Long-Term vs Short-Term in Sports


About a week ago, I heard ESPN Radio's Colin Cowherd on my way to the airport. He was ranting about the stupid business decisions (his opinion) that Major League Baseball has made as a sport. Cowherd is often a gasbag who likes to talk about himself more than sports, but he made some interesting points that we can tie to Lean.

He complained that MLB has recently taken a very “short-term view”, which is hurting them in the long term. These actions include:

  • Not caring that home runs had skyrocketed (steroids, anyone?) because they were happy that tickets were being sold.
  • Scheduling playoff and World Series games to start really late on the East Coast (almost 8:45 PM), meaning kids aren't able to stay up for the ends of games.

Cowherd argued mainly about the TV start times and how, while in the short-term advertising revenue is higher (because of the late time slot, plus the impact that has on starting late enough for West Coast viewers), it's hurting baseball in the long term because they've “lost an entire generation of new fans” who didn't get hooked on baseball in the last 15 years. East Coast kids (now 18-29 or so) aren't watching baseball at all, Cowherd claims, seeing the TV ratings breakdowns.

He said Baseball is “like a bad businessman who focuses only on the short term” and said that the NFL, by comparison, has been outstanding at focusing on the long term. The NFL's dominance is proof of that, he says, that football is now the “national pastime,” not baseball.

Cowherd obviously didn't make a Toyota tie, but keep in mind the first principle of The Toyota Way:

  1. Base your management decisions on a long-term philosophy, even at the expense of short-term financial goals.

Does anyone think the NFL is doing that? Or are they just not as short-term focused as MLB? If you were the commissioner of either league, what would you do to better manage for the long term?

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. Here’s my take. MLB is an “old boys” club, who makes decisions based on the whims of the club members, and for the benefit of said members. And, with their anti-trust exemption, they can get away with things like swapping franchises, undervaluing team prices, and making short-term decisions, because they think baseball will live forever as America’s favorite sport, in spite of evidence to the contrary (sounds kind of like the Big 3 auto makers in the 70s and 80s, don’t you think?). The NFL, under the direction set by Pete Rozelle in the 60s, built a foundation that is managed as a business, and reacts from the feedback from the fans, owners, and players. Revenue sharing, the TV contracts, rule changes, and other things tstay within the framework of the vision set many years ago (sound at all like Toyota?). I think Cowherd makes a great point, and this is a good debate (short term vs. long term)in a business context.


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