Business lessons from my Super Bowl trip (why I can’t hate Seattle fans even though I want to)

New York City
Thew view from my airplane seat is prettier than any view of that awful game. (Pictures of that massacre are below)

As I’m on my flight back from Super Bowl XLVIII in New York and processing the ugly Broncos loss, I can’t help but take a moment to call out a few key business lessons that can be taken away from this event.  Yes, this is likely just because I need some place, any place, to process the horror we all witnessed and I’d like to find some takeaway other than my LED equipped stocking cap they gave me to help make the Bruno Mars show amazing or awful depending on who I talk to.  The game was likened to an avalanche.  The crushing defeat was triggered by a few small events that snowballed into something entirely different.  Denver wasn’t hit by a freight train right out of the gate.  It was a situation that progressed quickly into something they weren’t equipped to combat and for all the talk about weather, experience, pressure, and maturity, the primary trigger was the one thing it wasn’t supposed to be…. the fans.

All week we heard about the fact that the Super Bowl wasn’t a game that would be impacted by the fans.  The event caters to a different crowd than the typical home game so neither team would be able to create the atmosphere of a home game.  When I got to New York it was clear that the Seahawks fans were visible but it was still a primarily pro-Peyton Manning group.

When we got to the game, the fan split seemed about equal in numbers, but when the game started something else happened.  The Broncos got the ball first and as soon as they lined up the crowd was loud and intense.  The Broncos couldn’t hear the snap count and everything fell apart from there.  The ball was snapped when it shouldn’t have been.  2-0 Seahawks and an avalanche worth of motivation for an already excited crowd to get rowdier.  On TV they will talk about the fact that the Broncos weren’t prepared for the Seahawks.  I don’t believe this.  They weren’t prepared for the fans.

So what made their fans the x factor in this game?

  • Did they have more fans in attendance? No
  • Are their fans more dedicated than Broncos fans? No
  • Had their fan base ever been to a Super Bowl before? No

The difference between the Seattle fan base and any previous fan base in Super Bowl history can be summed up in two simple points that serve as a great guide for businesses today.

1. Find your identity

All NFL teams have a devoted fan base and the Seahawks aren’t the first to use the “12th Man” moniker to refer to their supporters.  The different in Seattle is that being one of the “12s” means something.  It means something inside the group.  It means something to the community.  It means something to the personal identity of each die-hard.

In the aftermath of the Super Bowl I was in New York for a couple of days and fortunate enough to visit the Late Night with David Letterman studios while they taped the episode with Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.  The studio was full of fans decked out in blue and green.  Most didn’t know each other but in those moments of celebration it was like they were family.  Common allegiances promote connection and real connection is at the core of brand loyalty.  Obviously the NFL is a unique market, but the Seahawks’ ability to create instant family only strengthens their brand.

2. Define how your identity takes action

An identity doesn’t by itself create impact.  Being part of the 12th Man isn’t just about a label.  Each person knows HOW to be part of the 12th man.  They don’t just cheer loudly.  They know when to be loud, how to be loud, and what being loud can do to an opposing team.  On the flipside, they know when to be quiet (when the Seahawks have the ball).  They NEVER waver from these rules.  Where most fans are loud at the start of the game and at the end for the game if it’s close, Seahawks fans don’t change. They don’t stop.

The “12s” don’t assume they will have success.  They are committed to their action plan knowing success may take a while to unfold.  They had no idea if their actions would have an impact on the Super Bowl but they jumped in feet first because they knew what to do.  They adapted to their environment and did something no other fan base has done in the history of the Super Bowl – they controlled the tide.

Broncos fans at the Super Bowl were just as passionate and just as excited.  They just didn’t have an action plan tied to their identity and they were quickly disconnected, demoralized, and silenced – myself included.  As a passionate Broncos fan it pains me to realize that our counterparts have this figured out way better than we have.  What they have done is incredible.  As analysts will pick apart Peyton Manning and praise the Seahawks speed and strength, they will also mention the “passion” of the Seahawks fans. They will miss the point that it’s not just the passion and the noise – it’s how they have created an identity with an action plan that extends down to each individual.  As any soccer fan will point out, the Seahawks are the first to have a radically devoted and well organized supporting base, but in the NFL this year it made all the difference.  Congrats… as much as I hate to say it.

-Peter

Peter is President of Greystone Technology Group, Inc., a Colorado-based, Inc5000 company focused on reinventing the technology service experience in small and mid-market businesses.   Follow him at www.twitter.com/petermelby.