What Can Sports Fans Teach You About Succeeding in Business?

Take a look at any group of dedicated, committed sports fans, and it’s obvious that there are some pretty tight bonds that form between fans and their teams.  Sports fans don’t just follow their teams’ activities passively – they publicly announce their affiliations with clothing, social networking posts and regular attendance at games.

And while your business probably doesn’t have games or publicly-available logo wear, wouldn’t it be great if you could build this same type of passion with your company’s customers?

The following are five lessons that all businesses should take from the way sports fans interact with their chosen teams.  I hope you find them useful when it comes to developing brand loyalty between your business and its customers!

Lesson #1 – Good brands are transformative

The visual image of groups of beer-bellied, bare-chested men with team logos painted on their torsos is a staple of sports imagery – but take a second to appreciate just how unusual that is.  Really, is there anywhere else in the world where these groups of men would feel as comfortable letting it all hang out in this way?

Good corporate brands can achieve the same level of commitment by making customers believe in things they wouldn’t otherwise.  Middle-aged men don’t by sports cars because they like the paint color – they buy them because they’re already picturing the sexy blonde sitting in the front seat.  Because they believe in the brand, they’re willing to commit a significant amount of financial resources just to participate with such a transformative brand.

So when it comes to your advertising efforts, stop thinking about what people want to buy or what features your latest product has.  Think about how you can make your customers feel something, and then let that spirit of transformation guide your promotional campaigns.

Lesson #2 – Traditions can be magical

When taken objectively, plenty of well-loved sports traditions seem downright silly.  From ceremonial coin tosses to annual match-ups played to decide the winner of some arbitrary trophy, there’s a lot that goes on in the world of sports that doesn’t actually relate to the mechanics of the game.

However, it is these traditions that make sports as enjoyable as they are for fans.  What would baseball be without a beer and a hot dog?  Would attending a live game be as fun without a team’s standard chants and cheers?

In fact, businesses can learn a thing or two from the adoration that sports teams are able to generate through the strategic use of traditions.  While your corporate traditions don’t need to include trophies or cheers, putting together a few memorable traditions – perhaps based around holidays or annual events – can help to increase the loyalty that exists between your business and its customers.

Lesson #3 – Criticism will be loud and public

While companies are often called out on their perceived failings and misdeeds, no entity faces as much public criticism as the sports team.  When plays go wrong, coaches and their star players are called out in a variety of media sources, and are brought to task in weekly press conferences that break down their mistakes in a very public way.

If you think that it must be fun to get on stage, week after week, to apologize for disappointing fans – think again!

But despite how unenjoyable being ripped apart by the media must be, coaches and players learn to develop the thick skin needed to brush off public criticism.  Your business must do the same thing when your brand is condemned in the press or on social media websites.  Even if your receive an unnecessarily bad review on Google+ or Yelp, remember that people will be watching your reaction – so stay as classy and professional as sports figures do in their post-game interviews.

Lesson #4 – There are always going to be haters

No matter how well-renowned your sports program is or how many top-tier athletes your recruiting class has been able to sign, there will always be team fans who disagree with your decisions.

Similarly, when it comes to business, you’ll always have detractors who seek to tarnish your brand’s reputation at every turn.  Maybe these people had bad experiences with your company in the past, or maybe they’re just mean-spirited.  Either way, you can take a page out of a sports teams’ book by responding in a tactful manner and doing your best to improve your performance in the future.

Lesson #5 – …but you’ll always have “true blue” fans as well

Of course, on the flip side of that argument, you’ll also find that both teams and businesses benefit from the loyal support of “true blue” fans.  No matter how poorly a team plays during a given season, there will always be diehard supporters who buy tickets, watch games and brag about their underdog affiliations on Facebook and Twitter.

As a business owner or professional, you’ve got these fans in your life as well.  However, if you want to continue to maintain their support, you need to identify who they are and what you need to do to keep these relationships strong.  Take the time to recognize and reward these fans’ commitment to your company, and you’ll see the goodwill returned in the form of repeat business and increased referrals.


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