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You Can't (Shouldn't) Ignore Sports Talk at Work

The numbers are staggering.

Sports dominates TV ratings. Just take a look at the numbers. Football accounting for 75 of the top 100 most-watched broadcasts in 2021. If you add up all the sports on the list of most-watched broadcasts you would discover sports accounted for 94 of the 100 listed.

You know what those sports fans did before, during and after watching those games? They talked about them. Heck, they are still talking about some of those games.

Which should demonstrate how futile it is to try and ban sports talk from business settings. Sports dominates TV viewership and headlines. It’s a ridiculous waste of time to try and police sports-related conversations at work. And yet, many try without realizing... 

  1. Choosing to ignore sports as a conversation starter or pastime doesn’t make it go away.
  2. Trying to force people to talk about only things that interest you won’t change who they are but will likely affect how they view you.
  3. There is value in leveraging the passion of sports fans to build relationships.
  4. Sports talk can help you springboard into bigger conversations.
  5. Most fans were never taught to how to effectively talk sports at work.

I connected with sales leader Cory Bray following a LinkedIn post in November 2021.  Cory is the managing director of ClozeLoop and the Co-Founder of CoachCRM. He’s also an advocate of using sports to develop business relationships. As he put it, “The sports industry in the US is ~$80billion per year in ticket sales, merchandising, etc., and growth is not slowing down, especially with new gambling products that have recently come out.”


You can choose to ignore sports but it’s not going away. You can choose to be frustrated when sports cliches get thrown around during meetings or when sports small talk dominates the first 10 minutes of a meeting – or you can embrace it.


Sports talk is part of Bray's playbook in developing relationships with prospects and clients. “Sports talk is helpful with both people I'm just meeting as well as established connections,” Bray told me. “It helps create a more engaging conversation by bringing specific examples to life with stories, analogies, and metaphors.”

Here’s what you’re listening for – follow up opportunities and connection points outside of the game/sporting event itself.

When it comes to sports metaphors and cliches they are just that, cliché. I’m not a big fan of using them because they rarely further the conversation, but trying to outright ban creates a new challenge as Bray pointed out.

“Ignoring sports metaphors is often done by people who don't understand sports,” Bray said. “I often hear people say, ‘We shouldn't use sports metaphors, we should use music metaphors, or theater.’ Well, I don't understand music or theater, so you're creating the same problem with different words. Plus, if everyone around me used music or theater metaphors all day, I'd invest a few hours of my life to become conversational. There are 168 hours in a week after all.”

Here's what you can do - Ditch the metaphors and cliches for real sports stories full of business, leadership and communication takeaways. We publish a weekly list of sports conversation starters that you can get directly to your inbox.

It comes down to knowing your audience, reading the room and having an objective. Most people go into small talk hoping to stumble on something interesting enough to dive into. When you become strategic with your approach to small talk it makes it easier to guide the conversation. As Bray said, “If your sports talk doesn't land with the audience, back off to avoid breaking rapport. However, if they are eating it up, lean in.”

Here's something to remember – A Yes/No sports question is an extremely effective way to land on a mutual conversation topic. “Did you see the game last night?” cuts to the chase and provides and easy segue into the next question.

Sports fans are fans every day of the year. Instead of trying to “break” them of their habit lean into it and use sports to your advantage.

My signature presentation Talk Sporty to Me can help you team Talk Sporty with a focus on business communication and relationship building. It’s a unique approach that leverages fandom without spending hours watching sports TV or learning the rules of the game. Send me an email [email protected] and let’s see if we should team up for an engaging, motivating and inspiring training session for your company.


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