3 Keys to Building an NFL Dynasty in the Era of Financial Parity

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3 Keys to Building an NFL Dynasty in the Era of Financial Parity
A. Messerschmidt/Getty Images
Steelers owner Ambassador Dan Rooney accepts the team's fifth Lombardi Trophy

The NFL markets itself as a league in which parity reigns.  Thanks to a revenue-sharing system that generates unprecedented amounts of money and divides it equally, no team is ever out of the running from day one.  Not financially, at any rate. 

Football provides the most level playing field in pro sports—especially when compared to Major League Baseball or the Barclay’s Premier League, both of which are clearly divided into financial haves and have-nots.  So shouldn’t we expect to see NFL teams rising and falling from year to year?

It turns out that we don’t.  Like many marketing strategies, the NFL’s wraps a kernel of truth in layers of myth and misconception.  Though financial parity is a reality in the modern NFL, the equality off the field has not led to equality on it. 

In the past 25 years—roughly the period during which some form of free agency has been allowed—14 different teams have been NFC champions and 10 different teams have been AFC champions.  In other words, a new team made the Super Bowl a little less than half the time.  More importantly, 10 teams won multiple conference titles.  Two teams won twice, three teams won three times, four teams won four times and one team (the New England Patriots) has qualified for the Super Bowl six times since 1997.

By comparison, there have been 12 NL champions and 11 AL champions during the same period in supposedly top-heavier Major League Baseball [1].  This means that there has been a new entrant in the World Series about as often as there have been new conference champions in the NFL.  So far, 12 teams have qualified for the World Series more than once.  Six have won two pennants, three have won three, one won four, one won five and one (the New York Yankees) won seven.

Though the sample sizes are small, these statistics indicate that parity is not markedly greater in the NFL than in baseball.  In fact, one could argue that dynasties are slightly easier to build in the NFL [2].  Eight pro football teams have won three or more conference championships, and five of those made the Super Bowl four or more times. 

Since 2003, only the Patriots, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Indianapolis Colts have won the AFC championship.  Only six baseball teams won the pennant three or more times, and only three did so more than four times.

So given the fact that all NFL teams start with approximately equal resources and can only spend the same amount, how do certain teams achieve success more consistently than others?  Smarter owners. 

Intelligent owners can overcome the financial constraints and enjoy a longer-term competitive advantage if they possess three key characteristics.


[1] There have been only 24 World Series since 1988 because of the 1994 strike.

[2] Though we generally reserve the word “dynasty” for teams that win multiple championships in a short period, I would argue that winning multiple conference championships or pennants is not much easier and also makes a team deserving of the honor.  

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