There are some words that are quite meaningless, because they can mean just about anything. Words like “unit”, “module”, “aspect” and “facet”, for example. The latest word to join this rapidly expanding group is “franchise”, and that is why I wondered about this tweet that I saw on Twitter this morning:
Has any of the print media written a story about an ‘inexperienced’ CEO being appointed to lead a franchise this morning? Yes No Maybe?
Perhaps there is something that preceded it that would explain what it means, but I’m left puzzled. In the last five years or so, “franchise” has been increasingly used of sports teams. Why, I don’t know.
I tend to think of “franchise” as referring to a retail chain of shops under a common name that sell something. So one has Nandos and KFC that sell take-away cooked chicken, Wimpy and McDonalds that sell hamburgers, and so on. The “restaurants”, if they can be called that, are individually owned, but they have the same decor, use the same recipes, and sell stuff for the same price, at least in any one country where they operate. The have a licence to operate, a “franchise”, from the owner of the brand name.
But I find difficulty in seeing how this applies to a sports team, like the Dolphins, the Sharks, the Titans, Orlando Pirates, Kaizer Chiefs or Mamelodi Sundowns. I know that these teems sometimes have sponsorships from commercial firms — at one time Mamelodi Sundowns were being called “Ellerines Sundowns”. But the term “franchise” implies that there is a Mamelodi Sundowns team in every city, all wearing the same outfit in their games, and that somewhere there is a big Sundowns CEO who manages all these franchisees, and admits new ones once they have learnt the culture of the franchise.
If you refer to the Titans as a cricket team, you know they play cricket. But if you refer to them as a “franchise”, they could be selling fried chicken or hamburgers or pizza for all anyone knows.
So just as “unit” can refer to anything from an electric locomotive to a kitchen cupboard to a group of soldiers, “franchise” can now mean anything, or, more likely, nothing at all.