018 held at Marlins Park in Miami. He added, “Everything we’ve done over the course of less than a year has been first, to try to brand and market a team that is a reflection of our city, that I think encompasses and captures the passion that separates Miami.” Jorge Mas speaking on Inter Miami CF at SoccerEx 2018.
The club website tells us that the club culture will be innovative: “We fly in the face of conventional thinking and take pride in disrupting the status quo. We are here to change the game.”
Placing a value on inclusiveness is not limited to the new Inter Miami CF. Atlanta United FC, themselves a new club as of two years ago but already regarded as a model club within MLS, also specifically mention this value in describing the club.
« Atlanta is a modern, international city that embraces all its citizens. We have an inclusive fan base that is progressive and passionate. A fan base that is becoming one voice. We all gather together and stand United. » The team, which has become known as the “Five Stripes,” uses those stripes to identify specific club values: « The 5 stripes represent the pillars of our character: Unity, Determination, Community, Excellence and Innovation. »
No matter the choice of wording, having an established, written mission and values benefits a football club in serving as the starting point in creating its desired culture.
With a mission and values firmly established, the positive effects will be felt across all the departments, shaping initiatives of the club, the club’s brand, day-to-day activities, media relations and public relations. This principle applies whether the club is one of the largest, is newly established, or is an amateur one. Mission and values are the two starting points.
SoccerEx USA, 2018. photo by Kenneth Russo
Mandis, Steven G., The Real Madrid Way: How Values Created The Most Successful Sports Team On The Planet, by BenBella Books, 2016.