#SuperBowl50 – football and the Premier League can learn from NFL’s franchise model

Super Bowl 50, in which Denver Broncos emerged victorious over Carolina Panthers, lived up to its usual high standards in terms of global coverage. Interest in the final showdown of the NFL season is not limited to what happens on the field.

That’s why global brands use the Super Bowl as a platform to flex their marketing muscles; Mashable dedicates features to the multi-platform experience enabled by apps and social media and TechCrunch analyses the evolution of technology at the event.

Every industry wants a piece of the Super Bowl, in no small part due to the franchise model that gives teams a more democratic branding opportunity than almost any other sport affords. The popularity of the sport does not rely on a handful of huge brands to generate interest – when you buy into NFL, you buy into the brand itself and not just individual franchises.

The cream rises to the top

But it doesn’t stay there by default forevermore. Each NFL club is granted a franchise, to operate as the NFL brand in its home city. This franchise covers 'Home Territory’. While there are naturally nuances and exceptions, this defines a ‘Home Marketing Area’ within which each NFL member has the exclusive right to advertise, promote and host events.

Then there’s the annual draft in which each team is given a position in the drafting order in reverse order relative to its record in the previous year. This means that the last place team is positioned first. From this position, the team can either select a player or trade their position to another team for other draft positions, a player or players, or any combination thereof. 

The combination of branding power and the draft offers some protection against season on season dynasties – giving each franchise more power over its fortunes on and off the pitch. While long-term value and brand leadership are owed to repeated triumphs on the field, the little guys of NFL can still live their own American dream.

The Carolina Panthers are a good case study of how the system works. Having finished the 2010 season with the worst record, the Panthers used their first draft pick to sign Auburn University’s College Football sensation quarterback Cam Newton. Five years later, Newton has thrown Carolina into the second Super Bowl in the franchise’s relatively short history.

Keeping the dream alive

NFL’s global reach extends every year. I certainly wasn’t the only person in the UK who stayed up until 3am this morning to see the Super Bowl through to its conclusion. There’s something refreshing about a sport that isn’t contested by the same few hyper-clubs every season. And when a sport is considered refreshing in its fiftieth year, you have to credit the business model upon which it is built.

The Premier League sees huge sums exchange hands in sponsorship and advertising thanks to its global reach. But are the correct levers in place to ensure the bottom doesn’t fall out of football?

Even the most avid fan is becoming alienated as trophies are effectively bought and sold by the world’s richest clubs – hence why Leicester City’s unprecedented raid on the Premier League title has been met with such enthusiasm.

The traditional fan experience is being destroyed as elite clubs focus on turning their global fan bases into digital crowd-funds. Liverpool fans’ walkout was a damning indictment of how far behind NFL the Premier League is in terms of providing an accessible product as well as one which attracts investment.

While it’s difficult to see football declining in popularity or becoming unattractive to sponsors, there are lessons that can be learned from NFL in terms of staying true to the roots of what makes a sport great. Ultimately, sponsors want exposure to an engaged fan base, and engaged fans need something to dream about.

Joe McNamara

Hill & Knowlton Strategies Search