What Does the National Football League have to do with Product Management?

Vince YoungI’ve been asked why I have the NFL logo on the header you see above. Not many people think of sports leagues when it comes to Product Management. The NFL does offer us a product: to entertain us on Sunday and Monday. They do a damn good job of it too.

The NFL is probably the most business oriented professional sports league in the World. Most importantly to this blog, they have product managed their service very well. Some of the changes the NFL have made in the last 10 years:

  • Maintaining a salary cap. By keeping salaries contained, the owners ensure that:
    • There is a limit to how fast their costs grow, giving them a chance to keep up with revenue growth
    • There is parity in the league, meaning that any team has a chance year-over-year, which keeps fan involvement and interest high
  • Kept (relatively) good league/player relations
  • Focused on television (ESPN is paying the NFL $1.1 Billion just for the rights to Monday Night Football from 2006-2011, that’s 96 games @ $11.5M/game)
    • Created their own cable TV network in NFL TV, much to the angst of the traditional networks.
  • Deftly prevented a team from landing in Los Angeles (which gives all other teams negotiating leverage for new stadiums, etc.)
  • Leveraged the growth of partners like Under Armor and Reebok (the marketing deals that the NFL has signed with these apparel companies have included warrants, which give the NFL the option to purchase discounted shares and benefit from the lift the smaller company gets in the market)
  • Been a forerunner in drug testing and fan security
  • Maintained a standard in the on-field product:
    • Penalties for the smallest uniform infractions
    • Widened the scope of unsportsmanlike conduct and late hits
    • Protecting the valuable assets, like the QB
  • Embraced fantasy football

Are those things Product Management? They are!

Like my previous story about services product management, the NFL has realized that they are responsible for every instance of service they offer. By taking seemingly small actions like uniform rules, they are maintaining a consistent service. The QB protection rules were born out of a problem – fans don’t like to see their teams’ star players knocked out for the season. They made a buy-build-partner decision on apparel; they could have easily bought Under Armor but chose to partner and invest and focus on their core competency – the on-field product.

Lessons Learned

  • Focus on what you are elite at, partner at everything else (what is your on-field product?)
  • Protect your assets at all costs (Quarterbacks)
  • Look for opportunities for your customers to become evangelists and extend your brand (fantasy football)
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