Culture Gets A SEAT At The Table

Struggling with the pun in the title? I’ll start with some background…

SEAT is an annual conference for sports & entertainment professionals, focused on whatever is top-of-mind in the industry. It distinguishes itself from other conferences by strongly emphasizing networking and relationship building. This year’s event was held at the Daytona International Speedway, the first time the conference had been held outside of a hotel and the first time the Speedway had hosted an event of this scale.


This year’s three concurrent tracks were digital marketing, data & business intelligence, and venue technology & design. In addition, popular subjects like CRM, AI, and social media were prominent throughout. However, the event also had its share of surprising topics. The opening session was titled “Health & Mental Well-being as Growth Drivers” and may well have been my favorite of the conference. Some interesting soundbites:

  • 80% of people make unhealthy life choices (sleep, diet, exercise), reducing their lifespan by 8-10 years.
  • Not getting enough sleep has dire consequences, including increasing the risk of cancer by 70%.
  • A shared focus on well-being can create an organizational purpose even stronger than traditional mission statements and objectives.

Another surprise was that the topic of culture showed up repeatedly. Toward the end of the event, I asked five attendees which topic most surprised them – each separately answered ‘culture.’ Because my mantra is “culture eats strategy,” I was pleased to see a sports conference consider the impact of culture on business performance.

For example, one of the panels discussed whether sports organizations should become purpose-driven. The contrary point of view suggests everything should directly support winning games and ultimately championships. Creating a separate purpose might be distracting from the primary mission. However, no team will win every game and every championship. Creating a purpose based on societal benefit inspires fans during the difficult times. A purpose can also serve as a rallying cry for employees, who work long hours and might be lower paid compared to other industries. While the panel came to no clear-cut conclusion, I firmly believe creating a purpose can create a strategic advantage.

Culture also appeared during discussions of CRM and business intelligence. Many practitioners lamented their best ideas weren’t being implemented and wished they had more executive support. While I understand the desire for explicit management buy-in, I think the more critical issue is creating a culture of innovation. Here at the San Jose Sharks, we have a series of principles which encourage employees to try out new ideas, even if their ROI isn’t immediately understood. There should be no shame in a failed experiment, as long as the lesson learned is documented for others.

Now that culture is at the SEAT conference table, I suspect it will be an on-going discussion topic at future events. After all, without the appropriate culture, key initiatives are unlikely to be successful.

Is culture a discussion topic at your company?

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