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In professional sports, a franchise player is an athlete who is not simply the best player on their team, but a player that the team can build their "franchise" (team) around for the foreseeable future. The misunderstanding that a franchise player is only "the best player on a team" disregards the fact that an inordinately bad team will undoubtedly still employ a player with superior skills, relative to his team. However, such a player could be not as good in comparison to players at large that labeling such a player a franchise player would be inappropriate. It is an elite status, but it is not necessarily a singular position; a large team such as an American football team might have a few franchise players at different positions. The term may be used alongside a particular position name to describe a player, such as a "franchise quarterback".
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In the United States, outstanding players were referred to as "franchises" at least as far back as the 1950s. By the 1970s, the concept of a "franchise" player who single-handedly generates success was commonly understood in the sporting trade. The term franchise player was in widespread use by the early 1980s to describe both star rookies like John Elway and Kelvin Bryant and veterans like George Brett. While the term is primarily associated with North American English and sports, it is sometimes used in reference to athletes in sports outside the United States, such as rugby league and soccer players. It has frequently been applied since the advent of free agency in sports, which made it less likely for players to stay with one team for their entire career.
A franchise player has the confidence of the organization and has the comfort of knowing that he would probably not be traded or released. Ideally, the franchise player would generate both wins and revenue for his team, and after a successful career, would be long remembered as a member of that team. Franchise players may have some or all of the following specific characteristics:
- They are signed to lucrative, multi-year contracts.
- They may have "no-trade" or equivalent clauses written into their contracts, giving the player the power to veto any trade in which he is involved.
- They may be promoted as the "face of the franchise" on a local and national basis. This can include the signing of product endorsement deals, media appearances and working with local charities.
The term also has a separate contractual definition within the National Football League (NFL). Any NFL team can designate a single player as its franchise player and therefore restrict the player from entering a free agency. In return, the team must pay the player a premium salary. The NFL requires that a franchise player be paid at least the average of the top 5 players in the league at his position, or 120% of his previous year's salary, whichever is greater. The franchise player status lasts for only 1 year and can be renewed, but if not renewed the player is granted unrestricted free agency.
In practice, many teams do not utilize the franchise tag; in 2008, only 12 of 32 NFL teams had a tagged franchise player. The tag, or the threat of using the tag, can be used as a negotiating tactic by the team to convince a player to sign a long-term deal with the same team. The player's alternative is to take a single highly paid year and then free agency. The player's next contract as a free agent would depend on how the player performs in the single year, and some players may decide to take the more certain long-term deal up front.
- See: Designated player
WWE's version of a franchise player has been frequently mentioned, and is defined largely on the overall sustainability of popularity a Superstar can withhold on a large audience or the Face of the company. A franchise player for the WWE can be distinguished if a particular Superstar is dubbed as the face of WWE. Notable franchise players of the WWE include Hulk Hogan, Stone Cold Steve Austin, and The Rock. The popularity of a franchise player in the WWE leaves large influences, Hogan became the franchise player of the company when he was handpicked by Vince McMahon to lead the company and take it to new heights never seen before. With Hogan in WCW, Austin took over as the franchise player and led the company during edgier TV known as the Attitude Era. His "What?" phrase is still popular among wrestling crowds, since its introduction in the early 2000s. Dwayne Johnson, who served as the franchise player after Austin, completed a successful venture into Hollywood, starring in large budget productions, therefore showing the power a franchise player can have over an audience. John Cena, who served as the franchise player after Rock and Austin, is the most polarizing franchise player. He has had a successful career outside of WWE and is still a prominent part of WWE programming to this day.
- "franchise, n. I. 2. c. (b)" OED Online. June 2003. Oxford University Press. June 2010.
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