Image courtesy of Pixabay

I thought I’d weigh in on the issue of performance enhancement drugs and their impact on the customer experience. Bear with me. There really is a connection; more so than you probably think about or know.

Put your customer hat – or better yet, your fan hat – on for a few minutes. Think about the last time you watched a football game, a cycling event, a baseball game, a bodybuilding contest, the Olympics, etc. What did you want to see? What did you expect to see? Did you want your team to win? Did you want to see your favorite player score more points than he’d ever scored or run faster than anyone had ever run? To beat a long-standing record? Or did you want to just see some hum-drum, boring game or race? Who did you cheer for? The underdog or the guy/gal at the top of the stats? The best player? How do you define best? While watching a bodybuilding competition, did you want the smallest or the biggest, freakiest guy to win? In the Strongman contest, did you cheer for the guy who could heave those stones twice as fast as the next guy?

Yea, I thought so.

I have a ton more questions, but I’ll get to the meat of the matter.

Last week, Matthew May weighed in on the Lance Armstrong story. I love Matt’s work, so this is not about Matt. As a matter of fact, I thanked him for writing the piece because what he said needed to be said. But it evoked a response in me that I wanted to share – an angle or two that I don’t think a lot of people think about. Here’s the comment I left on his site:

I don’t condone his actions, and I’m still trying to understand why he’s even doing this now. A new book deal? A clean start so he can move on? A deal with the government (or governing body) to give up the names of everyone who ever doped in the sport? etc. But having competed in a sport (bodybuilding) whose foundation is drugs and steroids, as strange as it sounds, I understand some of his responses, i.e., to Karen’s point “because everyone else was doing it, he ‘had’ to. I competed in natural bodybuilding competitions… I chose to remain natural… but it was quite clear that some of the competitors were not natural. In the “non-natural-sanctioned competitions,” without a doubt, drug use was rampant. I saw and heard from those competitors, and it’s an interesting mentality that drives drug usage.

In bodybuilding, the choice (drug use) is condoned by the judges because they choose the winners (who are clearly poster children for the latest performance enhancement cocktail) and by the governing body (IFBB) because their drug tests are a joke. In baseball, football, cycling, etc., the fans condone this choice because we want winners, superstars, super humans, right? 

The individual is clearly accountable for his actions and choices, but there are a couple of other factors, societal issues, at play here:

1. The need to win, and the attitude of “winning is everything.” Winning over doing the right thing. Winning at all costs.
2. Drugs are OK in some sports but not others? Let’s face it. He’s not the only athlete to be extremely successful because he used drugs or some other performance enhancement tool.
3. Putting superstar athletes on a pedestal, giving them celebrity status, and making them role models for our kids – when honestly, we have no clue who they are or what kind of people they really are.

So, I ask you this – because now I need to tie this back to the customer experience! And trust me – I don’t advocate drug use or cheating by any stretch of the imagination. Just playing a little “what if.”

If all performance enhancement drug use ceased in professional sports tomorrow (and we gave the athletes time to get clean), how exciting would that next event be for you? (Remember, no one’s reaching new heights – unless they are genetically freakishly gifted.) Yea, some people go for the game, but a lot of people put the superstars up on pedestals.

Which athletes do your kids admire? Who do they want to be like? Think about how many kids have/had Lance posters on their bedroom walls, and how many times those kids said, “I want to be just like him when I grow up.”

And what impact do corporate sponsorships have on the game? Those endorsements are given to the top athletes, but at what expense? The athletes need to remain at the top of their games, right?

The game is what it is because of the fans. At what point is the customer/fan experience (or expectations) driving the wrong behavior? At what point do we demand so much out of the game, out of the player, that it comes back to bite someone in the butt? I think it already has.

Who’s going to work hard for someone who doesn’t win? Jim Ochowicz

UPDATE (2/5/13): When I saw Jay Leno’s monologue last night, I couldn’t help think how the audience’s reaction here supported my post. View the video here. Forward to 2:44 in the video to see what I’m talking about.

Jay: How many people think that God determines who wins a sporting event? Silence.
Jay: How many think steroids determine who wins? Loud cheers and applause.