American football is one of the biggest and most profitable sports in America. The popularity of American football, particularly the NFL, has led one company to create a multi-layered business model that is centred around the power of the sport. 

The Hall of Fame Resort & Entertainment Company is most notable for creating the Hall of Fame Village powered by Johnson Controls, a 600-acre destination in Canton, Ohio which is currently in Phase 2 of development. However, the firm is also branching into content creation, the fantasy sector, sports betting and esports all with one common link – American football.

Insider Sport spoke to the firm’s CEO Michael Crawford about the reasons why the company has opted to diversify its sectors, the benefits of having a sports-specific, multi-layered business model and the effects COVID-19 has had on its development of the Village. 

He stated: “I hate to use a really bad example but COVID-19 is a good example as to why you don’t want to be in one particular vertical at this point in time. Diversifying risk is obviously a big reason to get into multiple different business verticals. Bringing in different revenue channels where guests are really spending time and are engaging with the sport of professional football in different ways.

“While COVID-19 sort of pushed back the opportunity for us to go public by about three months and initially delayed our plans to commence construction on Phase II of the Village, it wasn’t all bad. While some of the events we host were delayed, we were able to devote more time to other areas of our business, including pursuing brand partnerships and sponsorship opportunities. As a result, we successfully signed an agreement to partner with the NFL Alumni Association shortly before going public in July.” 

The Hall of Fame Resort & Entertainment Company’s partnership with the NFL Alumni Association offers many tangible benefits. The Hall of Fame Village and its Center for Performance will serve as the home for the NFL Alumni Association and will include offices, training facilities and practice fields as well as providing a home for its Academy, a development opportunity for current players.  

“The NFL Alumni Academy is a new developmental academy for top undrafted, free-agent college players that didn’t quite make it to the NFL and yet are really, really good and only need just a little more development to be a future NFL player,” added Crawford. “We are going to have former head coaches, former players, here coaching and developing these kids. 

“They also have to have a place to stay so they will stay in our hotel we are renovating in downtown Canton, a Hilton Doubletree.  They have to have a place to eat, so they are going to be eating in our restaurants. We will be creating safe ways in which fans will be able to come and watch the players develop. We are talking to media distribution companies about a made-for-television show. So, it’s a really good example that when you have powerful content you can cross over multiple different verticals in which you can monetise that content and I think that’s the story of our company.”

A 3D model of what the Hall of Fame Village is expected to look like in the future.

Crawford highlighted how the company’s content division – including its direct access to the archives and never-before seen footage housed within the Professional Football Hall of Fame – is an important part of its growth plans. The former General Manager of the Shanghai Disney Resort explained:  “From what I’ve learned over the many years that I spent time with Disney and also Four Seasons, is that when you have great content, you can leverage that in a way that other companies can’t. 

“The most successful destination assets around the world are based on great content. If you go to Disney World you’re not necessarily going to ride a boat that just floats you around, you’re going to immerse yourself in an environment space on the Pirates of the Caribbean story or Indiana Jones.

“We have the ability to be a content creator and distributor. We have direct access to content in the Pro Football Hall of Fame archives that \give us great opportunities in multiple areas.  What’s more, there is strong demand from fans for content centred on football. Last year, I think 47 out of the top 50 viewed television shows in America were professional football games. So we are very excited for this aspect of our business.”

One sector that the Hall of Fame Resort & Entertainment Company recently invested in is fantasy football following its acquisition of The Crown League, a fantasy football league that allows fans to invest in fantasy franchises run by experts in the fantasy and football space alike. 

The league again highlights the use of taking a product and diversifying it with the potential to market each franchise and create a community alongside the fantasy and esports aspects. The CEO specifically highlighted the esports industry which he firmly believes will continue to grow following its rise in population due to COVID-19. 

Crawford also addressed how he is still able to stay optimistic despite the uncertainties to sporting events worldwide posed by COVID-19. He believes the company will only come out of this stronger in the long run.

He commented:  “I think there are going to be things that come out of this and continue to be learning curves for the business that we will implement in the design of some of our facilities. We have looked at our business model due to the impact of this and we want to make sure that as we welcome fans back into the stands or to an event or just the campus that it feels very safe and secure to them.”

“The whole world hopes that there is better treatment and a vaccine in the near future. In late 2020 or 2021 when we open up the destination it could be a much different experience and we will be fully prepared.  We also anticipate that by that time we will have also developed and distributed some great new media content and we will have strengthened and started up the operation of our fantasy league. Plus we’ve hopefully moved forward into the sports betting and esports spaces and are still diversifying our business.”

To conclude, content is key to creating a sustainable and engaging business in the sports industry. In Crawford’s case, this is through the medium of American football and honing in on the sport to diversify its potential. However, other companies such as Sky Sports or the Olympics still use similar principles to use the assets available to them to engage fans and also other companies.  

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