Currently, two soccer World Cups are played in parallel. While in Germany, the FIFA Women’s World Cup is on, Mexico hosts the FIFA U-17 World Cup, the tournament of the best teams of players aged 17 and under.
At which of the two tournaments do you think the higher quality soccer is played?
It’s obviously tough to compare, but given that some of the female teams played against male youth teams during their preparation phase, I would, based on the results of these test matches, go as far as to say that the Women’s World Champion would not have a very good chance of winning a match against the male U-17 World Champion. Just to give an example: Germany, the winner of the previous two Women’s World Cups, tested against a couple of U-15 sides of male German league teams – players two years younger than the U-17 and not even a national team – and ever there lost some matches rather clearly.
Does it matter? Of course not. At the Women’s World Cup, teams will not play male U-17 teams, but other female national teams. And those games are a lot tighter than they used to be at previous tournaments, so it’s very interesting to watch. Most encounters are decided my narrow margins and the spectators seem to be well entertained by the event. And while the average attendance at the U-17 tournament is at 15.700 so far, each match at the Women’s World Cup has been seen by nearly 10.000 spectators more than that on average – 25.600.
If we look at soccer and these tournaments as products, that’s an important point: Not only the “objective” quality level of a product or service (if it existed) decides about your success. The perception of the customer and the relative performance compared to your competitors does. To start with, markets can be seen as closed systems, in which you will sell if you can offer your customers a better or comparable perceived value than your competitors at a better or comparable price (you should be able to offer at least one of the “betters”). If you’re a female team and you play better than other female teams you will do fine at the World Cup. If the matches are tight and interesting, people will like it no matter if some teams in other tournaments (if some companies in other market) perform better.
The problem is: It doesn’t stop there. Many companies feel comfortable in their position. Their products or services are slightly better than those of their direct competition, they are selling and they earn some money, maybe each year a little bit less than the year before, but nothing to worry about. Changing things seems like risking this comfortable status quo. That’s why they don’t change. They continue. And continue. And continue. They don’t realize how the market around them evolves. Or they do, but don’t have the guts to questions what they are doing. When finally they fall behind, it’s too late to recover. Continued to death.
Great companies are different. They try to find a male U-15 team to play against in preparation for their tournament/ market. They are not afraid of being humiliated by 14 or 15 year old boys, because it shows them that a lot can be done better. It shows them that they’re nowhere near perfect. And it shows them that others – their competitors – also have access to that information and will use it.
If you’re a regular reader of this blog (thank you!), you will be surprised that I come up with learnings as basic as the following three today, and I’m sure you’ve heard it all before in a comparable form. Yet I feel like it’s worth getting back to basics from time to time, so please allow me to remind us:
1) There’s always someone better than you. Sometimes he’s not in your direct neighborhood, sometime he’s just next to you. But he exists. Don’t ignore it, try to learn from him and let it motivate you to try even harder.
2) Your competitors will improve. They won’t stand still. You have no guarantee they won’t improve faster than you do, so you better hurry up. The only thing that’s for sure is that if you won’t improve, they will get you.
3) If you’re not open to change, you will be changed. But in this case, change for good is not an option.
Final note: I did not intend to discredit female soccer by comparing it to male U-17’s and honestly I hope we finally all got over this male/ female thing. I was just trying to illustrate the fact that no matter how close the performance levels of different competitors in one market are to each other, the aim can always be set a lot higher than that. And by the way: Both tournaments mentioned offer very entertaining and classy sport, so in case you haven’t done so yet: Try to watch some of it.