Competing on the Field But Cooperating in the Office

Paul Reifenstein    October 9, 2013

When the whistle blows or the umpire says, “Play Ball!” there is no way you will see opposing teams sharing ideas or strategies between one another.  In some cases, the idea is to impose as much pain and suffering on the other team as possible until the horn sounds and the game is over.  This is the nature of sports and it has been that way for years.  Players can be best friends off the field, but on the battle ground anything goes.  Usually this feeling (not the pain and suffering one) permeates its way into the front offices where winning on the field equals success in the office.

In the past year, the battle ground has shifted and while the players are playing, communications departments are also “playing”.  See: Atlanta Braves vs. Washington Nationals in August of this year

or the Los Angeles Kings avoiding banner hanging advice from the Detroit Red Wings.

However, while there is constant competition on the field, the ice, or the gridiron, Steve Radick at the blog, Social Media Strategy outlined that there should be a focus within the sports industry on internal collaboration amongst league and team front office staff via social media.  Rather than the status quo which is still ruled by phone calls, shared drives, and emails.  There is a huge opportunity for the sports industry to come together and market their sports as one, instead of many different and independent parts.  As Radick mentions in his post, sometimes different strategies are worked on in 30 different ways before they are presented to an audience of fans.  But there is no strategy that would have all 30 teams from Major League Baseball, for example, coming together and marketing one joint idea to draw an audience to baseball in general.  Moreover, from an employee engagement perspective, Radick asks four very intriguing questions that seem commonplace in other industries or organizations, but is still glaringly absent from sports.

  1. What if leagues and conferences were able to create a common platform where all of their teams could collaborate with one another, sharing best practices and lessons learned
  2. What if each league had an idea generation platform where staff could submit ideas that would be discussed and voted upon by their colleagues across the league?
  3. What if each league had one shared platform accessible to all of the communications staff from each of the teams where things like marketing campaigns, communications templates, and results could be uploaded and shared?
  4. What if the league stopped mandating policies and technical platforms on their teams and instead co-created these policies and collaborated on the best technical platforms?

The example that Radick uses to show how this works well is that of the Department of Defence in the U.S, which is made up of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps.  While each area is “fiercely loyal” to their own brand,  the DoD is utilizing Wikis to conduct intelligence analysis and social networking to bring new professionals from any service up to speed quicker.  Reducing duplication, cutting costs, increasing morale, and increasing employee performance are all key opportunities that the sports industry is currently missing out on.  There is a focus on personal relationships that have been cultivated over years of in-person and over-the-phone communication.  However, as a new generation of employees enters the sports industry there will be a niche waiting to be filled; that being the area that covers the social media strategy that goes beyond clever Tweets or neat Instagram photos and utilizes social media for on-boarding or idea sharing.  Employees of the Oakland A’s could have the opportunity to share best practices with the front office staff of the New York Yankees.  As Radick notes, this idea is already successfully occurring in other aspects of sports (ie. revenue sharing) and he argues that a healthy league makes for healthy teams.

What if every team in the league had a vested interest in contributing to the health of the league?  Sharing ideas, strategies, and best practices like that of a professional association rather than enemies in every sense.  In the various functional areas that one might see at a post secondary institution, there are associations that work to contribute to the betterment of their field.  For example in Housing, all housing professionals are brought together by a number of associations that have a fairly accepted shared mandate of student support and success.  Within these associations there are multiple methods of information sharing, mostly via social media.  If each housing operation at each institution took the same approach as the sports industry currently does, I would argue that the progression of the field would be years behind where it currently is.  Could this be a similar outcome for the sports industry?

Lessons Learned:

  • The sports industry is missing out on a huge opportunity to advance their “field” and gain new and different fans than they have traditionally had.
  • Employees within the sports industry have so much experience and knowledge to be shared that there needs to be a platform created in order to bring these ideas to the forefront.
  • The ideas are endless if this idea is adopted.  Sports teams have become quite successful as they launch various social media campaigns for their own self-interest.  If collaboration across the league happened, a much bigger impact could be made.

Web References:

Steve Radick – Competing on the Field But Cooperating in the Office

Submitted by: Paul Reifenstein – SMBP Student, University of Waterloo.  To contact the author of this blog post, please email

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