Destination is defined as ‘being a place that people will make a special trip to visit.’ Simple to write, but very difficult to create, particularly if you are a sports franchise in pursuit of that one, final, missing piece in your All Star roster.
Back in the 1990’s, the global advisory firm McKinsey coined the term ‘the war for talent’. The genesis being that all of the major companies in the world had one common pursuit: identifying and acquiring the best talent available. As time passed McKinsey’s research delivered furthered to another conclusion: the war is over - the talent won!
Over the coming weeks as many of the leading sports franchises enter the world of free agency (e.g. NBA and NHL), and the largely open-market for player transfers in global soccer, ownership and executives will be asking the same question: how do we make our franchise a destination choice to attract the best talent? In 2022 alone, across the big 5 professional leagues in the US and the European soccer market there were over 20,000 player moves between teams. That’s thousands and thousands of micro transactions, and moments where an organization gets to tell a story around who they are, why they are different, and what they have to offer as an aspirational place to work.
Over the years at Sportsology Group we have partnered with multiple franchise owners and lead executives to help craft both a strategy and operational plan to either return or retain the clubs status as a leading aspirational haven for the world's best talent. Three recurring focus areas always appear in the narrative used to answer; ‘What factors drive people to select one destination over another?’ and they are:
1. People - will I be working with people I respect and share the same values and aspirations?
2. Purpose - will I have the chance to achieve my goals and objectives with this franchise?
3. Place - is this a location that I feel comfortable with both potentially for myself and my family?
The realists (or cynics) in the group will say “money trumps all issues.” In multiple cases this has been proven to be true. That said, when compensation is the same or very close between rival franchises, what then is the differentiator?
Place or location, even in the world of franchise relocation, (think STL Rams becoming the LA Rams in the NFL) is a hard boulder to work around. So if location is one factor you cannot influence, how can you get creative and around making your franchise a place people want to gravitate towards?
From our research and extensive interviews with ownership groups and leading front office executives across multiple leagues, there have been three recurring themes that teams consistently believe drive differentiation in helping make their program a ‘destination’ for talent:
1. Clear vision and strategy around how to create and sustain a winning environment
2. Clear commitment to pull the best talent around from a team perspective
3. Clear commitment to hiring and retaining the best, most relevant, and productive staff to support player’s needs
Elite sports has become an arms race on many fronts, including the pursuit of more people. In fact, total front office headcount has risen steadily by 10-12% year over year across the big 5 professional US leagues. That said, there still remains a great opportunity and arbitrage to crystallize your franchise's vision, goals and people strategy in a clear and public manner. This provides the opportunity for the external talent pool (both players and employees) to feel that, even in a crowded market, you are a ‘destination’ that is at the very least worth real consideration, and hopefully selection. Ultimately, the best talent in any industry picks you. Leave no stone unturned to win the race for their unique services!
By Mike Forde