10 Leadership Lessons from Soccer’s European (not so) Super League

10 leadership lessons from the European soccer Super League

Like most soccer fans, when I first heard the news about the formation of a European Super League, I was surprised and disappointed.  The formation of a league consisting of 12+ of the biggest soccer clubs in Europe meant an end to how soccer had been organized in Europe for decades.  This would be an elite league through which participating clubs would get richer.  Beyond that, it wasn’t clear what else they would gain and how it was going to work.

As the news spread, a growing backlash focused on the owners and their clubs.  Fans felt betrayed.  The UEFA European soccer governing body swiftly condemned the league and threatened anyone playing in it would be excluded from representing their countries in local and global competitions like the World Cup.

It only took 48 hours for the first club to pull out and within 72 hours, the whole project had been scrapped.  I can’t remember a more shocking and then sudden reversal of plans for a major project before this one.  It was a stupendous leadership failure by the owners of these twelve clubs.  Journalists have written many articles about this spectacular failure, here is one of the better ones if you are interested in learning more about what happened.

Here are 10 leadership lessons the owners would do well to heed if they ever consider doing something similar in future. And I hope they don’t.

10 Leadership Lessons

  1. The Owners didn’t articulate any kind of a vision.  They assumed everyone would share their enthusiasm for the Super League without knowing what it was.  Not everyone thinks or sees the world in the same way you do.
  2. Not having a thorough communication plan.  I heard of one press release followed by a hasty television interview just as the first clubs were pulling out.  Effective communication is an ongoing process, not a one-time single event.
  3. Not knowing your customers.  The owners clearly had no clue about the true cares of the clubs fans.  They will do well in future to get out of their offices and luxury boxes to meet and get to know real fans.  These are after all the people they serve who pay for their services.
  4. Telling your customers what they should care about.  Following on from #3, you can’t tell others what they should care about.  We can only connect to what they care about and make a compelling case for them to come along with us.  This is especially true when they are your customers, over whom you have little control.
  5. Not communicating with your employees.  It appears very few people outside of the owners knew what was going on.  A change of this magnitude affected everyone at the clubs and for them to find out via the press sends a clear signal they are not important.
  6. Expecting your employees to take the heat for your mistakes.  The lack of communication left coaches and players to face the public with no knowledge of what was going on.  This is a surefire way to break trust and I won’t be surprised to see players and coaches leave these clubs as a direct result.
  7. Failure to fully assess the risks and the rewards.  It appears the owners never considered the plan might fail.  Believing your own story to the extent of considering it infallible is arrogance at its height.
  8. Not having a contingency plan.  Even if the owners had considered the risks, they had no contingency plan.  At least, none seemed evident.  Even if you don’t need it, it is always good to have an alternative plan.  Thinking through it increases the likelihood of success.
  9. Being willing to admit fallibility, ‘we were wrong’.  At the time of writing, only several owners have come out and apologized, admitting they were wrong.  These few have started on the path to rebuild trust.  The rest are digging their hole deeper, so deep they may never come out of it.
  10. Trust is fragile and is easily broken.  It takes a long time to rebuild it.  I’m not sure how long it will take and the fans may be forgiving.  But the anger this escapade created will take a long time to heal.

There is a lot we can learn from the European (not so) Super League.