The pent up desire of some American’s to lambast an Englishman for daring to speak of NFL is one of the most amusing things I’ve seen online all year. It’s like 15 years of being called shit fans by Brexit Twitter has had an impact on them. I can’t tolerate the steady stream of nonsense from people telling me the LA Rams and Arsenal aren’t comparable. If you’re saying that, you aren’t paying attention to a sport you’re trying to claim a knowledge advantage on, so now I am about to school you in with a touchgoal of a post.
My central argument is that the LA Rams has embarked on an innovative strategy to capture the imagination of a city that has plenty of elite pass times. This from the WaPo:
Anywhere else in America, an undefeated NFL team beating teams by 15 points on average would be a dominant civic force. Here, it is different. The Dodgers are in the World Series, LeBron James is on the Lakers, and the box office totals come out every week. All the Rams do is win. But are they winning over Los Angeles?
The output of the strategy is to dazzle. The anxiety driving that approach is that no one will buy a shitty product in LA. Stan has to entertain to make his investment work. Money is on the line.
The Rams were shite in St. Louis. I have worked extensively in that city, listened to cab drivers bemoan his drab leadership, and actually worked with business people who tried to keep the franchise in the city.
When Stan moved them to LA, betraying his hometown, his team went on the record stating they needed an excellent product, because LA folk wouldn’t tolerate substandard sport. Stan had this to say:
Our goal always has been to create an exciting and long-term solution for the NFL, our 31 partners and Los Angeles football fans.
The LA Rams guiding philosophy comes from the very top and drips down into management team, I believe they call it trickle down guiding philosophy, and it works. This is their VP of Operations, Kevin Demoff.
This is actually getting to how you build a fan base brick-by-brick, fan-by-fan, and get people to understand what the Rams are
It is a very crowded landscape we once had a lofty perch in. It’s going to take time to get back to that lofty perch. The way you do it, you play exciting football. You have players who people not only recognize but they like and understand. You have a coach who brings an exciting style of play.
This sort of approach is what I called for in the summer. It’s a business winning idea, especially if like Stan, you consider sport a content game. It’s why Madrid and Barcelona invest so much on the pitch, because the rewards that come back from commercial deals rocket if you’re appealing to a global audience. The below piece in Forbes by Dr. Rishe of the Washington Business school drills into what he calls the hearts and mind strategy the new franchise is adopting.
Well, when the on-field product is abysmally boring and unimaginative, who among us as consumers of sport want to “belong” to a losing brand? Nor do we want to “identify” with a losing brand. Nor do we feel enriched from supporting a losing product.
Thus, the transformation of the Rams organization on the field since Sean McVay’s arrival as head coach plays a crucial role in transforming consumer perceptions of the brand. Now, when we think of Rams football, we think of an electrifying and innovative approach which is both hip and efficient. And these characteristics not only resonate with just about any consumer, but especially the cherished millennial and Gen Z consumers which most companies covet (due to their higher potential lifetime customer value to the company).
In short, winning the hearts and imaginations of fans helps to reinvent a brand, change consumer perceptions, inspire greater brand loyalty, which ultimately leads to a more premium-priced and profitable product.
Chasing Gen Z and Millenials is all I hear about at work, but in Premier League football’s case, it’s especially pertinent as we have an age issue in the stands with the average age of season ticket holders sitting at around 43! Clubs need to fill the pipelines back up, otherwise, there’s going to be an issue further down the line. Playing incredible football feels like a business necessity heading into an era of sport that will be be more global, mobile, easier to access, and more competitive than ever before.
Creating an incredible experience at Arsenal should have been the goal. The club had 6 months to think about who they wanted to be after the Wenger reboot, but they clearly didn’t have a plan (or it was a bit shit). Nothing screams that the club is united around a vision, or has an idea of how they’re going to make it happen. We don’t even have a CEO, opting for a Houllier/Evans power share.
Our objective is a return to the Champions League, we’ve tried to achieve that by blowing money on experience that’s not good enough. Our strategy was a tactic, with a average vision of how to achieve it. We should have been thinking about the bigger picture, clearly defining how to become exceptional within realistic contraints. Riches should have been the byproduct of succeeding with the said vision.
Arsenal do not look like they know how to be exceptional, and rumblings of Denis Suarez and Ever Banega don’t convince me that’s changing anytime soon.
Below are the actions the Rams took to get themselves into the position they’re in right now.
Key personnel decisions have completely transformed the vibe of the entire organization, including:
- The hiring of the innovative and energetic Sean McVay;
- The patience to allow McVay to develop Jared Goff into a successful NFL quarterback;
- The wisdom of extending standouts Todd Gurley and Aaron Donald to long-term deals;
- The aggressiveness during the 2018 off-season to add considerable skill and depth on both sides of the ball (specifically on defense)…not to mention the recent acquisition of Dante Fowler Jr. (though his outbursts in the Seattle game almost cost the team severely). While the defense needs serious refinements and some of the additions have underperformed (Marcus Peters) or not performed due to injury (Aqib Talib), there is still hope that the skill, depth and experience of these veterans will pay dividends in the playoffs.
Collectively, these decisions were strategically shrewd because (1) you could afford to be aggressive financially in the short-term while QB Goff is still under his rookie contract, and (2) you want to create excitement and positive energy about the brand in the build up towards the team’s eventual relocation to the palatial new stadium in Inglewood in 2020.
In short, the Rams rebrand has been accelerated by a series of strategic personnel decisions. Largely because of the play on the field, the Rams brand is now perceived to be hip, innovative, creative, and explosive. These winning traits certainly play anywhere, but especially the case in a market like Los Angeles accustomed to supporting dynamic winners.
There’s a guiding principle at the Rams, and because the goal is set at the top, you can build everything around achieving that with the resources you have at your disposal. They have built buzz from top to bottom, they know the sort of coach they needed to hire, they know the type of players, young and old they need to recruit. They know the expectations of how the game needs to be played. They have built something from nothing and there’s a huge buzz around the place.
Arsenal should be replicating this approach. It’s perfect for us. We can’t win with lavish investments. We can win by having an ambitious goal of being the most exciting young football team in Europe, building our entire club around that idea.
Key learnings from the LA Rams:
- They have a north star: Play scintillating football that captures the hearts and minds of the locals
- They hire the best thinkers in the game
- They have been creative with their approach to player trading
The exact same person that runs Arsenal dismally is pulling up trees in LA, doing ALL the things you’d want him to be doing at Arsenal.
Now, in their 3rd season in Los Angeles and 2nd season under Coach McVay’s leadership, the organization is now perceived as an innovative and electrifying team whose executive leadership isn’t afraid to make big moves both on and off the field.
That concluding point is what you want people to be writing of Arsenal. If the perception of your club reads like that, you become an exciting opportunity for young players who want to grow their careers and develop their talent with coaches that can help them. You win new fans because people want to watch you play. You grow commercials because big brands want to be associated with the most exhilarating team on the planet. You attract the best minds in the game who want to express their ideas at a club like London. You open yourselves up to new uses of technology, cutting edge fitness approaches and even science of the mind. Everything gets better because there is a guiding philosophy of excitement that drives the club.
So why can’t we have that?
You. That’s why. This is Stan on London fans.
Obviously London is a comparable stage to Los Angeles, and Arsenal has one of the most passionate and vocal fan bases in sports. So I don’t see that really impacting us.
We’re noisy, he hears us, but he doesn’t care. Why? Because a shitty Arsenal product doesn’t impact him at all.
Adidas still want to give us £60m a year. Rwanda still wants to advertise on our shirts. You still give over £1500+ for your season ticket without question. You will still attend every week, even if you find it boring. Why? Because there is no correlation between your love for Arsenal and how good they are on the pitch. This is a uniquely Premier League thing. Stan cannot lose with Arsenal unless things go really bad, which they won’t under semi-competent leadership. Premier League football is by default a success machine. The money never stops going up. You can disguise average leadership, because all the charts point upwards.
Stan works in the world of real estate. He’ll buy up property in areas where new Walmarts are going to open up, sit back, and play the long game. Same with Arsenal, he doesn’t need to invest any of his own money and the thing hikes in value like nobodies business.
He is succeeding in the NFL because he knew he had to bring new fans through the doors and he had to get people to tune into the matches. He had to do something radical, he had to entertain, and he had to invest in an idea.
Are we investing in a vision like that? What are our bold moves? What are the club doing to put on an incredible show to bring in new fans into the ‘franchise’? Doesn’t seem like a lot. We are making a lot of safe moves to catch up, but how are we using our resource to move ahead?
Arsenal can have everything the Rams have. But there needs to be a desire from the people installed at the club to push the owners for what they need. Or, it needs the people we hired to be fiercely ambitious and hugely competitive. Do we have disruptors in charge, or an easy life crowd? Outside of the excellent hiring of Sven Mislintat, where is the innovation coming from? Can you see who the club is shaping up to be over the next five years? Can you see a style developing on the pitch that you’d want to buy into if you were a young player?
The point of this post is it’s not all doom and gloom.
Stan has shown the world he can think like a proper owner. He’s shown that when he cares about something – because his money is on the line – he can make really exciting decisions and take risks that drive towards something.
Question is, how do we get some of that LA Rams magic to The Arsenal?
Podcast recording TODAY. Let’s all laugh at Spurs. Lololololol