The role of an international rugby captain came under public and media debate in Wales last week. Regular captain Sam Warburton was fit again but left on the bench, with Ryan Jones retaining his place and the captaincy. With many accepting the logic of not changing a winning team, focus turned to the role of the captain(s) and who could/should/would do what.
The captain’s role can take many forms, including leader, organiser, encourager and of course player. And the specifics of what’s required often vary by sport, team and the individual in question. But what is consistent is that the role is as much as about bringing the best out of others as it is about playing well themselves.
The debate in Wales got me thinking about the role of NGBs. Like team captains, NGBs can be required to play many roles within and on behalf of their sport. But while the requirements vary by sport and situation, it is vital that the NGB has clearly defined its role before it finalises its business model.
What roles could an NGB play?
The many potential roles of an NGB can be clustered under three headings – leader, enabler and deliverer.
Leader – This could include the traditional role of governor, setting and enforcing rules of play and standards of experience. Or it could be a thought leader, sharing lessons, successes or new innovations with other partners. Or it could be a connector, co-ordinating the different organisations across the sport to achieve common measures of success. Or it could be leading the performance of a group of partners the NGB has formally or informally outsourced work to.
Enabler – This could include recruiting, training and upskilling the workforce across the sport, through a range of formal and informal qualifications. Or it could be supporting the delivery chain of clubs or facilities to improve their facilities, marketing skills or other capabilities. Or it could be about aggregating, adding value to and sharing consumer and market intelligence to enable partners across the sport to provide innovative and relevant offers to a growing number of participants.
Deliverer – This could include directly filling a delivery gap, either with national programmes or through a club network. Or it could be running competitions and events that other providers train people/teams to take part in. Or it could be through stimulating innovation by developing and testing new products to create a proof of concept for the market to scale up. Or it could be through orchestrating and delivering an overarching campaign to drive demand across the sport.
My intention is not to prescribe the ideal role of an NGB. That depends on the market their whole sport operates in, future customer needs and the strategic outcomes of the NGB. However the strategic choices and the information required to make them are similar across sports. And the key word here is choice. In the same way that Sam Warburton or Ryan Jones couldn’t play all 15 positions and direct the game from the stands, no organisation can successfully be everything to everybody.
Strategic choices require a clear understanding of the whole market
To develop a clear understanding of the market (sport) and its potential customers (participants), requires answering 4 broad questions:
What does current demand look like?
This includes understanding who is doing what, where, when, how, why & with who; and hence identifying the current trends, customer behaviours, needs, influences and barriers.
What does current supply look like?
This includes understanding who is providing what, where, when, why & how successfully; and hence identifying the needs, priorities and drivers of current providers.
What does future demand look like?
Given the trends within the sport, across other sports and throughout the target customers wider lifestyle, how is demand likely to change if nothing different is done? Are the potential market forces and new trends likely to increase or decrease demand over the next 3-5 years?
What does future supply look like?
Given the most likely political, economic, social and technological trends, what is likely to happen to supply over the next 3-5 years? For example will facilities be opened/closed/repurposed and what could be done to respond to the positive and negative impact of this potential future?
In summary, these aren’t simple questions to answer as they require a deep and on-going flow of market intelligence and consumer insights. However some NGBs are already building this understanding of where their whole sport is now and where its going. This understanding is being used to evolve their business model by making strategic choices about the market opportunity they are going to pursue and the role and priorities they will need to achieve it.
This focus on defining a key role is crucial to future growth as the expertise and processes required to be very good at governing a sport, running events, orchestrating national marketing campaigns, developing innovative products are all different – and these are just a few of the potential roles NGBs may choose to play. Doing a bit of everything isn’t the answer, as anyone who’s seen a prop dive pass or attempt a drop goal will testify…