It’s 2010 and the World Cup in South Africa is just over for a few months, so it may seem a bit early to speak about the World Cup in 2022 (!), but as the discussion on who will host the event has already started I thought it would be worthwhile.
The 2014 World Cup will be hosted in Brazil. For 2018, following the logic of how the tournament has been allocated in the past, it will most probably take place in Europe, with England, Russia, Belgium/ The Netherlands and Portugal/ Spain (the latter four in two combined bids) competing with the United States. For 2022, there will be Australia, Japan, South Korea and the countries from the 2018 bid whose continent was not awarded the tournament. And then there’s one more competitor left for 2022 who is probably the most unexpected, yet also the most interesting one: Qatar!
If your immediate reaction now is: “They will not be awarded the World Cup anyway”, then you’re most probably right. Last week, an inspection team from FIFA, the global governing body in soccer and organizer of the World Cup, visited Qatar. Harold Mayne-Nicholls, member of the team, said at the end of the visit that a World Cup in Qatar “would pose a number of logistical challenges”. Basically it seems like FIFA feels that Qatar is too small to host the event. He went on and criticized that there is “not enough accommodation and transportation” available now, two points that the bid team said would be solved by 2022.
The irony in this is that the small distances between the venues which are due to the fact that Qatar is geographically rather small have been one of the major selling points in the Qatar 2022 campaign. So basically Qatar was promoting something they thought was of great value to customers (FIFA) by whom this was actually perceived as a major negative point instead.
How can this happen? Well, in marketing theory this is called a lack of consumer or customer insight, which refers to understanding needs in the marketplace that haven’t been met sufficiently and to identifying ways how to meet these needs better than others have been doing so far. The key here is: The perspective is not coming from your product or from what you think is great about your product, it comes from the (potential) customers.
The Qatar bid committee thought it would be great that “the stadiums would be in a maximum traveling time of an hour” (Mayne-Nicholls) as they like the convenience. For FIFA, the same fact makes other things than convenience ring in their ears: High concentration of people within a relatively small zone leading to hotel capacity shortages, not enough room between fans of different teams which may lead to security issues, visitors that may stay in one place which might be less attractive as a touristic offer for fans from abroad, etc.
There is no right or wrong here, as these are just perceptions. However, if you are marketing your offering, customer perception is the reality you have to deal with (and I’ve written about this here a couple of times before).
So what is the perception of FIFA? What are they looking for? Where are some untapped areas where value could be created for them? Well, that’s tough to say as the decisions on who will host a World Cup are taken behind closed doors and probably as a bidder you can only try to tell from a few interviews or from the results of the decisions what was really important for the deciding committee.
Obviously, globalizing the sport and growing new markets are amongst the important topics for FIFA. So maybe focusing more on the fact that Qatar is pretty much the geographical center of the world (it is probably one of the very few countries that could in theory offer direct flights to and from each country playing in the World Cup) and bringing the Arabian world onto the World Cup map than on “compactness” would have been the better idea.
Gaining consumer insights and understand that it is all about perception, not objective selling points, are key.
But there’s another important point in this case: If you’re too small to compete with huge competitors, partner with others. That’s the secret of success of many specialized small and mid-sized companies.
So if Qatar wants to host the World Cup and has the customer insights and the idea that FIFA will consider the small size of the country as a major negative point, why not team up with Abu Dhabi and/ or Dubai and launch a joint Arabian bid? The main hindering factor is probably that Qatar may consider Dubai and Abu Dhabi their main competitors. They are located in the same region, have a comparable culture (at least from the perspective of the rest of the World), are growing and very ambitious and even some of their flagship companies compete with comparable strategies in the same markets (see airlines as an example with Qatar Airways competing with the likes of Etihad and Emirates).
Often this is also the factor why small and medium sized companies don’t go for the obvious teaming options: They have proud owners that have been fighting all their lives against another company and are not ready to team up with these other guys. But guess what: the world has changed. It’s a global market these days, and very few examples show this clearer than the World Cup. 20 years ago, nobody could have imagined a tournament taking place in South Africa or a bid coming in from Qatar. If I had the choice between getting a slice of the cake or no cake at all, I would surely go for the slice. Not going for the complete cake is not as good for the ego, but it is for your wallet.
What a pity for the bid from Qatar that it probably won’t win. It’s a great bid, the stadium concepts are outstanding, the economic viability is probably better than anywhere else, etc. Just a couple of small marketing misconceptions can bring the whole product to failure. It’s a thin line we all operate on these days.