The Equalizer interview with Nancy NeSmith is a very sad reading. Nancy and her husband are clearly well intentioned people pouring their effort and money into a business they were ill prepared to be involved in to begin with.
Unfortunately, NeSmith is not unique and we see it over and over again. Successful businessmen/women start a club and their business acumen goes completely out of the window.
From day one, the success of Gold Pride was built on a foundation of cotton candy and, I donâ€™t say it with a light heart, was always going to collapse. The signing of Marta was the point where it became obvious that no-one in the Pride organization had any idea how to organize a club for long term success.
It was â€œlet’s throw a load of money at an agent and his playerâ€. Admittedly she is one of the best in the world, and helped them win the league title. â€œLets hope it will work out. She is coming here to help us succeed long term, not because we’re paying her huge money. We’llÂ conveniently ignore the fact that nobody else in the world was trying hard to get herâ€. WPS owners have got to realize when you overreach yourself financially it will always end in tears.
You donâ€™t have to have womenâ€™s football experience to see that everyone has money challenges in WPS â€“ but their biggest problem is that nobody appears to know how to turn things around.
Warren Buffet, one of the most successful investors of all time, has been quoted saying â€œOneÂ should never invest in a business they donâ€™t understandâ€ and that â€œRisk comes from not knowing what you’re doing.â€ That appears to be a very real challenge.
Throughout the interview with Jeff Kassouf, Nancyâ€™s naivety, lack of understanding and inexperience with womenâ€™s football comes through. It is laced with phrases such as â€œwe gambledâ€, â€œwe thoughtâ€, â€œwe feltâ€.
This does not strike me as a sound strategy and it seldom works in business.
I understand that humans make errors. We all make errors of fact and errors of judgment. We have blind spots in our field of vision. These weaknesses put us at a disadvantage. We make decisions with partial information. Occasionally, we are forced to steer by guesswork. We go with our gut feeling.Â Long term, that rarely works. The â€œyou hope for something and you wish for somethingâ€ can never substitute a well thought out business strategy. The NeSmiths hired Montoya and Kessler, to give them intelligent guidance and advise when it comes to player acquisition and club building matters. When it came to signing Marta, every coach and GM wants to have the best player play for them. But its experience and prudence that must guide. It appears that it did not work out.
There are simple rules which all potential womenâ€™s football owners should pay attention to:
1. Never invest in a business you do not understand.
2. Never confuse charisma with expertise.
3. Never hire people who lack expertise in your business. (If they were never involved in womenâ€™s football before WPS came about, do not hire them.)
4. Never gamble your clubâ€™s future on one player.
5. There is no substitute for having a winning team.
6. A winning team does not guarantee commercial success, but a losing team guarantees commercial failure.
7. Success, like organic growth, is incremental in nature.
8. Marketing and hype is only useful when you have quality, otherwise its called false advertising and customers will leave in droves.
In the end, as much as I feel sadness for Nancy and her husband, I very much doubt whether they understand why their club failed.
Today, as I write, WPS clubs are losing relevancy internationally and locally; to potential sponsors, youth clubs and casual fans.
Unfortunately when you ask some WPS owners and GMs what business are WPS teams in,
the most likely answer will be entertainment or pro sports. Wrong on both accounts. Entertainment, really? Good luck competing against Hollywood films, video games, Broadway productions, satellite TV, etc. You canâ€™t comete against the shear volume of options available in todayâ€™s world.
Pro sports? How do you compete against the NBA, NFL, MBA and even MLS. You can’t. You will have tough time competing against college handball and basketball.
So what business are you in? Pro football business in general and specifically pro womenâ€™s is pure fantasy. A drastically different model is required.
Any league or team can and will become successful only when it becomes relevant to fans and sponsors. Going into their third season, WPS owners still have not figured out how to achieve this. That is their biggest task.
To again quote Buffet: â€œYour premium brand had better be delivering something special, or it’s not going to get the business.â€
And that in a nutshell is the sponsorship and attendance challenges WPS is facing, they canâ€™t deliver, because they donâ€™t know how, to deliver something special for their potential customers.
Reading the NeSmith interview it becomes crystal clear that NeSmiths never knew who their fans were, what they wanted, and how to attract them. Even more important, they did not know how to partner with sponsors and make themselves indispensable to their success.
Will pro womenâ€™s football in the USA survive and prosper? Of course it will. Remember that until Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier, before Roger Bannister ran the 4 min/mile, people thought it was impossible. Still, if WPS teams simply continue to cut budgets, they will become another w-league. At that point they will cease to be relevant all together.