Sporting Small Business was first published on Women in Focus.

Women in Focus is a website and initiative by the Commonwealth Bank of Australia.  It is a place for women to be inspired, informed and connected with other women in business in Australia and around the world.  Angela Vithoulkas, CEO of VIVO Cafe Group, will be the Guru on the Business Beat section and will be providing weekly articles on all things small business.

sydney kings luke martin webI’m not very sporty; I’m unfit, un-coordinated and rather lazy lol. But I love live sports. In fact I can watch anything live – racing, tennis, rugby even golf. There is just something else completely amazing when you are there, absorbing, feeling, cheering, crying. It always gets my adrenaline going, makes me forget about my worries at work. It’s a world where every performance matters every single time and every single minute’s contribution is vital.

Last year I made a decision to allow sport to mix with business- my business. I decided to sponsor a player in the Sydney Kings Basketball Team, No 2 Luke Martin. A must have accessory for any business woman is a lovely young sportsman  I have become very pleasantly surprised as to how much I would enjoy becoming a part of an organisation that essentially runs as a small business.

Who Needs What?

Yes, sport needs business. It needs customers, members, product, viewers and support. Business could really use the spirit and devotion that sport gets from its fans. Through thick and thin, through those moments of utter devastation from a loss to the jubilation of a win. The way a fan turns up week after week hoping against the odds that their team will win a game, and even those moments where a team can be wooden spooners and a fan will dust themselves off and say next year will be better. I’m jealous of that. If only I could bottle it.

Big business shouldn’t have exclusive rights to sport, even big sport. Small business should have the opportunities to be involved and contribute more than just $$. The corporate big end of town uses sport sponsorships as tools to impress and entertain, to network and even show off to some extent. Small business becomes attached…I want to know the stories of everyone, why they do what they do, what it means and how they feel. I want to know who is out their fighting each week to win for the team, for the fans and for me. The Sydney Kings allow for that, they encourage everybody from the smallest fan to the biggest sponsors to get to know the team, and not just the players. We all know as business owners that any team is more than just its stars.

Well Matched

Sports and business may seem like strange bedfellows – money factors aside, and I know we have all attended an event where they feature sports people as presenters, but let’s look closer at this relationship. I never would have believed that a team of basketballers or their support staff OR their fans could teach an old dog like me new tricks lol, but they have. I observed the reactions and the behaviours of fans, players and staff. They all have a level of devotion that money can’t buy. In business we buy everything.

Yes, we like to think we have the loyalty or strive for the loyalty of our customers and staff, but at the end of the day…. And I know some of you will say that players go where the money is – we have all seen that movie, but something tells me that they are the exceptions to the rule. Of course a case can be made that employees don’t make work decisions only around money, but many do and justifiably so. I’m saying that to turn up each week, put you body on the line, leave yourself open to ridicule and harassment AND still come back takes more than a paycheck.

To be a CEO of a sports organisation takes a special breed of leadership. I watch David Wolf CEO of Sydney Kings stride around the Entertainment Centre at a home game, talking to the fans, looking after the sponsors, caring about the volunteers and support staff and all of that whether the Kings are winning or loosing. Others might traditionally choose to stay in the corporate box or office, but David is out their with us, feeling the stress and angst of each point.

Team Spirit

Then I look at the other team – equally deserving of a win, same dedication just different names and colours. Their coach paces around, their captain is barking orders and their team players want to win as well. No one wants to loose. Yet in business there can be more than one winner – thank goodness! Sport is not so kind. I like to think I am a fairly competent business operator, but no way am I turning up each week if there is a possibility that I could actually loose and have to go home with nothing but a bad feeling and sore body. Oh, and did I mention that the whole world would know and some cheap media person would list every reason why I lost as well.

Small Business can learn a lot from sport, from the players and of course from what makes a devoted fan tick. We tend to only see our own world – owners, management etc. But we really need every member to be equally empowered, get the message and support it no matter what. You know, it took my footy team decades to win a premiership and I never gave up on them!

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