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Clear Thinking Case Study of the Month

The Story

November 2010

“Delusional Thinking – England’s ‘humiliating’ World Cup bid” 

England’s bid to host the 2018 World Cup suffered a shock ‘humiliating’ defeat when the winners of the 2018 and 2022 tournament-host competition were announced. The 2018 competition ‘favourites’ collected only one vote out of 22 (in addition to their own Fifa member) and were thrown out in the first round. The bizarre choice for 2022 was Qatar. This Case Study Story contains many interesting lessons in Clear Thinking for all business managers, especially in Organisation Design, CRM, and evaluating customer feedback.

Key points of the Story 

Fifa decided to hold two World Cup hosting competitions simultaneously, for 2018 and 2022. England bid for the 2018 tournament and just before the vote the bid team were convinced that they had got sufficient face-to-face ‘promises’ of support from the 22 Fifa voting members to assure victory. By common consent they had supplied the best technical bid and felt they had given the best presentation. However, only one Fifa member voted for them in addition to Geoff Thompson, the England Fifa member.

A further ‘shock’ result came in the 2022 bid. Tiny, but extremely wealthy, Qatar came in first, with much-fancied Australia garnering just a single vote. The competition losers are now in a deep state of analysis trying to fathom what went wrong. We give our analysis and lessons below on how England 'wasted' £18 million on a 'no chance' bid.

A high-powered team of presenters

In the final run up to the vote, England sent to Zurich a presentation team comprising the Prime Minister David Cameron, Royal Family member Prince William, and everyone’s favourite football icon David Beckham. In addition to making a formal presentation and supplying a bid book (costing £3million) the team met every Fifa member. The team announced that they had verbal pledges of votes from many of the members and were sure of a positive result.

Kamikaze media attacks

Just weeks and days before the vote both the Sunday Times and the BBC ran reports on corruption within the bid process. Despite complaints of ‘entrapment’ Fifa suspended two of its vote members (out of 24).

The 'shock' winners

Russia won the 2018 competition and Qatar the 2022. Russia’s bid was deemed in Fifa’s own evaluation report as the least effective due to massive costs needed for new stadiums and infrastructure. Not to mention a distance of 1500 miles between some venues. Russia insists it can afford the expense.

Qatar, with only 300,000 citizens, will have to build nine new stadiums, and infrastructure, with costs estimated around $24 billion. The temperature in July can reach 50 degrees Centigrade (122 degrees Fahrenheit). Stadiums will need solar-powered air conditioning that is untested in large venues. Qatar is one of the world’s richest countries, with the third largest gas reserves.

Analysis and Lessons

Organisation Design Thinking … Scenario Planning …
Customer Focus and Feedback … CRM

What went wrong with England's bid?

We have identified several causes including Fifa’s structure, the bid decision-making process, decision accountability, and the England overall bid team’s lack of sufficient knowledge (or implementation) of the fundamentals of Scenario Planning, Marketing, Selling, Customer Relationship Management, and evaluating Customer Feedback. We also throw in the English media’s suicide attacks on Fifa and a Design Thinking error by Fifa for holding two bid competitions simultaneously. We examine each of these errors in Clear Thinking below.

 Organisation Design that encourages corruption?

We can’t comment on the allegations of corruption within the bid process but we can see how the system invites corruption. A structure of only 24 vote members and a decision-making process lasting years puts enormous pressure on the voters. It leaves them open to a myriad of ‘inducements’ (if not bribes) including financial ‘support’ for members’ pet projects. Even England offered friendly matches and expensive handbags (for members’ wives). 

And to cap it all, each member’s vote is secret – there is no accountability. The finger of suspicion can’t be pointed at any individual. All these factors relate to poor Design Thinking, in this case Organisational Design.

Twin bids - another Design Error

The idea of holding two bid competitions simultaneously will not be repeated. It led to the inevitable accusations of vote trading, where two members with block votes agree to vote for each other’s bid in different competitions. Lord Triesman, England’s bid chairman, was forced to resign for making such an accusation. 

 Horrendous Scenario Planning Errors

... and what were the decision-making criteria?

England developed a ‘Pathway to Victory’ scenario, presumably on the basis of the logic of their superior technical bid and feedback from Fifa members. This scenario-envisioning failed on two counts.

Firstly, the bid decision-making criteria are unknown. Fifa keep it secret. In hindsight, it now appears that countries that had hosted the event before would not be first choice. It even seems that Geoff Thompson, England's Fifa voting member, was unclear about the decision criteria. On this basis, England wasted their time and money, and may as well forget any future competitions. 

Secondly, England’s bid team were clearly duped into believing that a large percentage of members would vote for them. This proved to be woefully wishful thinking, not detached Analytical Thinking.

 Customer Focus and Feedback Delusion

"They lied to us."

 England’s bid team said that they had been given verbal ‘promises’ of votes from many Fifa members that turned out to be ‘lies’. This is classic customer feedback delusion. The bid team failed to understand that potential customers have a tendency to lie to marketers when asked their opinion on products they don’t like. They will avoid any embarrassment if they can.

We have sat on focus groups as buyers and witnessed this lying ‘customer behaviour’. When asked by the marketer if they would buy the product, potential customers said “Oh yes, very good.” But as soon as the marketer went away, they said “It’s rubbish, isn’t it.”

 CRM, Customer Relationship Management

 It is now clear that England’s bid team failed to develop strong relationships with Fifa and especially the 24 voting members. Some observers believe that the winner decision was made many months ago. Fifa members themselves have said that England needed to have got much more involved with Fifa’s 34 committees on a long term basis. This was the only mechanism for developing strong customer relationships.

The media effect

Although the reports of Fifa corruption in the English media must have had a powerful influence on the members’ voting decisions there may have been another, lesser known, associated effect. One member had apparently said that he didn’t relish the thought of eight years of hassle from the English press. An interesting point.

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