Risk management lessons from the greatest World Cup ever

Let me start by saying, the 2018 World Cup in Russia was without a doubt the greatest sporting event I have ever experienced. I was very fortunate to experience most of the action first hand and be a part of the amazing Australian Optus Sport TV crew.

Here is a little trip down the memory lane:

And another nice summary of our team’s travel during the World Cup – 28 flights, 23896 km in just over a month. It was insane but so amazing at the same time.

Now to risk management lessons…

Optus Sport purchased exclusive broadcast rights to broadcast 39 live matches of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in a deal with the public broadcaster SBS, who were awarded the original broadcast rights by FIFA. The remaining 25 matches would be simultaneously broadcast live on Optus Sport and SBS.

Broadcasting World Cup was one of the biggest opportunities Optus Australia took in the recent years. Not only it was a huge financial investment, it was also the first (I haven’t fact checked that) time the World Cup was broadcast on a pay-TV and not on a free to air government channel in Australia. And Australians love their football (soccer). The company reputation was truly at stake and the pay off should’ve been amazing.

The first game of the tournament to be broadcasted exclusively on Optus Sport, Egypt vs. Uruguay was on 15 June 2018. , was marred with technical difficulties including buffering issues and failed connections. And then the risk happened.[source]  Optus broadcasting app crashed and kept crushing for the upcoming days. Streaming issues caused disruption for fans trying to watch the games, resulting in an outcry on social media and a “please explain” from the Prime Minister.

That’s right, the Prime Minister got involved.

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The negative reception and continued broadcasting problems resulted in a temporary arrangement made between Optus and SBS to broadcast all games on 18 and 19 June throughout a 48-hour period on SBS.[source] This arrangement with SBS was extended on 20 June 2018 to include all group stage games, with Optus additionally leaving their app and streaming services free for the duration of the World Cup and until 31 August 2018 while refunding all current paid subscriptions.[source] On 28 June 2018, Optus once again extended this arrangement to include all remaining matches at the World Cup.

Optus made coverage available to anyone willing to pay for it, instead of limiting access to its own mobile and fixed-line customers, which theoretically caused major technical issues due to excessive demand. Other reasons will surface sooner or later. I hope one day this case makes it to textbooks so we can find out how many millions were lost and how the solid response by Optus later positively impacted on its reputation. Maybe one day I will interview Optus’s risk manager.

As a risk manager, I was amazed at how many decision must have been made without proper consideration of risks. Why didn’t the risk register help?

To Optus’s credit, their response and crisis management was solid and at the end, problems were fixed and the broadcasting restored, plus the public got to see all the games free. This takes guts. Another positive spin that to recover from the embarrassment (my speculation) Optus doubled down on investment in sport and now Australians will see the Premier League and Champions League. If only executives were as good at risk management as they are at crisis management.

2 thoughts on “Risk management lessons from the greatest World Cup ever

  1. What happened with Optus was a farce pure and simple. The reasons I am scathing in my assessment relate to network scalability being Optus’ core business. Optus had quite a bit of time to test its infrastructure for a variety of scenarios in the context of the issues ABS had with the census. They had SBS and their experience of providing streaming services to unrestricted audience volumes.

    Optus is primarily a subscription service which acts as a buffer for their network capacity. Subscription here is in the context of competition with other telcos which is subject to market share and other constraints. However, the World Cup broadcasting rights gave Optus an effective monopoly over one segment of the market – football fans with mobile devices – which was bound to stress test their network. The change in policy to include temporary subscribers to maximise the ROI demanded a risk conversation which would have uncovered all the technical challenges. One could only guess, but chances are that Optus had sufficient lead time to make these assessments.

    Finally, Optus underestimated the emotional connection people have with the World Cup. A streaming issue with a World Cup game is not the same as troubleshooting donwload speeds on a Thursday arvo and pulling the “fault is at the exchange and the ticket is logged” excuse. Optus should have known this. I don’t feel they were ready for the level of scrutiny and my sense is that they approached this with a degree of confidence bordering on arrogant.

    So yeah, I agree that this was a failure of planning and risk management (if the two are different) and time will only tell what actually happened – I’d be keen on buying that book.

    Otherwise, I was in Russia for the World Cup and had the best time. Lovely country and the level of organisation exceeded Brazil by an order of magnitude.

  2. This is a great insight.Excellent in dealing with Crisis management which is rather more expensive and time consuming and embarrassing

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