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Archive for February, 2011


10 different teams have represented the NFC in the Superbowl over the last ten years. It has been 7 years since a team repeated as Superbowl champion. This competitive parity is loved by fans and the NFL has been prospering as a result, becoming America’s undisputed number 1 sport. This most recent Superbowl became the most-watched show in US television history, beating out last year’s Superbowl to set a new record of 111 million viewers.

Just like societies, the outcome you get in sports league is a result of the rules you put in place. You can design around the principal of equality, trying to give everyone an equal chance at success, or you can allow the advantages of geography and history to predominate.

Of all the professional sporting leagues in America the NFL has the most progressive structure, underpinned by a socialist split of TV revenue on an equal basis between all 32 teams regardless of the size of their local market. No one exemplifies the possibilities of this structure more than the Green Bay Packers.

The town of Green Bay, Wisconsin has a population of just over 102,000, or about 3,000 fewer than watched the Superbowl live at Cowboys Stadium on Sunday. It is amazing that it can sustain a professional team at all, let alone a champion. But with an equal split of the NFL’s billion-dollar TV deal and a salary cap which restricts all franchises to the same rough salary budget it is possible, and one of football’s original and most storied teams has continued to thrive into the present.

And it’s not just the Packers. The Pittsburgh Steelers may have been the losers of this past Superbowl but have won more Superbowls overall than any other team. Pittsburgh may be much bigger than Green Bay but is a very modest-sized city by sporting standards with a population of 311,000. Compare their success to their baseball brethren, the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The Pittsburgh Pirates last won a World Series in 1979. Unlike the NFL baseball is a world most Republicans would approve of. Teams in bigger markets reap disproportionately (or proportionately, depending on your viewpoint) the TV revenue associated with the sport, and are allowed to spend whatever they choose in the pursuit of success. This allows the New York Yankee’s to outspend the Pittsburgh Pirates by 5-to-1, over $200 million to about $40 million in 2010.

This does not necessarily condemn the smaller-market teams to perpetual disappointment – the San Francisco Giants won their first pennant in 2010 for instance, but after 54 years of trying. But almost everything has to go right for a small-market team to win while the powerhouses of New York, Philadelphia and Boston re-load year-after-year, expecting to win it all every time.

Many will argue ideologically that this is all well and good. That as in other sectors sports businesses should do what they must to maximize profits, that the Yankees should raise the revenue being in New York affords them and spend as much of it as they choose, overpaying for pitching as often as they like. But the end result is a less-valuable product than that created by the socialistic structure of Football. And this isn’t my opinion, this is dollars-and-sense and TV viewership.

Just as extreme inequality in a country eventually undermines the trust necessary to make capitalism function so too does extreme inequality in a sporting league eventually undermine the competition necessary to make the sport compelling.

And if all this wasn’t enough Green Bay’s actual ownership structure is more akin to Australian Rules Football teams than the businesses that surround them in the sporting landscape. They are in fact the only non-profit, community-owned major league professional sports team in the United States, which is what has allowed them to remain in Green Bay when so many other teams have been bought and moved.

So according to many on the right of American politics this makes not only America’s favorite sport but its current champion un-American. Awkward.

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It’s amazing to me how different starting a social change initiative is now to what I went through starting Vibewire ten years ago. There now exists the most incredible infrastructure for anyone with an idea to communicate it and find others who share your interests, to build a team of contributors from anywhere on earth and inspire people with your vision and story. It’s so easy to share your voice through blogs and microblogs. If writing is not your thing video is cheaper and more accessible than ever. Social networks make it so much easier to maintain and engage with your friends, contacts and acquaintances, to share your new idea and seek feedback and support. A growing diversity of options allows you to fundraise around your idea in a variety of ways: not only those options which have traditionally existed for registered charities but various online competitions and new crowdfunding options for all sorts of different projects.

If you’re a social entrepreneur StartSomeGood , of which I am a co-founder, exists to help you turn your ideas into action and impact. If you have a social change idea you’re ready to start working on, or you’ve done a pilot you and want to expand, or have a great idea for a new product or service, then we want to hear from you! StartSomeGood is now accepting applications to be featured on our platform when it goes live in late February.

StartSomeGood is a Kickstarter-like crowdfunding platform for social good projects. Campaigns can be run by pro-profit, nonprofit, associations and unincorporated groups. In other word, your legal status doesn’t matter; your vision and drive does.

To qualify to be featured on StartSomeGood your initiative must:

•    be social-impact focused;

•    be creating social impact through your actual operations (ie. We want to support implementers, not simply fundraising programs passing funds on);

•    have a specific project which will be funded by your StartSomeGood campaign (launching a business/organization counts as a project);

•    have a compelling pitch, watchable-video and decent marketing plan.

You can apply now at www.StartSomeGood.com/apply. StartSomeGood.com will go live before the end of the month and we would love to have you be part of it!

The world is full of entrenched problems that need new thinking, of causes that need new champions. Creating the change we need will take all of us, contributing in myriad ways. Some as the entrepreneurs; some as supporters and advocates and storytellers. There has never been a time with more ways to make a difference than the moment we live in. There has never been a better time to tell your story, share your idea and start some good.

What is the future you wish to create?

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Yesterday afternoon I listened as K exhibited patience and tact beyond what I would have been able to muster while dealing with a customer service nightmare with Blue Shield of California, her health insurance agency. She has probably spent an hour+ on the phone with them three times in the past week, trying to get what seems like a simple issue resolved.

The problem seems to stem from the fact that when she originally signed up in mid-November she wanted her insurance to start December 1, as she had other coverage until then. When her card was initially issued it indicated a start date of mid-November. She called up to request that this be changed to December 1. Not a problem the guy said and sure enough, a few days later, a new card arrived with a December 1 coverage start date.

Now Blue Shield is insisting that her coverage actually started in mid-November, and that additional funds are therefore owed. The start date can’t now be changed because a change needs to be requested within 30 days. When K explained (over and over again) that she did request that change well within 30 day deadline multiple customer service reps have just robtically repeated that their computer doesn’t show this. What their computer does show is that a card was re-issued, a card that gives a new start date of December 1. They “don’t know” why this was sent; the computer doesn’t tell them. Might it be because K had requested it, just maybe? Sure, that might be the case, but without a record in the computer there’s nothing they can do. And this isn’t just talk, the customer service staff literally are not empowered to actually solve problems. Their job is entirely to deflect blame and get you off the phone.

At the end of the call the Blue Shield woman asked “is there anything else I can do to help?” and K replied “I just want to feel that I’ve been heard and I don’t feel that.” Long silence. K: “Hello?” Blue Shield Woman: “Sorry, what do you want? My mind went blank for a minute there.” She literally couldn’t retain focus to listen to the response to the question she asked! And precisely what that response asked for was being heard. Oh irony.

This all got me thinking: surely any service that involves this type of customer interaction is ready to be dominated by a company that empowers its staff to treat people like humans, like the valued customers they are, and actually solve their problems? Just as Zappos.com was seemingly just selling shoes but was really selling itself based on superior customer service, in any sector with relatively interchangeable products companies win with service. And, honestly, it’s not so hard. Zappos allowed their people to act like real people, not script-reading automatons, and gave them the tools and permission to actually solve problems. Not only is this much more enjoyable for the customer it is also much more satisfying for the staff.

We should stop being so impressed with companies that exhibit these characteristics in the public domain such as social media but not in the private and more regular phone interactions. Comcast comes to mind. They are regularly cited for their great Twitter-enabled customer service through their @comcastcares, but have you dealt with their call center recently? It’s the typical frustrating and dehumanizing experience. What does it mean when a company makes a show of great customer service publicly but fails to follow this philosophy in their call center? It means it’s not real, it’s customer service theater, a performance designed to disguise the fact that for many people there’s no where else to turn but venting on Twitter.

Let’s save our congratulations for companies who treat both their staff and their customers in a more humane way, empowering all their customer service staff to actually perform services for their customers, rather than just pretending to behave this way in public.

Photo by Michael B via flickr (Creative Commons license).

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