the speed at which small teams can work is well understood.  we expect two guys in a garage to move faster than a fortune 500 corporation with thousands of employees.  we marvel at how quickly a startup with dozens of employees can iterate, and out maneuver a massive incumbent who either isn’t focused on that problem, or simply doesn’t have the organizational mindset to disrupt itself.

as facebook is legendary for saying, “move fast and break things.”  dick costolo’s primary focus at twitter is cadence, and how they can move faster in every aspect of the business.  evernote talks about being a 100-year startup.

but if all goes well, eventually that small startup becomes a billion dollar corporation itself.  an organization now all too aware of risks -- from external legalities to internal roadblocks.  very uncommon ground is a large company that can iterate, take risks, experiment, and evolve at a fast pace.

the nfl is a lovely exception, worthy of examination by all industries.

the national football league (nfl) is one of the best “big startup” organizations out there today…  right up there with google and amazon in terms of creativity and risk taking, willing to cannibalize existing business while targeting higher and higher revenues.  while other sports take up new issues every decade (such as the nba), or once a generation (looking at you mlb), the nfl changes every year.

1) global: the nfl is growing in international markets.  they started a few years ago with a preseason game in mexico, to now having a regular season game in london…  now there’s talk of having up to three games next season, with rumors of one day having a team based out of london.

2) tech: the nfl was an early adopter of technology, particularly in the use of replay.  every year they add new plays that are available for replay… and many people expect larger replay changes next year, such as central replay (instead of on-the-field under the hood replay).

3) extra points: even something as fundamental as the extra point is up for debate.  why? because the game has changed.  kicking as become extremely specialized, and thus 99.9999% of extra points are made.  read -- wasted time by boring plays.  if the nfl can make the game more exciting by having more 2-point conversions, or tweaking the extra point -- they will.

4) pro bowl: the pro-bowl used to be the forgotten asterisk to the season, scheduled after the super bowl.  now, the pro-bowl is scheduled during the off-week between the conference championships and the super bowl.  but even that wasn’t enough… this year the nfl tapped two hall of famers -- deion sanders and jerry rice -- to pick their own pro-teams in a fantasy-style draft.

5) social: last fall twitter and the nfl announced a partnership designed to bring exclusive content to the twitter audience.  but it didn’t stop there, as the nfl is active on everything from facebook to vine (though have yet to get a snapchat from them)…  clearly the nfl not only understands the importance of social, but they are willing to experiment with time, money, platforms, and reputation in an effort to build and engage their audience.  of course, the tweet above tells you everything you need to know.  great content with a compelling image.  perfect logos and clear calls to action.  spot on.

6) playoffs: this is where the money is made, thus the nfl is looking into adding more games and more teams…  can they find a balance of rewarding the regular season’s best teams, while also adding more playoff excitement (read $$$)? i think they can.

perhaps most impressive about all of this risk taking, experimentation, and evolution is that the nfl has accomplished this in the face of lawsuits, having to deal with a union, and juggling a bevy of different stakeholders.    

that’s what happens when you have a great product and managers with a vision.

Authorjonathan hegranes