Sports Business Journal – On a Mission Toward Success

By Greg Economou

What would happen if Nike spent more time developing its shoeboxes rather than its shoes? The answer is simple; they would fail as a company, and very quickly at that. While shoeboxes are indeed an important component of the brand presentation, they are certainly not the core product or service of the shoe company. In fact, most consumers of any type of shoe products immediately discard their shoeboxes upon arriving home with their new purchase, no matter how compelling, exciting, or beautiful those boxes might be.

So, why do so many companies, including sports properties, fall prey to placing an inordinate amount of focus on the design and development of their “shoeboxes” and not their “shoes”? In other words, why do so many organizations pay attention to elements and activities that are periphery at best, thus decreasing their devotion to things that are more central to their core product or service?

The simple reason this misappropriation of focus occurs is twofold; either these organizations have not developed a mission statement or they have developed a mission statement, but do not utilize its contents as the most fundamental roadmap of their business processes and practices. In most cases, it is probably the latter.

Too many CEOs understand the need for a mission statement, but not the importance of how it should truly guide the actions of the organization. This is a subtle, yet critical delineation. Leaders that do not understand the importance of a mission statement often oversee companies where offices and cubicles are laden with eloquent statements on fancy paper, despite the fact that no one in the organization can recollect what the statement says, much less actually frame decisions by the tenets therein.

Nike, in fact, has a simple and straightforward mission statement, but one that has a massive impact on not only the Nike brand, but the essence of its product development as well. More specifically, Nike’s mission is “to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world. If you have a body, you are an athlete.” The implications found in their statement are numerous and profound.

First and foremost, Nike is a global brand. Its products can serve anyone in the world, especially those that possess athletic aspirations. Secondly, Nike is innovative. This is as evident in the development of their products as in the presentation of their brand; in other words, if it isn’t cutting-edge, it can’t be Nike. Thirdly, Nike products and their brands should inspire people to better themselves, whether they are world-class athletes or everyday Joe’s trying to get or stay in shape. Their famous “Just Do It!” mantra is the perfect integration of their mission into their brand positioning.

As a result of Nike’s commitment to their mission statement and its integration of it into all facets of its process and culture, Nike remains a preeminent brand and company. They are an organization with focus and direction.

In terms of sports properties, the NBA has done an excellent job integrating its mission statement into all facets of its brand – including all messaging and communication, marketing and advertising endeavors, event and grassroots executions, sponsor and broadcast partner activations, and so on – all of which are made individually and collectively more effective because of the focus and parameters set forth in their mission statement.

In short, the mission of the NBA is “to be the most successful and respected professional sports league in the world”. In addition to the idea of achieving greatness, a critical word in this sentence is “world”, since the league sees basketball as the most global game of all and pushes the league to maximize its global potential every day. In support of that mantra, the international division at the NBA is perhaps the most substantial in professional sports league history, and its impact felt more and more each day.

In support of that central mission are two core principles that help to further articulate their position.

The first states that the NBA “will grow and celebrate the game of basketball” in every way possible by 1) placing the game at the “heart of everything we do”, 2) articulating the glory of the past, the excitement of the present, and promise of the future, and 3) constantly encouraging participation in the game itself. The biggest idea woven throughout is the concept of putting the game first and foremost in all things NBA, something that has been evident in “Brand NBA” for the past several years.

Secondly, it was very important to the league to recognize and consolidate the individual and collective efforts of the NBA itself as well as its teams in terms of social responsibility. It is their belief that whether the NBA is improving the quality of all communities or using the league’s unique position to bring attention to larger societal issues, the league understands social responsibility is not something it needs to do, rather something it HAS to do. This is a very potent differentiation and the essential premise of “NBA Cares”. In fact, the EVP of Community Relation’s new title is EVP of Social Responsibility.

Moreover, it is not only the simplicity and strength of a mission statement that can make an impact; it is the unshakable belief in that mission by the leaders of an organization and their unparalleled ability to “sell” that vision to all stakeholders. Once this is accomplished, the process of integration and communication becomes much more natural and fluid, and ultimately more successful.

Therefore, it is not the periphery items that make companies great brands and businesses. It is some of the more straightforward and important aspects they embrace, such as developing and integrating a mission that can be understood and embraced by all constituents. The acceptance of such a vision can be the foundation of a successful business and provide the impetus for continued growth for years to come.

Greg Economou (geconomou@mac.com) is a veteran sports marketing and management executive with more than 15 years of team, league and agency experience.