The best defense is a great defense – Or so it seems to The National Football League (NFL), the nation’s premier sports league, which announced last Tuesday that it is relocating its headquarters to 345 Park Avenue in Manhattan and 175,000-square-foot,  down from its current 205,000-square-foot headquarters at 280 Park Ave.  This maneuver is no feint.  Faced with a down economy, an ongoing labor struggle, and declining attendance and viewership in all other major sports, the NFL has decided to protect its lead and play a little preventive defense.

BE-NFLLogoGrass 7-11-13This single commercial office transaction may be the clearest bellwether for the future of commercial real estate.   According to Eric Grubman, executive vice president of NFL ventures and business operations, the new space “will enable us to be more efficient.”  Apparently, NFL executives are as talented at the post-game empty quotation as their renowned players.   Reading between the lines, the NFL is in the midst of some serious game planning – a plan that still goes for the win, just with fewer players.   Let’s look at the stats.

A $7.8 billion dollar industry, the NFL boasts an average team value of $1 billion among its thirty-two teams; an average attendance of 67,000 and a consistent season-to-season winning record.  According to Plunkett Research, the NFL earns eight times as much each year for TV and cable broadcast rights as MLB, despite the fact that MLB teams play roughly ten times the number of games annually than do NFL teams.  Yahoo Finance says that “the pro football business is booming, and the expectation is that the NFL will set new records for fan viewership during the 2010 season.”  In fact, the NFL enjoyed a 9% viewership increase in 2009, and is expecting a 15% gain during the upcoming 2010 season.   To the TV viewer, the NFL is appointment television.  To the rooting fan, every game matters.   To America, the Super Bowl is iconic – the closest thing we have to commercialized war.   It is a growth sport, and is considering adding two additional games to an already profitable schedule.  In short, the NFL is giving the Heisman (read “stiff arm”) to every other major sports league.

So what’s with the contracting office presence?

The NFL is in the midst of a solid game plan; one they may share with the rest of corporate America – do more with less.   It embodies this new mantra.  Case in point:  In 2008, preparing for what it knew would be a tough 2009 and 2010, the NFL told 150 people that they did not make the corporate team.  To most industries, this would be sign of the apocalypse, but the NFL is expanding where other sports, such as baseball and golf, etc, are contracting.  Always good at cutting the wheat from the chaff, always a step ahead of its competition, the NFL is thinking ahead to a new sports economy – one underscored by efficient planning and cost controls.    Enable people to do more from the road.    Allow people to work from home.  Ask your employees to extend their hours and their signing bonus will be big – they’ll still have a job.

So look for fewer people in the seats – commercial office seats ? – a trend that may carry over to the balance of commercial America.  Growth through simultaneous expansion and contraction – expanding opportunity while contracting costs.   It’s a game winning plan.