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NFL Franchising Boot Camp Scores with Players and Spouses

Inaugural effort launched to educate and prepare players, spouses with the necessary tools to join the franchise community.

Day One

The air on the Univ. of Michigan campus was lively and celebratory as the National Football League’s Player Engagement program and the International Franchise Association welcomed 30 players and spouses to the first NFL Franchising Boot Camp, fittingly conducted at the Ross School of Business, named for Miami Dolphins owner and real estate magnate Stephen M.  Ross.

After arriving from all over the country, players and spouses heard from the school’s chief executive education officer, Melanie Barnett, and Univ. of Michigan professor Francine Lafontaine. During introductory remarks from the NFL, players were encouraged to take risks, network heavily during the event and soak up as much knowledge as possible.

Carolina Panthers owner and Founder Jerry Richardson shared his amazing story of rising from an NFL player following his 1959 World Championship season with the Baltimore Colts (with just $5,000 in winnings) to the rarefied ranks of NFL owner.  Richardson parlayed his initial prize money into an empire of hundreds of Hardee’s franchises, which would eventually become a holding company named Spartan which made history when it became the first South Carolina company to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

Richardson used this tactic to inspire and invigorate his employees about the importance of their jobs and value of self, as well as “treating people with respect, running your own business, continuously inspiring your employees daily and choosing the right spouse/partner.”

Franchising has been a hot and trending topic in pro sports business news recently with landmark franchise purchases by Peyton Manning (Papa John’s), Troy Aikman (Dunkin’ Donuts) and other pro athletes.  The NFL and IFA created the program to meet growing player interest in the industry and from a duty to provide education on the franchise model and give players the best tools and resources possible to succeed. As with all other aspects of entrepreneurship, franchising is by no means a guarantee in the business world, but athletes fit the franchise profile, given their intelligence, drive and ability to follow complex playbooks and work with teams to succeed.

Day Two

Like most people, the majority of boot camp attendees possessed only a surface-level knowledge of franchising. However, what they lacked in knowledge was compensated by their deep interest and willingness to learn every possible aspect about the industry.  For those who already owned and operated franchises, it was an opportunity to further enhance their practices.

The morning opened with a presentation from LaFontaine who laid the groundwork detailing the scope of franchising and how it differs from other forms of entrepreneurship. In addition, she described the various types of industries where franchising is used and provided statistics regarding employment, sales, sectors, distribution and turnover rates. Throughout the rest of the morning and early afternoon, other university faculty members presented an array of information focusing on franchise contracts, legal considerations beyond the contract, information sources and due diligence.

Later, participants visited local franchise units of Qdoba and The UPS Store. With both companies being major players in their respective industries, quick service restaurant and logistics, each location offered views of unique operations and management strategies. This was critical because it allowed participants to gain knowledge of the processes involved when owning a franchise in different sectors. The respective franchisees, along with their team of employees, were present to discuss the operational and managerial aspects of the business.

Returing to the campus, the group gained the insights of the Athlete Franchisee Panel which included former NFL players Angelo Crowell and spouse Kim Crowell, Don Davey of Firehouse Subs and Tyoka Jackson of IHOP.

Toward the end of Crowell’s career, he and Kim invested in Jersey Mike’s Subs and manage their franchises together.  Kim’s perspective of managing multiple franchises as a business woman, mother and wife was extremely powerful for participants to hear. The couple emphasized how it truly is a joint decision between husband and wife when considering a career in the franchise industry.

All panelists shared their personal experiences of transitioning out of the league into franchising, providing accounts of what daily life is like for them now.  Davey and Jackson encouraged attendees to “make sure you have the personality to handle the lifestyle of a franchisee” and to “study the brand of the company to make sure your value system aligns with theirs.”

Days Three and Four

Day Three opened with a one-on-one conversation with ex-franchisee and former All Pro NFL running back Jamal Lewis, site visits to three area franchises and more engaging presentations on the dynamics of franchising.

Lewis, one of the first high profile athletes to become a franchisee of Moe’s Southwest Grill, was candid about how he became involved with the franchise, admitting the mistakes he made in managing it. Advice he offered touched on employing family members, being “hands on” with operations, bookkeeping, and long-term growth.

Next came lectures on business plans and financing, followed by a session on leadership featuring IFA member Sean Falk of WolfTeam Management.

Franchise executives CKE Restaurants Pres. and Chief Legal Officer Mike Murphy, Cinnabon Pres. Kate Cole and Sports Clips Founder and CEO Gordon Local were spotlighted panelists for an open discussion during which Cole stressed: “Don’t just fall in love with the product; you have to fall in love with the business model as well. Time and time again you see individuals invest in a franchise simply because they enjoy consuming their products or services, however if you don’t understand and love the business model, you will quickly fail.”

Franchise visits that afternoon led participants to Papa John’s, Title Boxing Club and Two Men And A Truck. Three of the six project teams chose these franchises to share their research during the team presentations.

On the fourth and final day, participants met with their respective teams to finalize presentations which incorporated elements and skills that were learned during the four-day experience.

To close out the day, participants were treated to an address by Papa John’s Senior Dir. of Real Estate Tom Andrews, who encouraged them to explore corporate opportunities in franchising.

Participants were then awarded certificates of completion by Lafontaine and NFL Player Engagement’s Justin DeFreece.

While the playing field is certainly different, the need for focused discipline in franchising is much the same. Professional athletes are strong leaders in the ultra-competitive sports arena, so they inherently understand the importance of working as a team and as part of a system to achieve success, said IFA Pres. & CEO Steve Caldeira, CFE, when he addressed the NFL attendees on Day Two.

Erica Fitzsimmons is senior director of political affairs, grassroots advocacy & multi-unit franchisee engagement for the International Franchise Association. She can be reached at 202-662-0760 or



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