Every four years like a lot of people, I am gripped by soccer fever, thanks to the World Cup and turn into a complete soccer tragic! Given our time zone differences, here in Australia this involves setting our alarm for the earliest hours of the morning to watch the games ‘live’. But it is absolutely worth it!
Like most people in Australia I am deeply disappointed that Australia won’t be hosting the 2022 World cup. Life is a tough teacher. You have the experience first and then you hopefully learn from it. So what did we learn? I am of course going to be looking at this through the lens of storytelling. Caveat: We all know the whole bidding process is complex involves many strategies, and many players, political wrangling etc. So this is in no way a solution but something to consider as part our learning.
Using the storytelling lens and comparing Australia’s bid with Qatar’s three things to consider:
- The emotion each pitch was tapping into
- The audience
- The audience’s objections
Every time I heard Frank Lowy pitching to host the World Cup he talked about Australia being a ‘safe pair of hands’. The Australian bid tapped into a negative emotion, fear. It looks like the FIFA committee (the audience) was not looking for a ‘safe pair of hands’. Their decision to go with South Africa for the previous World Cup indicates this. Another plank in our bid was ‘Make a country’s dreams come true’ which could apply to every country bidding for the World Cup. On the other hand ABC news reporter Emma Alberici said Qatar presented a bid full of emotion, imploring the executive committee to make history by sending the World Cup to the Middle East for the first time. Compare ‘Safe pair of hands’ with ‘The opportunity to make history’.
But what about the audience? Any narrative we engage with has to be right for the audience.
On their web site FIFA states ‘For the Game. For the World’. It is interesting to note the Qatar bid tag line states ‘For football, for the Middle East, for the world’. Perfect alignment. Qatar was telling the committee you have the option to unite the Middle East and the world through football …compare that with making a single country’s dreams come true.
In their bios on the FIFA website one of the questions for the Executive Committee is ‘What does football mean to you? It is interesting to note the range of answers from ‘Unity and friendship’, ‘Responsibility, service and joy’, ‘Team spirit and social responisbility’, ‘Unity and teamwork’. Again the Qatar bid taps into this.
How do you in storytelling overcome the audience’s objections? One of the key hurdles for Australia was the time difference. The Australian bid website states ‘A time zone for more than 60% of the world’s population. Australia will work closely with FIFA to ensure that the match schedule is designed to maximise total television audience numbers around the world’.
All necessary statement of fact but compare how objections can be handled in a compelling and emotionally engaging way. In one of Qatar’s bid presentations a child is heard saying ‘So say the Israeli teams and the Arab teams go to the world cup and they play against each other. Israelis would come to cheer their team and the Arabs would also come, then they would get to know each other’. An adult voice then adds ‘Indeed what we saw in South Africa was harmony between all people there’.
Giving a speech after the wining host was announced, Qatar 2022 Bid Committee Chairman Sheikh Mohammad bin Hamad Al Thani said “On behalf of millions of people living in the Middle East, thank you,” he went on saying “Thank you for believing in us, thank you for having such bold vision. Thank you also for acknowledging this is the right time for the Middle East. We have a date with history which is summer 2022. We will not let you down. We will make you proud.”
He was letting the panel know this was about football, but it was also about the Middle East and the world. The legacy they would leave the world with this decision.
Congratulations Qatar on the historic win. Frank Lowy please ring us and let’s start working on Australia’s bid for 2030. The time is now …