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Sport Business Americana: Navigating a cultural kaleidoscope 🇺🇸

As American influence continues to flex across the European sporting landscape, it provides an important reminder to reflect on cultural biases and how that impacts our decision making

America is coming.

With the NFL taking over Wembley and the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium this month, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, has exclaimed that there is ‘no question’ London could support not one, but two franchises from a fan perspective and a commercial and media standpoint.

And it’s not just the NFL that is moving in.

As Joe Pompliano, founder of The Huddle Up, recently explained in his YouTube series, American influence has already been making its way into the executive boxes of England’s biggest football clubs - a phenomenon which hasn’t been taken entirely positively.

“Many saw the creation of the European Super league as an attempt to create a closed system for European football similar to that seen with the NFL, NBA, and MLS,” Pompliano explains.

“Of course, the European Super League wasn't just driven by American owners, but the philosophy and desired outcomes reflected the structure of many American Leagues which is why many fear that the increasing influence of American owners in English football is a clear and present danger to the fabric of English football.”

Ever since Todd Boehly’s takeover of Chelsea, that conversation around American ownership has increased. Further amplified by his suggestions of introducing some ‘Sport Business Americana’ in the form of a North vs South All-Star Game.

Rather than classify this idea as either positive or negative, I believe it is better reflected upon as a lesson: A lesson in understanding cultural nuance.

While the NFL has the privilege of tying its Americanism to its heritage and something that adds authenticity to the product offering, the same can’t be said when coming into English football with ‘American’ ideas. As such, it requires much more intricate reading of the room – though certainly not impossible to achieve.

Ted Lasso and Richmond AFC, who even signed a deal to use Premier League IP in its future series’, is a recent, if not silly example. The Apple TV show has managed to win over a British crowd through its tongue-in-cheek humour that is largely routed in an acknowledgement of the differences between the UK and US sporting cultures.

This is easier said than done, of course. It’s all too easy to project a cultural bias when implementing policy or suggesting ideas around the world of sport.

I, myself am culpable of this way of thinking, too. My immediate reaction on Sunday morning to missing the Japanese Grand Prix was to curse the fact that it was on at such an ungodly hour. Lest I forget my fortune that I almost always have world class sport scheduled to serve me in my time zone. Spare a thought for the football fan in Japan hoping to watch a UEFA Champions League match.

Plenty of others are guilty of similar. This week I came across a thought-provoking post on LinkedIn from Bjoern Eichstaedt, Managing Partner at Storymaker, who provided a wonderful example.

“I clearly remember the moment, when I first realized, that maps in Japan are different,” he explains.

“We were working on a presentation for a Japanese client including a slide showing their global offices. We sent the presentation to Japan - the client liked it, "except for the fact that the map you used is wrong." Why wrong? We stared at the map, again and again. It was totally right. But then it dawned on us: we had used a Europe-centric map, while the client was used to a Japan-centric map.”

Image: LinkedIn/ Bjoern Eichstaedt

Once you do look at a Japanese map (inserted above), it really does change your perspective.

As Eichstaedt says, “Suddenly you see that China, Australia, Russia, Canada and the USA are huge, relevant neighbours while Europe is just a distant heap of colored spots, that does not really seem relevant.”

“While on the European map, America is at the very left of the map and Japan at the very right, in the Japan-centred map, America is a direct overseas neighbour.”

The world map provides a very visual representation of the different cultural biases that we often carry with us unwittingly.

Of course, these biases go well beyond just geographies. Think about how often men in the sports industry, for instance, are making decisions on, or on behalf of female athletes and fans within sport. Similarly, when discussing the concept of reaching younger fans, the sports industry will often do everything but speak to these young fans that they are aiming to reach.

Eichstaedt concludes his post by stating that he likes to watch Japanese evening news “to see that a lot of our Europe-centred news world is just what it is: a local perspective on world affairs, not something that can be objectified for all of humanity.”

While I don’t suggest we all start watching Japanese news too, I do suggest reflecting on the biases that we each carry, how they are impacting our decision-making, and then seeking different perspectives.


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