Football's Lessons for Retailing

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Football's Lessons for Retailing

By Harry Stagnito - 01/01/2015

At the time you read this editorial, your company will be in the early stages of implementing your 2015 budget and business plan. You'll have assessed what worked in 2014, what didn't, and the changes, some moderate and some more adventuresome, that will achieve your goals for the coming year.

Meanwhile, one of America's most treasured events will take place in a couple of weeks: the Super Bowl. That monumental game will dominate our country's headlines, and interests, far surpassing the importance and relevance that the "game" deserves.

Now, hold on for a minute before you criticize me for my misguided perspective of the year's most anticipated social and competitive gathering. I want to take this opportunity to analyze how those two opponents got to the Big Game through skillful management practices.

Alas, the example isn't specifically about the two Super Bowl finalists, but about the management woes that sacked my very own, underperforming Chicago Bears. You may be aware that this year has been a firestorm for everything attached to the Bears, from poor game plans, inadequate player performances, questionable coaching and ineffective management right up to placid and silent ownership. As a result, the team finished the season with a 5-11 record after it was picked as a possible pre-season NFC champion.

So here is my comparison between running a highly successful professional football franchise and operating an ongoing, successful retail business.

The teams that get to the Super Bowl generally have longstanding traditions as consistent winners, such as the New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers, Indianapolis Colts and the dreaded Green Bay Packers. What those teams have in common are the fundamentals of good, sound management: Owners and executives who are engaged from top to bottom, a winning culture, the best talent, superior communications, the most successful game plans, flexibility and adaptability, and consistently improving fundamentals.

Let's look at what happened to the Bears. The team's family ownership brought in a new coaching staff in 2013–the fourth one in 14 years and one Super Bowl appearance to show for it. That resulted in a lack of team and culture continuity.

Ownership kept the president of operations in place, even though he is an accountant by profession, not a football lifer. He's still in that position. The general manager lasted only three years and was roundly berated because his draft picks were mostly unsuccessful. He's gone.

The Bears' former head coach, who had never been a head coach in the NFL, seemed to go about his business in slow motion. He was hired on the basis of his past successful expertise as a points-generating, offensive guru. But he wasn't able to manage his coaching coordinators and, most importantly, wasn't able to create or maintain a locker room of cohesive players and coaches.

All of these shortcomings resulted in finger-pointing, basic mistakes, missed assignments and, finally, in losses.

Now compare that business philosophy with the winning teams mentioned previously. The winners grade higher consistently in every attribute critical to success.

I think you get my point in comparing successful businesses, whether it's football or retailing. The basics remain the same. At every level. Up and down in the company. Organization, leadership, strategy and execution, flexibility and adaptability, risk taking. Fundamentals. And people, people, people.

Enjoy the game.

Watch out for the Bears in 2015!

"I think you get my point in comparing successful businesses, whether it's football or retailing ... Organization, leadership, strategy and execution, flexibility and adaptability, risk taking. Fundamentals. And people, people, people."

– Harry Stagnito,

President and CEO, Stagnito Business Information