Three weeks into the C-19 sports shutdown and we’re all going a little stir crazy, still on edge about the unknowns. So let’s take it head-on.
Some businesses are booming. If you work in life sciences, build cloud storage, sell baby chicks, or provide teleconferencing, then you’re at your maximum capacity. If you are in crowd control, ticketing, airport security, or running a gym then you’re hurting and wondering how you’re going to come back. A reordering of our economy, and subsequently the sports industry, is coming, so thinking about how we’re going to come back is important.
We think of coming back in two ways. The first bucket: What are the things that, had we done second order thinking a few years ago, would have helped sports avoid a complete stoppage or contribute to the fight against a global health crisis?. And the second: crazy stuff that should just happen because we need to think big and go big to help the industry bounce back.
Second Order Thinking
1) Sport Triage Facilities
What if every major venue in America could provide 156 hospital beds?
We could buy a 52-bed field hospital online right now for $879,258.00. (We can also buy a Russian tank for $116k, but that’s entirely a different column for a different crisis.) There are well over 150 major sport facilities in America, but let’s just use that number for the time being: 150 facilities and three field hospitals per facility equals 23,400 hospital beds. There are 925,000 hospital beds in America, according to the American Hospital Association, and having the capability to provide an immediate 2% surge would be nice in the coming weeks. The cost would total $395 million, or roughly $3 million per site. Too much you say, especially if you’re a team owner? Well think about that $3 million in the context of going to the city or the state, which allows you to ask for a tax break or land to develop because your team is a community asset. If you have the ability to provide hospital beds in a crisis, you truly are indispensable.
2) Reverse-Engineer What Healthy People Look Life
What if every elite athlete contributed his or her health data to a central database so doctors could finally study how supremely healthy human beings function at scale?
Most healthcare research starts at illness and works toward health. This is because the overarching framework of healthcare is reactive instead of proactive. Our entire system has been set up around billing codes. This system is also in the early days of the shift from what’s referred to as volume based healthcare (how many codes doctors bill to get paid) to value based healthcare (positive outcomes doctors ensure to get paid). This dynamic means doctors need to get you back to healthy—whether post sickness or post surgery—to get paid. Which means they need a playbook on how to do that, and better data on what healthy looks like.
And while we’re at it we should take some learnings from the medical model in sports. American doctors and physical therapists in America are watching two different movies. You know this if you’ve ever had surgery or experienced healthcare in the U.S. It’s not integrated or pleasant. Sports, though imperfect, can teach the general population a thing or two about communication because the doctors’ and trainers’ jobs depend on getting players back to play.
The healthiest human beings on the planet are athletes. They pour resources into their health. They eat better, train better, rest better, and sometimes have better underlying biological systems. The environmental and inherent advantages that athletes have for health should be studied at scale to create profiles on what insanely healthy humans look like—and we should all be working toward that. Hard to do? Yes. Worth doing? Yes.
3) Sport Farms
What if, within 24 hours of the NBA pressing pause on its season, every NBA, NHL, and MLB player flew to the Greater Bozeman Sport Farm?
We need sport. It’s the most important of the least important things in the world. It’s an escape unlike any other because it’s live, it’s unpredictable, and it fosters community. We gather around sport the way the earliest humans gathered around campfires. Disney+ is great, but Frozen 2 is going to end the same way every time you watch it. We need live action and unpredictable endings.
Every league and team should have a plan to play games in isolation at remote sport farms. These farms can be used between pandemics to train young athletes (just like IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., which admittedly sounds like a better setting than Bozeman). Logistical contingency plans would ensure that players can travel safely from their home cities to a remote location. Scanning technology and good old-fashioned detail mindedness can ensure teams are as safe as possible. Top quality medical doctors and support staff would ensure that we’re not putting anyone under undue risk. The Premier League is talking about doing this; will it be as good without fans? No, but it should happen. And then some startup can come along and invent a way for fans watching remotely to pipe cheering sounds into the stadium (maybe it’s even them screaming in their living rooms). Teams and leagues are already rolling out loyalty programs where you can collect “coins” and points, so there’s certainly an “economy” for fans to spend them. (People buy and give out fake medals on Reddit after all.)
To those who say we have more important things to worry about, well, you’re right. But there are also a whole bunch of people who can’t do anything about those things we need to worry most about, so they should be hard at work giving us something we crave right now: a semblance of normalcy.
Wild @ss Ideas
1) Co-Ed World Cup
What if we create a Co-Ed World Cup between men’s and women’s World Cup cycles?
This would be pure fun, and the men on the USMNT would finally have a chance to win one. Women’s soccer is exploding, and we’re obviously at an inflection point in the way the men’s game is supporting the women’s game. FIFA clearly wants new inventory to grow their revenue base. What better way to unite the world than to have a first-of-its-kind tournament. The only way you don’t like this one is if you’re so stodgy and set in your ways that you just can’t force yourself to appreciate the opportunity to see Messi and Banini vs Marta and Neymar, or Lloyd and Pulisic vs Bronze and Kane.
2) A SuperClubs Tournament: FC Barcelona + Dodgers + LA Rams + L.A. Lakers vs. Real Madrid + Yankees + New York Giants + New York Knicks in a one week super tournament.
What if all of the marquee clubs of the world paired up in a round robin tournament next year in venues where the world’s most commercially successful sports are played?
Diving into Steve’s brain for the moment: I love superbands. Temple of the Dog is still one of the greatest things to have ever happened. Chris Cornell and Eddie Vedder in the same band? My mind still explodes when I think of it. Them Crooked Vultures, leading men from the Fighters of Foo and Led Zeppelin jamming together? Just amazing.
Imagine a three-day weekend where legendary teams for “super teams” in a limited run in which money is raised for pandemic relief. This can be communally driven too, with some flexibility to include European clubs. Friday starts off with Lakers versus Knicks at Madison Square Garden. On Saturday afternoon, the Dodgers play the Yankees at Dodger Stadium. On Sunday morning the Rams play the Giants at MetLife, and then Sunday night FC Barcelona and Real Madrid play in the new L.A. Stadium. Pair up other teams across the globe, add in all the best elements of a Fan Fest, and we have something pretty fun here.
3) Freemium Model for In-Stadium Tickets
What if teams let (at least some) fans get tickets for free and use micropayments as a way to increase revenue and overall spend?
If you went to any conference last fall, every Tom, Dehra, and Harry was talking about Fortnite and micropayments. We would listen to chief digital officers and CEOs talk about how they were following new business models and how those models could help bolster business. Well, maybe some of those models will now help save their businesses.
For years the cost of attending a pro sports game for a family of four has become less attractive, especially to blue collar workers—according to Statista, the NFL is about $540, the NBA/NHL about $420), and the MLB is about $240. Meanwhile, clubs want more suites and companies/brands are pretty reliable in buying them with marketing budgets. But there is a real danger in focusing too much on those willing to pay high prices (especially if that model changes after the pandemic and pursestrings become tighter.)
What happens when a father and mother with two kids and a household income of less than $75,000 stops attending live sports? Nothing turns a kid into a sports fan like attending a live game. Nothing creates better lifelong memories. Nothing. The long-tail attrition of kids not growing up sport lovers will catch up with every league eventually. We’ve all secretly known this for a long time, but the hamster wheel of revenue needed from ticketing has prevented us from rethinking our models. Well, the hamster wheel ain’t turning right now, and we need to get it moving fast again when we’re back to business. The lifetime value of a sports fan captured at age 12 versus 25 is worth the attempt to at least think about how we adjust our models for luring fans back to live sport.
We fully recognize that these are half-baked and slightly out there ideas, but that’s the point. We need more crazy stuff right now as we begin to rethink how sport creates value in the future. How can we change our models, our operations, and our place in the world to ensure that businesses not only survive, but thrive?
Got any crazy ideas? Shoot us a line at [email protected] and we’ll publish the craziest and most fun ones in a future column.