We have all seen or experienced it: a frenzied crowd chanting and cheering, and the stadium shaking from the intensity. Home team fans almost singlehandedly will their team to accomplish the miraculous. The home field advantage can take a good team and propel them to greatness and intimidate the opponent, creating tension in their actions that lowers their on-field performance at the most inopportune time. Home field advantage is equivalent to having an extra player, giving the home team an earned, but unfair, advantage. Knowing this to be possible in sports, can a home field advantage be created in business? An examination of the home field advantage model and business situations in which it has been used provides useful insights that businesses can incorporate into their own winning strategies.
Winning Over the Fans
First is the recognition that the fans are a major part of the sports organization. If they don’t attend the games, there is no team, no management and no revenue generation. Fans, like customers, are as are vital to the success of a sports team (or company) as the employees themselves. Making them fanatical creates the home field advantage needed to accomplish the seemingly impossible. In order to win them over, a number of factors are required:
- The team must have a distinct and consistently displayed identity and personality. This lets the fans know exactly what their team stands for and looks like. They can personalize themselves through the team’s vision and identity. In sports, the Steelers, Yankees, Red Sox and Lakers immediately come to mind. In business, Apple, Microsoft and Google are standouts of distinctive corporate identity.
- The fans need leaders on their team, multiple and different, to whom they can relate and almost idolize. They must want to emulate the actions, performance and the distinctive style these leaders consistently demonstrate. The players are these leaders and immediately Jordan, Jeter and Brady come to mind. But also remember how many Yankee fans loved the gritty, tough-minded Paul O’Neil, or Patriot fans reacted to Mike Vrabel. Celtic fans loved Danny Ainge’s grit and willingness to do anything to beat the Lakers, and countless fans at Fenway wear Pedroia jerseys. They don’t only have to be the national star or face of the organization; there must be other leaders on the team for the fans. Silent or tough, they must be consistent with the personality of the team. Steve Jobs from Apple is someone who immediately comes to mind, and his Senior VP of Worldwide Marketing, Philip W. Schiller. Microsoft had Bill Gates and now Steve Ballmer as its well known leaders, and acquired Ray Ozzie as the chief software architect, who was one of the creators of Lotus Notes in the mid ‘80s and had previous IBM fame.
- An enemy/adversary is needed to draw the line in the sand and make it clear that the goal is to take them down! You can’t shy away from the competition or the dislike for them. Although it isn’t life or death, the fans must believe their leaders are willing to do the death march to accomplish the destruction of their enemy. The Red Sox and Yankees are legendary foes and both have unprecedented home field advantages. Microsoft drew the line in the sand with the willingness to do anything to beat and defeat Netscape. Upon completing the destruction of Netscape, Microsoft then targeted IBM as its next enemy. Google and Yahoo went head to head, with Google taking the upper hand and now having built a fantastic corporate “ home field advantage.”
- Access and information must be available. Fans must have access to updated information on their team at all times—individual statistics, team standings and their record. They can watch their team on TV, listen on the radio, read about the game online or in the newspaper. Positive or negative, they see all the results—nothing is held back. Google updates and informs the public and their employees on the number of hits monthly, the length of time spent on their site, registered email users, and then ultimately, advertising revenue. They purposely compare their performance against their enemy, Yahoo.
- Fans need a voice to express their passion, whether positive or negative. Suppressing their voice will eliminate the home field advantage. Teams with the best home field advantage have also experienced the harshest booing when their performance and effort isn’t meeting expectations. These fans and their voice have often forced ownership’s hand in moving players and managers out of town. Yahoo’s inability to compete with and perform against Google led to an uprising from their stockholders and the general public, forcing the board to make executive management changes. Yahoo suffered significant employee turnover as they grew disenchanted with the company’s failure to compete. Apple’s leaders and distinctive products have created a brand and home field advantage that lead to cheers from both the employees and its extended family fan base. They have basically turned the entire market into their home field.
In business, as in sports, it is both a team effort and up to each leader individually to accept responsibility for creating home field advantage. Using these five steps can enable companies to create their own home field advantage and avoid potential errors that prevent one.
Dirk Gorman was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers prior to founding Empire Surgical, a multi-faceted sales organization. Excerpts from Gorman’s new book on strategies for personal and business success to be published in summer 2009 are available at empiresurgical.com/thedailygrind.
©Empire Surgical 2009. Reprinted with permission.