Football, Santa Claus and the Power of Purposeful Narrative

By: Sumeet Goel

Just a few weeks ago, I had the surreal experience of watching my beloved Philadelphia Eagles win the Super Bowl. I was there in person. Hoarse, exhausted and exhilarated, I embraced total strangers and reveled in a sight I genuinely thought I would never see in my lifetime.

And just like that, some of you have decided to stop reading.

You know I’ll use the Super Bowl to make a point about business and leadership but because this is a sports-related post, some of you have tuned out. Perfectly understandable.

Others will leave because I have just revealed myself to be a Philly sports fan – a notorious distinction in popular culture.

For many, the defining characteristics of a Philadelphia sports fan can be traced back to a snowy Eagles home game in 1968 when fans pelted the halftime show with snow balls.

It was the end of the year. It was the Christmas-themed halftime show. The performer was Santa Claus. That’s right – we chased Santa off the field in a hail of snowballs.

Over the years, the popular narrative of the Philly sports fan has gone something like this: born into a bitter tradition of sports futility, the fan carries on a legacy of seething resentment. Overshadowed by New York, misunderstood by LA, cursed with good-but-not-great teams (the Andy Reid years) and special stars with disappointing supporting casts (Allen Iverson’s entire career), the Philly fan becomes unruly. Quick to boo, these are the people that call in to radio shows to scream vitriol, post disturbing comments on sports blogs and yes, occasionally even throw objects from the stands.

In short, Philadelphia sports fans have come to be known as tough, angry and loud.

This is, of course, a constructed identity. It’s a tradition, a tongue-in-cheek performance, a representation rather than hard reality. And it teaches something powerful. By and large, Philly teams are tough. Players in every sport move to Philadelphia and immediately grow thicker skin. Collectively, Philadelphia players and coaches value resiliency, grit, hustle and a host of intangibles that the fans demand as part of their shared identity. It’s useful!

Now consider your business. What are you known for? What shapes your reputation? Not the boilerplate copy on the bottom of your press releases but the real, person-to-person impressions you leave. Do you have an intentional approach to identity construction? Or do you leave it up to chance?

Here at HPA, we compete every day with exponentially larger firms. We’re a tight-knit team that sweats the small stuff. We obsess over details because we can’t assume the credibility that comes with size and million-dollar brand awareness. So our identity, the narrative we construct, is focused on the quality of our work and our collective commitment to get it right.

You could even say we’re tough. And if you want, you can blame it on the Philly fan that founded the company.