Even if you don't love American football, you have to love the business brilliance behind the Super Bowl. The National Football League (NFL) championship game set a record for the most-watched TV program in history in 2010, at 106.5 million viewers. It is also a great American export, being one of the most-watched sports activities globally, perhaps number two in the world.
It suggests many business lessons to review while viewing the game. Here are my favorite 4 quarters of ideas.
Owning a date. Super Bowl Sunday is a branded date on the national and even international calendar. Without official status, it undoubtedly has more adherents than Presidents Day a few weeks later — a national holiday whose meaning has been so submerged as to be just another shopping day.
Imagine the power of branding and owning a chunk of time — drive-a-Ford-Friday, Wal-Mart Weekend, or Main Street Monday. Hallmark, the greeting card company, has tried to create a "Hallmark holiday" brand, but the message is too diffuse, over too many dates, and it has backfired to signify an artificial, rather than an authentic, celebration. The Super Bowl has become an anticipated event wrapped in quasi-patriotism, providing everything short of a three-day weekend. (And I'll bet many people call in sick the Monday after.)
Creating a positive culture. Super Bowl Sunday is reputed to be the second biggest food event in the United States, after Thanksgiving. Smell the chili con carne and popcorn...See family and friends gathered around a television... It's just a game, but it adds warmth to the dead of winter in northern climes. It's an occasion for parties just for the sake of having parties. There is no other redeeming social value or cultural meaning than entertainment, which the glitzy half-time showsmake clear. By the Super Bowl, the competition is down to just two teams, so the vast majority of people watching have little emotional stake in the outcome. It's a totally feel-good time. Clearly, products can thrive when they are surrounded by family or communal rituals that make people feel good.
Promoting every element. On Super Bowl Sunday, the ad score is as important as the game score. The Super Bowl shows how pizzazz and buzz can be added to even the dullest elements, the ones that viewers can tune out or turn off. For the NFL, there are no sidelines; everything is a business line. In stadiums, every possible surface is sponsored, except possibly the stall doors in rest rooms ("This privacy screen is brought to you by..."). The Super Bowl takes sponsorship to a higher level. Ad-buying customers know that their spots will get enormous attention and buzz.
Tapping collaborative advantage. NFL success is a tribute to the power of collaborative advantage. Independently owned franchises compete on the playing field but share resources, such as television and merchandise revenues, through the NFL alliance. To even out the competition, losing teams get to pick talent before winning teams do. The league does more than create a schedule of games; it redistributes resources. (A virtue that will be tested this off season as the league and the players' union try to hammer out a new collective bargaining agreement.) By promoting the sport, the NFL gives every team a stake in helping other teams thrive. Few industry associations have been able to do this as effectively as the NFL. In many fields, there should be abundant opportunities for consortia and alliances to pool resources for the good of every member — such as joint marketing by arts organizations in a region.
Yes, the Super Bowl is commercial. Completely and unashamedly. There are some community service events in Super Bowl City leading up to the Sunday game, but while nice, they are minor and purely local. For everyone else, the Super Bowl is a time to enjoy a championship game or just eat chili with friends. But while feasting on popcorn, think about how the same business genius that created the Super Bowl could be applied to our own ventures.