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By Nick Wakeman

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Nick Wakeman

What the World Cup teaches us

What an amazing few weeks we’ve had in the sports world.

The NBA Finals, the NBA draft, NBA free agency, Tiger Woods returns to the golf course, Wimbledon, and of course the FIFA World Cup.

I’ve tried from time to time to draw parallels between sports world and the business world. And I think the World Cup offers some good lessons for us.

First is the marketing phenomenon the World Cup became this year in the United States. Even when the U.S. hosted the cup in 1994, I don’t recall it capturing the kind of attention it did this years.

I was speaking at an event a couple weeks ago and a few people were streaming the game live while I spoke. Maybe a little rude but it’s the World Cup. And it wasn’t even the U.S. game.

A big plus was the availability of the games and how the photography made watching the games very compelling. You got a great sense of energy and enthusiasm of stands.

But the biggest factor is that the soccer in the U.S. is now delivering on its decades long hype.

For a long time, soccer was like the next great technology, but always fell short of expectations.

I remember when Pelé came to play for the New York Cosmo in the 1970s. The thought was that soccer had arrived but it hadn’t.

But it has now. People aren’t just watching the U.S. games but all the games. I watched my sons and their cousins cheering on game after game.

The investments that people have been putting into soccer over the last 30 years are now paying off and the game has reached a critical mass. Patience and persistence are paying off and that’s a good lesson for anyone.

A second World Cup business lesson comes at the expense of the Brazilian team that suffered a devastating 7-1 loss at the hands of the Germans.

Brazil, of course, suffered a serious injury to its star offensive player, Neymar, but the bigger loss was the one came suspension of the defense captain Thiago Silva, who had accumulated two yellow cards and could not play in the game against Germany.

Silva play a crucial role in organizing the defense and protecting the goal. From watching the game, Brazil was just too chaotic and allow easy scores.

While these were contributing factors, I still think Brazil would have lost. Germany was too strong.

Another factor is that as the host nation, Brazil was automatically given a spot in the 32 team field. One commentator I heard said that Brazil just wasn’t prepared the higher level of competition.

They hadn’t been tested enough. Sure they made it to the semi-finals, but there is something to be said for getting challenged early and often as you work toward the ultimate game.

It reminded me of what many executives have told me over the years. You need to win the $25 million contract before the $50 million contract, before the $100 million contract and so on.

You don’t really stand a chance if you haven’t worked you way up to those larger competitions.

It also reminded me of the challenge many small businesses face when they graduate from set aside programs and lose their small business status. While many prepare for that eventuality, it is still a rough transition.

My final sports analogy is with the NBA. And frankly, I can’t stretch enough to draw a parallel. With the crazy free agent market, salary caps and max contracts, I come away thinking, Is this any way to run a business?

So if you want to learn some lessons, watch the World Cup, but if you just want over the top hype and entertainment, the NBA is the place to be.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on Jul 09, 2014 at 9:25 AM

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