The football expression to run “north-south” may sound odd to those who aren’t familiar with gridiron nomenclature, but it’s timeless and it’s invaluable advice.
The expression is used to coach running backs. The idea is simple. Once the back reaches the designated hole or zone to run, they should stop running side to side, aka east or west, and head north. Why we say North-South I don’t really know. Maybe it’s a more rhythmic comment. That doesn’t mean a runner can’t cut back or make moves but in general, you want them gaining yards, not running sideways for no gain or worse a loss.
It’s a hard thing to teach and great players have it instinctively. The best runners are wired to gain yardage by heading north-south. They understand that three yards upfield is better than two yards lost. They know that to get to pay dirt they need to point their compass north as soon as possible. They understand that despite the counterintuitiveness of running towards their opponent, that the sure swat way to success is through your opponent.
Yesterday I joined NFL Canada, and some of their major partners as they did a little north-south running of their own for the 2017 Sponsor Summit. To shake things up the event was held at NFL headquarters in New York, which afforded us a fantastic line-up of expert speakers from the NFL office staff. In effect, some of the best sports marketing coaching on the continent!
The clichés between sport and business are some of the most overworked writings in literature, but when sport and business intertwine they take on new meaning. So, at risk of you penalizing me, I am going to share a thought from the day that will stay with me for a while. It might perhaps provide the goal line required for being a north-south runner.
When sport and business collide, through sponsorships, licensing, media partnerships, or joint ventures, a mutually beneficial relationship is created. It is not a one-way relationship. Both parties, or all parties I should say, have a vested interest in both the sport being successful and the business being successful. In simple math, the more football, rugby, or soccer fans that exist in a market, the better it is for the governing bodies, teams and leagues, and the better it is for partners and sponsors. The exchange of rights and funding is the transactional part of the relationship, but the mission of the relationship is much more important. The long-term sustainability of the relationship is directly tied to the growth of the sport.
The growth of any sport, such as football, is the payday for all its constituents. A football in the hands of an eight-year-old girl or boy is good for everyone in football. A football jersey on the back of a millennial, or mom, or media celebrity is as good for the NFL, as it is the CFL, as it is Budweiser, as it is Mount Allison University. The Argos open their second season at BMO this week and their success is as important to the football industry as my Toronto Jets game against the Guelph Jr. Gryphons on Saturday.
Sport and business are at their best when they learn how to work together. There was a lot of conversation yesterday about insights, planning cycles, shared learnings, and partnerships. Sport and business are great teammates when they pursue lofty, ambitious goals together. When they create a powerful sense of shared mission. When they recognize that a team is built slowly, purposefully, and painfully.
Getting to 345 Park Avenue (NFL HQ) was a bucket list moment for me. No, not because I played the board game as a kid. In the lobby is a display of every Super Bowl champion ring ever produced. There is no jewellery store in the world that can compare. These rings aren’t bling. They are the result of sticking your nose to your opponent, whether that be your daily task list or a tough sales call or a creative challenge, and not stopping until you get to the end zone for a touchdown.
PS. I am so glad the NFL is loosening the rules on touchdown celebrations last year. Few images were more striking to me than last season when Zeke Elliott jumped in the Salvation Army kettle.