Cash flow is extremely important in business, but it can’t be the only important thing. Cash flow is a result and it is generally an indicator of the health of a variety of other factors that encapsulate a whole business. The Cleveland Browns have never had an issue with cash flow as far as I or anyone else can tell. Browns fans have been flocking to a garbage team like probably no other franchise in the past ten years and maybe ever. The Star Wars movie franchise has never had a problem cashing in either. Since the original trilogy came out in 1977 and finished in 1983, it has been a financial whirlwind between toys, video games, re-releases, digital enhancements, more re-releases and eventually a prequel trilogy. For all the glory that the original movies gave to Star Wars fans, the last ten years have been less satisfying. There are probably more Star Wars fans than ever, but it feels like it has become a clingy, defensive form of satisfaction as sniping at Star Wars creator George Lucas has built to a crescendo. Sound familiar?
The Browns have averaged just above 5.5 wins per season over the last ten years, yet I would say ticket sales have still been pretty good. So too were ticket sales to the much-maligned Star Wars prequel trilogy. Phantom Menace did $431 million according to Box Office Mojo. Episode II did $302 mil and Revenge of the Sith did $380 million. But that doesn’t mean they were great and satisfying movies to hard core Star Wars fans.
Rotten Tomatoes – the aggregator of movie reviews – indicates that only 57% of critics approved of The Phantom Menace. Additionally if you boil it down to the “Top Critics” that number drops to only 38%. Attack of the Clones was 67% and 41% respectively. The final installment, Revenge of the Sith came in the highest at 80% and 68%. Most importantly though, the people who paid for seats to those movies scored them 62%, 66% and 65% respectively. That sounds awfully similar to what Browns fans’ satisfaction level would be with a team that averages five and a half wins over the course of a decade. We love it because “they’re the Browns,” but we hate it because they’re not a good enough football team.
What the Star Wars and Browns franchises lack in quality over the recent past, they always seem to make up for in terms of tradition and an almost-religious adherence to the history and passing it down to the next generation. But much like my dad’s stories about parking cars so he could get into Municipal Stadium will be a tough sell for me to my sons some day, so too will be the sales job of even the most technologically enhanced movie from 1977. Jim Brown clips will only get further and further away from the next generation despite the proliferation of Youtube. My dad’s stories about Jim Brown didn’t have to compete with MMA, video games, cat videos and memes for example. Neither did 1977’s Star Wars films.
Enter Jimmy Haslam and Disney. Haslam purchased Randy Lerner’s Browns for a sales price of $1.05 billion and Disney bought George Lucas’ movie company for $4 billion. In doing so, they’ve both purchased strong brands that aren’t technically in danger of irrelevance, but if you can force yourself to look far enough into the future, it’s hazy at best. Both brands represent real opportunities for success, but neither one is guaranteed.
Disney and Haslam should both be able to make plenty of money in the short run just by paying attention to sales and marketing. Haslam could tweak the colors to sell a bunch of merchandise and also enhance the stadium so he can justify ticket price increases. Disney can create a new line of toys or clothing while also dedicating 100 acres in Orlando or Anaheim to a Star Wars themed park. Those kinds of moves will all work just fine to get that cash flow that I spoke of at the start. But cash flow is only sustainable with a quality product in the present that doesn’t rest on the laurels of the past. Disney is going to make new Star Wars movies and the stakes to do it well have never been higher. So too are the stakes with Jimmy Haslam and the Browns competing on the field every Sunday.
Star Wars fans and Browns fans have patience fueled by tradition and that has pushed both of them straight through the 1990s and beginning of the 2000s, but it can’t and won’t last forever without some present-day prodding. When my first son was born, I told the Browns they had six years to be relevant so my son could be indoctrinated to the Browns at the same age I was. Otherwise it will just be this thing that his dad does every week that he won’t have much interest in. Same with Star Wars. Even if my son kind of digs the movies when I show them to him, unless he’s pining for a new movie or wants to buy action figures or go to a special park at Disney World, then the cash flow will eventually turn from a river into a trickling stream. That’s the worst nightmare for Disney and Jimmy Haslam. They both have a real opportunity, but their success is far from guaranteed.
For them the indicator of success will be cash flow, but that’s all it is is an indicator of something far more important. You just have to hope that Disney and Haslam have the ability to make it so everyone wins in the end.
Now which Cleveland Browns player is synonymous with Jar Jar Binks?