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How New Sports Leagues Are Positioned for Long-Term Success –

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Emerging sports organizations such as the US Football League, Premier Lacrosse League, LIV Golf, Big3, 3Ice, American Cornhole League, Basketball Tournament, Athletes Unlimited, National Women’s Soccer League and Ones Basketball League will be hosting several games and events this summer. has been held. But history suggests that some of these upstart ventures will eventually wash up.

According to Jeffrey Pollack, former president and CEO of XFL and now a senior adviser to McKinsey & Co., these startup leagues are more likely to achieve long-term success if they meet four principles: increase. Rights holders must provide meaningful competition, focus on storytelling for new generations, commit to co-creation and innovation, and deploy patient leadership and capital.

Take of JWS: Having a strong fan base is essential for a startup sports league, but it’s no guarantee of success. (Despite the failure of various non-NFL leagues, investors continue to fund his football in the spring, behind the idea that American sports fans can’t get enough pigskins.) ).

As Pollack said in an interview Sportico, it all starts with the action between the lines. On-field competition creates the foundation for a fun, memorable and shareable game day experience.

“Contests should be full of energy, integrity and meaning for participants and fans,” said Pollack. “It’s the connective tissue between the fans, the players and the stories they have to tell.”

An example of a sports property that offers meaningful competition, at least for athletes, is OBL. The OBL is a one-on-one national basketball tournament that determines the “ruler of the court.” Former Texas A&M Corpus Christi player John Jordan won the grand prize of $250,000.

“It’s been life-changing for the players,” said Pollack, an adviser to the league. “We created new opportunities for their talent to shine and their dreams to come true.” The take-all system has to prove important to basketball fans. He was less than 1,500 in attendance for his OBL Finals in Las Vegas.

Conversely, criticism of the LIV Golf Tour is that players receive a large upfront payment, so there is relatively little risk per event. We also found that even the player who finished last was bringing home six figures, making the tour less competitive for his events. But LIV’s president and COO, Atul Khosla, strongly disputed that idea in his recent Zoom call with JWS. “We are not the only ones who have guaranteed money in sports.

Once a sports facility has meaningful competition on the field, it should focus on storytelling and connecting with its audience. Communicating who the attendees are and why fans should care about them can go a long way in driving interest in your facility’s live event. According to Pollack, the content needs to be fresh, engaging, and easy to eat across platforms, and “frankly appeals to a new generation who are more concerned with athletes and personalities than with teams. It has to match the viewing habits of sports fans.”

Mike Rabil, co-founder of the Premier Lacrosse League, said ESPN’s ability to broadly distribute content was a differentiator for the league in the final stages of negotiations for rights. “ESPN+ ran more than 250 NCAA men’s lacrosse games in addition to his 450 NCAA women’s lacrosse games, demonstrating that there is more synergy within the sport than ever before. ” he said Rabil. “ABC, ESPN and ESPN2 provide both broadcast and linear windows that allow PLLs to reach net new fans in an increasingly difficult-to-penetrate environment and economy of attention.”

It’s also important for athletes to truly connect with their fans. For example, PLL regularly holds clinics during his season and regularly brings his family on the field before and after games.

Athletes Unlimited takes a more radical approach to connecting athletes and fans by designing the league to be athlete-based rather than team-based, with the league’s storytelling focused solely on individual players. . Teams regroup each week and at the end of the season the points leader is crowned champion and wins the most prize money.

“For emerging leagues, it makes a lot more sense to focus on the connection between athletes and fans than to build a team overnight and expect fans to become fans of a team with no history or values. “It’s clear that we’re doing it,” said John Patricoff, CEO and co-founder of Athletes Unlimited.

Our commitment to co-creation and innovation helps sports facilities win over their employees, partners and fans. “We live in a world that expects everyone to speak up more than ever,” Pollack said. Giving each of these parties the opportunity to participate in the conversation and feel a sense of ownership will help the emerging league build a vibrant culture and stand out in a competitive environment.

NWSL emphasizes including fans in the conversation. “As a challenger property, [we have] It’s an opportunity to take some risks and really innovate how we engage with our fans,” said Commissioner Jessica Berman. For example, the league was the first to return from a sports hiatus to play a game in the Utah bubble. Also an early adopter of OTT technology, Paramount+ and he streamed matches around the world on Twitch.

LIV has brought the team concept to the golf tour, shortening the tournament to 54 holes and 3 days. It also changed the experience on the course for both fans and players. “We have music playing on site, which is not normally common on golf courses. But we surveyed all the players and the overwhelming response was how they practiced “It doesn’t bother them. It relaxes them and completely changes the feel of the course.”

The final tenet required for long-term success is patient leadership and capital. “It takes time for a new league to connect in a deep, meaningful and sustainable way. Nothing lasts overnight,” Pollack said. Remember, the first Super Bowl didn’t sell out.

The good news for these startups is that technological advancements and social media have shortened the timelines to achieving mainstream success. “What used to take him 15 years now he can do in five,” Pollack said.

A new sports property may evolve before it becomes a success. So having agile leadership that can adjust on the fly is beneficial. TBT founder Jon Mugar explained that his league launched with a vision that bears little resemblance to the products people see today.

TBT’s most notable work is the Elam ending. Initially, the league match he consisted of two of his 18-minute halves, but that was not working. “Our team was getting bonuses and shooting free throws in the middle of each half, so we went to the quarters and reset our team’s fouls at the beginning of each quarter,” Mugher said. It would have been better, but it still fouled at the end of the game, and then we put in the Elam ending, named after the guy who randomly emailed us the concept one day.”

This format of playing to a target score to end the game was adopted by the NBA and is so popular that it is used in the NBA All-Star Game.

“We got here by experimenting year after year in a capital efficient way and slowly steering towards what works,” says Mugar. “That’s how we find ourselves hosting events at college campuses across the country in addition to Rucker Park. It’s also what we look like as we approach his 10th anniversary in 2023.”

(This article has been updated to reflect the correct name for the Premier Lacrosse League.)