This is the time of the year where the National Football League (NFL) goes into radical feedback mode. Many (but not all) college players participate in The Combine, a physical abilities beauty contest where they also get interviewed multiple times by their prospective employers. Their performance will likely impact the order in which they are chosen by teams, which has a big impact into their first contract, or if they are chosen at all. At the same time, current players who are not seen as providing value relative to what they are being paid are let go. And, in a new twist, the players’ association released a report card on each team to help unsigned (and desired) players decide who they might want to sign a contract with. This really caught my attention.
Of course, players talk among themselves about what it is like to play on different teams. This particular survey is of interest in terms of what was asked, or at least published, and what was not. For instance, none of the data talks about how players feel about the head coach or general manager or if they feel they are satisfied with their contract. However, it does touch on quality of work-life (treatment of families and travel comfort), and training and development (nutrition, training equipment and staff, weight room, strength coaching, and the locker room) issues. I am not going to quibble with these as I assume the players’ association knows what is important to its members.
There is a HUGE difference between how different teams are rated. However, there is no correlation between anything on the report card and the teams winning percentage last year, over the last 5 years, or over the last 10 years. And the teams’ winning percentages are very consistent over these three time periods.
You know what did predict winning last year? The total quarterback rating (QBR). While the name infers that it is a rating of a single player, football is a team sport and even the best quarterback cannot succeed if he’s not surrounded by good players. Even after accounting for QBR, the other factors were not associated with winning more games. And QBR was not correlated with the quality of work-life areas. These relationships were not impacted by the value of the franchise (as estimate by Forbes).
One can rightly ask whether players make their free agent choices based on the quality of work-life issues. The turnover issue in the NFL is tricky. Due to the league’s salary rules, it is hard to tell if a good player chooses to leave a team at the end of his contract because he wants to be somewhere else or because the current team cannot pay him at market value.
So, if I am a team owner who wants to win games, I’m focusing more on my quarterback and his supporting cast than quality of work-life areas. You can do both, of course. But companies (and sports teams) succeed because of their talent. When they focus on bringing in the best people, they will likely get a better return on their efforts than worrying about having the fanciest gym.