As we approach Super Bowl LII in US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis in which all-time great quarterback Tom Brady leads the Patriots against the underdog Eagles, what risk management issues are affecting the game and fans? Here are five that explain how we got here and what may be next.
- Have a Backup Plan. This is Risk Management 101 stuff — backup and redundancy. Just as an organization needs to back up its data and processing capacity in order to assure smooth and continuous operation, so too must a football coach have capable and trained backups ready to take over on a moment’s notice. Eagles coach Doug Pederson conducted a clinic on the value of backups this year when the Eagles lost their starters at kicker, special teams ace, running back, middle linebacker, left tackle, and quarterback. I confess that I grimaced when the Eagles signed journeyman quarterback Nick Foles to an expensive contract to serve as a backup, but now he leads the Eagles into the Super Bowl.
- Know Your Environment. Smart business travelers take the time to learn the basics of local customs and protocols, especially when traveling overseas. It’s not only good manners to understand the local culture, but it can prevent you from being misunderstood. Sadly, some Vikings fans who came to Philadelphia for the NFC Championship game did not know the rabid level of Eagles fan devotion at Lincoln Financial Field, and they were subject to rude and abusive behavior simply for wearing purple Vikings jerseys to the game. Ironically, the Super Bowl venue is in Minnesota, but Minnesotans are more likely to behave hospitably, even toward Eagles fans. While some members of the Eagles have reported trouble getting a restaurant reservation in Minneapolis, the larger risk to manage is the frigid Minnesota climate. For example, even though the Super Bowl will be played in a climate-controlled domed stadium, heightened security concerns may mean long lines at entry gates; fans should dress for the outdoor weather.
- Manage Fan Expectations and Larger Social Implications. The 2017 season had plenty of controversy with players kneeling, some team owners and politicians criticizing, and everybody tweeting about it. Each team had to manage the risk of controversy and how it affected the players, the fans and society at large. While some owners took a combative stance, the Super Bowl-bound Eagles found ways to create some wins here. Eagles star safety Malcolm Jenkins joined other NFL stars to form the Players Coalition to find solutions to social problems by working with legislators. Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie helped players publicize their goals in a positive light. While some locker rooms were divided by sensitive issues, Eagles players and owners came together and found common ground.
- The Plural of “Anecdote” is not “Data.” We’re in the age of Big Data. Our risk management and insurance business is poised for a digital transformation as the Internet of Things generates masses of new data, Blockchain offers new ways to store it and Data Analytics gives us the power to make use of all this data. With that as a backdrop, many coaches still rely on intuition or an inherently conservative approach to the game (ahem, Andy Reid). Moneyball showed how data can be leveraged to maximize the odds of winning in baseball; there is no shortage of data available to NFL teams for both player evaluation and for game day strategy. Coach Doug Pederson and the Eagles have fully embraced an analytics approach to the game; he communicates with his analytics experts during the game. The Eagles seem daring when they run an offensive play instead of punting on fourth down, but the calls are simply managing risk for optimum outcome. The Eagles average 4.7 points on drives that include a converted fourth down.
- Manage Exposures. What is perhaps the biggest gripe of NFL fans? The officiating. Despite the billions of dollars at stake in the NFL, the league continues to use part-time referees who are accountants and analysts in their regular full-time jobs. These referees do a remarkable job under the circumstances, but the NFL should have — like the NBA and MLB — full time officials who get rigorous year-round training. When is the last time you felt that your baseball team lost because of the umpires? The risk of making fans feel cheated is an easy one to manage. Take a tip from risk managers, NFL. Scan the environment, assess the exposures, and put plans in place to mitigate those risks.