1. That The Talent Doesn't Rule
Of course, the players are important to the sport. But just because they are essential doesn't mean that they should rule the roost! The UK Premiership League is an example of where players salaries have completely got out of hand, changed the game and made it unrealistic for many teams to compete. In the NFL, because of the college draft (where NFL teams are ranked according to their past performance with the worst teams getting to select the best college football players first) and the salary cap system which apportions an agreed percentage of teams revenue to the players, fans of all NFL teams start the season with a 'hope' of winning something (a division, playoff, even the SuperBowl). Conversely, I once worked in a business where the 'sales talent' got away with murder and were paid disproportionately. Of course, they were critical to the business, but they made everyone else' s life in the organisation a misery, not least in the operations team who had to deliver on the 'enhanced promises' made by the sales talent. In the end, the top sales guy's behaviour became so intolerable around the office that he got the bullet. The business struggled for a while but lived on to prosper as the rest of sales team adjusted to a more level playing field. Giving in to the demands of the 'talent' delivers short term gains and long term pain. Don't do it!
2. The Beauty of Controlled Brutality
Every successful business finds that at sometime it needs a 'bruiser' - someone who can do the tough things that crop up from time to time. Maybe it's confronting a legal issue or a debtor who just won't pay. Ensuring that the essential bruisers don't overstep the mark and destroy the business in the process is not always easy (hint: breaking the legs of your debtors is no longer an accepted business practice for example!). In the NFL, everyone wants to see a bit of violence. Violence is an integral part of the game. But crass brutality for the sake of it is discouraged. Breaking the legs of a franchise quarterback (sometimes this person is a $100 million dollar asset of the team) is not good business. The way the NFL controls the inherent violence of the game through fines and suspensions that hold individual players accountable is something that every business can learn from. Make the bruisers accountable!
3. That Specialists Are To Be Used Sparingly in Key Situations
Kickers, punters and long snappers are specialist players who may only play a few 'snaps' in an American football game but can change the game dramatically with their specialised skills. Accurately punting the ball 70 yards - with enough 'hang time' to allow your team members to run the distance to make a tackle on the opposing catcher of the punt is a hard thing to do and requires a lot of practice. In business, assessing the skill of your specialists (tech people, lawyers etc) and using them effectively is a critical skill. Much legal work for example can be carried out by properly supervised, intelligent people in the line once a basic legal strategy has been developed by the legal brains and the core legal issues and respective positions at stake identified. Using lawyers to do managerial jobs is expensive and a waste of talent.
4. Develop a Regulatory Environment That Promotes Innovation
The way the that the NFL administers changes to its rules to enhance its commercial potential is commendable in several ways. First, as the game has become more pass oriented in recent years, the importance of the quarterback is reinforced and rule changes have been made to protect these assets (see 2 above) and to help the QB with pass throwing opportunities. Second, many of the rule changes have been made for the benefit of the TV audience which is where the worldwide growth in revenue for the sport really is. In fact, attending an American Football game can actually be quite boring as there are many stops for commercial breaks and the on field referees often have their work 'peer reviewed' by referees watching a playback machine in a SKY box to ensure that they get it right. Remaking the rules within your business can equally change your commercial fortunes. Become attuned to what your customers really want and focus on that (all NFL fans like the excitement of the QB throwing the ball!). If you are in a regulated industry like financial services make sure that you are represented on the trade bodies that set the rules that govern your competitive landscape. No NFL team owner gets all his or her own way...but they certainly get to have their say on how the game is played!
5. The Importance of Having a Strong Bench
Injuries, suspensions (for various misdemeanors), deaths, drugs, DUIs, can all deprive teams of critical players. The best teams in the NFL (like the New England Partiots), understand that having strong, in depth, squads is critical to success. Businesses usually find this out the hard way. No business can just carry people to cover for any eventuality but even the smallest businesses can ensure that there is more than one person signing or responsible for the business bank account for example, or that the go-to tech guy is not the only one who knows key passwords to all the systems and the names and numbers of other key contractors. Obviously if this tech guy goes 'down' for some reason getting this information may be impossible and the business may be critically impaired. Like the best NFL teams, the most successful business people prepare by developing a strong, adaptable bench.
6. Making the Product Accessible through the Use of Technology
Here's a challenge for you: show me a sport (or a business for that matter) that has deployed technology more widely and innovatively than the NFL both on and off the field of play. You can pretty much watch NFL games on any device. On any given Sunday, I can access the NFL product through the Internet via a four box screen which allows me to follow up to four games at once and finish off with the late games in bed with my iPad. The recent addition of the NFL 'RedZone' channel allows viewers to see live action as teams enter the last 20 yards of each end of the field (from where they are likely to score points) - a truly brilliant innovation. On the field cameras cover the game from every angle and the latest in-Stadium screens, like the one at the stadium of the Dallas Cowboys, are some of the biggest in world. The NFL also has its own thriving TV channel that just about sits comfortably along side the TV deals that it has done with other TV companies In short, the NFL it is becoming a media giant in its own right. Very impressive indeed.
Have I missed something? Can you think of another lesson we can learn from the NFL? Feel free to hit the comment button below and share it...