From the EU to SDSU: Management Lessons via Bernabéu & Lego

Cristiano, Casillas, Zidane, Raúl, Figo…all household names in many parts of the world, but maybe not in Southern California beyond passionate fútbol followers.  These legendary soccer players are beloved (and, by rival fans, often reviled) worldwide, with levels of popularity unimaginable in domestic sports.  The Dallas Cowboys and the New York Yankees each boast just over 8.5 million Facebook followers.  Real Madrid, the behemoth soccer club that gave rise to each of these legends?  95 million.

The sport of soccer continues to grow in the U.S. with MLS expansion teams, increased TV coverage of major tournaments, and summer exhibition tours pitting the B-sides of top clubs against one another in our massive stadia.  Globally, the world’s most popular game is a massive business, and Real Madrid CF, one of Spain’s super-clubs, boasts a unique business model and successful track record that’sthe envy of thousands of clubs worldwide.  The club’s management practices have been the subject of books, podcasts, blog posts, endless daily media coverage, and even a Harvard Business School case.   

The club even has its own graduate programs, and each year, a Real Madrid MBA faculty members joins us in San Diego to add a European flavor to the SDSU Sports MBA program.  Longtime friend of the Sports MBA program, Pedro Díaz Ridao, Management Professor with the Real Madrid Graduate School, knows the club’s business model and values as well as anyone.  This past week, Díaz Ridao visited the San Diego campus for his annual lecture on the business of Real Madrid, social entrepreneurship, and- yes- a management lesson taught through Lego.  

The SDSU students learned about the club’s history and transition to a socio model after the Spanish Civil War, its rise to prominence on the feet of Puskás and Di Stéfano, and the era of the Galácticos and the current dominance under Florentino Pérez. 

The group also spoke about marketing myths fueled by marketing, such as the assumed parity of the EPL compared to the top-heavy La Liga.  Just this week, underdog Las Palmas outplayed Real Madrid in their own home and La Liga currently has three teams vying for the first position in the table.  Students also learned about the LaLiga Global Network, which is focused on gaining presence in countries where the league has never marketed its product

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Díaz Ridao is a social entrepreneur (and author!) who founded his own non-profit to combat homelessness through a volunteer-based running club, the Madrid-based Inspira Sports.  He lectured on the basics of social entrepreneurship through sport, and shared stories of many successful organizations worldwide

Lastly, Díaz Ridao led the students through a Lego Serious Play® workshop, unleashing the creativity of the students and encouraging them to interact with one another in new ways, and to rethink their approach to their future career goals.  The Denmark-based Lego corporation has been using the children’s toys as conduits for business seminars a
nd management consulting workshops for decades.  In their interactions with some of Europe’s largest organizations and most powerful management teams, researchers with Lego collected decades worth of data regarding how managers interact with one another and how employees within various corporate departments (HR, IT, Marketing, et al.) approach tasks.  The legos themselves are meant to be vehicles for discussion, brainstorming, and creative thinking, while the facilitator encourages interaction.  

The Sports MBA students were thrilled to meet Pedro Díaz Ridao and enjoy these Euro-centric lectures in the heart of San Diego.