Is This Peak NFL?

When a sports league doesn’t seem bothered by (1) Ray Rice beating up his wife, (2) the Washington team’s racist name, (3) racism and hazing of players in Miami, (4) a coverup of extreme homophobia by Vikings staff, and (5) a history of untreated concussions for generations of players, can anyone convince me that we aren’t at peak-NFL?

The State of Minnesota just subsidized a billion-dollar stadium (which I’m not entirely opposed to), but absent from the stadium debate was an analysis of what are the odds that the NFL is in a same or better market position 30 years from now (the length of the stadium bond) than it is now.

I don’t see any possible way that the NFL isn’t at it’s peak in popularity right now (unless it—implausibly—becomes an international sport). Where would future fan growth come from? On the flip-side, there are clearly huge categories of current marginal fans who could easily stop following football if the league continues to be such a scandal-magnet. I’m pretty sure that if even a small portion of currently-marginal fans stopped watching, the economics of many of the huge media and stadium deals would collapse.

Fans, Haters, and the In Between

Football has always had die hard fans and always had people who thought it was dumb. Most of its growth (from medium-sized pro sport to THE BIGGEST pro sport) in the past 20 years can be attributed to the attraction of marginal fans (probably mostly women, though I’m speculating) who have been drawn in large part by the crazy-good improvements in TV coverage of football. My theory is that a huge number of new/marginal fans don’t need too many more reasons to say meh.

I’m not predicting an imminent collapse. I’m just confused why anyone would make long-term economic predictions based on current/historic growth rates (especially without clearly articulating where that source of growth could possibly be).

Maybe the NFL Can Prevent Its Own Demise

Also, if you accept my premise, an alternate future could be that the NFL starts to see these trends (I think they’re currently pretty blind to it) and starts making different decisions on these issues in order to be more attractive to marginal fans.

If we assume that the NFL’s long-term growth prospects require adoption by developing countries, (1) the occasional game in London probably doesn’t move that plan forward much, and (2) that might not actually help the current economic dynamics of domestic media-rights and stadium deals.

Also, I’m super skeptical that a sport with no international history, expensive equipment requirements, and growing fears about chronic injuries, is likely to suddenly become popular in South America or Africa.

Scandals Ignite Passions, But the NFL’s Risk Doesn’t Depend on Your Politics

There are plenty of emotional, political, historical variables at play here. Lots of people love or hate sports. Lots of people think these “scandals” are devastating or just a bunch of politically-correct whining. My big question doesn’t really depend on any of those things in particular, but rather is a pure risk analysis: what are the chances we are at peak-NFL vs the chance that the NFL can sustain the long-term growth explicitly baked in to the economics of its media and stadium deals.

My hypothesis is that the odds of steady decline or an acute collapse in interest in the NFL are MUCH higher than the odds (used to justify most of it’s current economics) of continued sustained growth.

Some Risks Are Foreseeable, Some Risks Are Unforeseen

I think the concussion case is likely the biggest risk to the NFL, but whether it’s injury risks, player bad behavior, cultural/demographic exclusions on issues of race and sexual orientation, or something less foreseen (a Donald Sterling-like owner scandal, or a terror attack at a stadium, or technology changes that allow people to watch games in a way that doesn’t generate revenue for teams, or something else), my only point is that a bunch of these risks are non-trivial and don’t seem to ever be included in calculations or policy debates around the long-term economics of this sport in our society.

The NFL’s Risks Don’t Depend on Whether You Are Liberal or Conservative

I’ve conceded that the personal/emotional/social/political issues involved are complicated and that reasonable people can assess any of them in totally different ways.

My point has nothing to do with the qualities or actions of Priefer or Kluwe as individuals.

My point is that the controversy itself is one of many variables that could possibly combine to make enough marginal NFL lose interest that it’s current economic basis would be unsustainable.

Maybe Americans Just Thrive on Drama

If the American public loves drama (even of the occasionally-/regularly-offensive kind) then the NFL might be OK.

My sense is that the core marginal demographic (I will grossly over-generalize and use the shorthand “moms” to describe the group of people who are current fans but are most likely to stop being fans) decides that these things have gone (or eventually go) too far, the current stadium/media arrangements won’t be sustained just by drama-seeking core fans.

[This post is adapted from a series of comments I made earlier today on Facebook].

Featured image: “Football” by Kevin Dean is licensed CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. The image has been cropped and filtered.

Solve Our Political and Economic Problems with Bad Ideas

Three years ago, Dilbert creator Scott Adams wrote one of my favorite-ever op-eds.

The piece, titled “How to Tax the Rich” provided a number of crazy (and many unconstitutional) solutions for solving our country’s economic problems.

The premise of his op-ed was to brainstorm policy reform by starting with “the bad version”—a trick Hollywood writers use when they have writer’s block. The ideas is that if you can brainstorm a number of solutions that are bad, you (1) get your creative juices flowing, but more importantly, (2) set a solution boundary by acknowledging the limits of what won’t work.
Continue reading “Solve Our Political and Economic Problems with Bad Ideas”

Peter Thiel on the Role of Technology and Globalization in Our Economy

Peter Thiel tends to be best known as an investor and entrepreneur. He is a co-founder of PayPal and the first investor in Facebook, both of which have made him wealthy and well-known.

I tend to be more interested in Peter Thiel for his regular and careful analysis of economic and technology trends. Though Thiel is a self-described conservative libertarian and Ron Paul supporter, his analysis tends to be more nuanced and thoughtful than a lot of people give it credit for.

Two weeks ago he gave a fascinating talk at the DLD 2013 Conference entitled “Developing the Developed World”. Thiel’s analysis mostly centers on the prospects for economic growth in the foreseeable future. His analysis takes into account both the instability related to our recent economic crisis, as well as the prospect that much of the growth that previously drove our economy may have been an historical anomaly.

Growth from Globalization or Technology Innovation?

Thiel’s primary thesis categorizes the two driving factors of the future of our economy as globalization and technological innovation. In Thiel’s view, globalization is the economic growth from copying existing technologies and models from the developed world to the developing world. Technological innovation, on the other hand, is growth derived from the creation of new things. Thiel’s conclusion is that sustainable growth requires strategies to pursue both.

As TechCrunch reported:

In Thiel’s view, four things are likely to happen to the current group of developed countries. Growth and innovation can continue at a decelerating rate, they can enter a cyclical pattern of growth and collapse, completely collapse, or continue to accelerate. In the end, of course, the only acceptable option in his view is accelerated growth.

Exponential Technology Growth: The Singularity

Since Thiel’s prescription emphasizes the need for innovation growth to accelerate, rather than stagnate, Thiel focuses on the potential for continued exponential growth in computing power and software. Thiel is a well-known supporter of singularity studies, the prediction that exponential technological progress will lead to a point in the near future where artificial intelligence outpaces collective human intelligence and leads to a new era of rapid progress. In the DLD speech, Thiel notes the continued importance of Moore’s Law and accelerating innovation growth as a potential driver of economic recovery. He cites examples such as the future of self-driving cars, and bioinformatics as possible technologies to lead this growth.

This is fun stuff to think about.

I’m excited see if some of these themes are given more depth in Peter Thiel’s up-coming book “The Blueprint: Reviving Innovation, Rediscovering Risk, and Rescuing the Free Market”

You can watch Peter Thiel’s entire 50-minute talk at the DLD Conference is here:

November 2012 GRIP Project Updates

We have a number of exciting recent project updates for the Global Robotics Innovation Park (GRIP).

Site Selection Update

We continue to move forward on identifying the best potential site for the Global Robotics Innovation Park in the Twin Cities. We have researched and toured dozens of sites in the past six months and have assembled a long list of site criteria.

We have begun conversations with the owners of a few potential properties and are hopeful that these conversation might lead to a site selection announcement soon.

In the meantime, we are always open to considering additional sites. If you know of a suitable property in the Twin Cities metro area, please let us know.
Continue reading “November 2012 GRIP Project Updates”

Global Robotics Innovation Park (GRIP) Selects Award-Winning Architecture Team to Lead Robotics Park Design Efforts

Nationally Renowned Architects will Incorporate Cutting-Edge Robotic Construction Methods into Project Design

The Global Robotics Innovation Park (GRIP) announced today that it has selected Minneapolis-based Coen + Partners and Michigan-based Monica Ponce de Leon Studio to lead the master planning and architectural design efforts for the GRIP campus.

Drawing from the success of past collaborations and complimentary skill sets, Coen + Partners has united with Monica Ponce de Leon Studio for the site selection and feasibility phase of the Global Robotics Innovation Park development.
Continue reading “Global Robotics Innovation Park (GRIP) Selects Award-Winning Architecture Team to Lead Robotics Park Design Efforts”

Global Robotics Innovation Park (GRIP) Named a Tekne Award Finalist

The Minnesota High Tech Association (MHTA) has named the Global Robotics Innovation Park (GRIP) as a finalist in the robotics and automation category for the 2012 Tekne Awards, which will be held at the Minneapolis Convention Center on Thursday, Nov. 1. The Tekne Award finalists are selected by an independent panel of judges and recognize Minnesota companies and individuals who have shown superior technology innovation and leadership.

We are excited that our early efforts to develop GRIP are already receiving recognition from Minnesota’s business and technology community.
Continue reading “Global Robotics Innovation Park (GRIP) Named a Tekne Award Finalist”

Global Robotics Innovation Park Launches Twin Cities Robotics Meetup

We recently launched the Twin Cities’ first robotics-related Meetup, in collaboration between the Global Robotics Innovation Park (GRIP) and Robotics Alley.

The Twin Cities Robotics Meetup will bring together roboticists, hackers, entrepreneurs, hobbyists, engineers, professionals, funders, and enthusiasts in the Twin Cities to meet and discuss robotic technology, cool robot trends, new start-ups, and efforts to put Minnesota on the robotics map.
Continue reading “Global Robotics Innovation Park Launches Twin Cities Robotics Meetup”

Global Robotics Innovation Park Featured in Sunday Pioneer Press

This week’s Sunday Pioneer Press featured extensive coverage of our Global Robotics Innovation Park (GRIP) project.

The article, “Entrepreneur scouting locations for Twin Cities robotics incubator“, discusses the opportunity for Minnesota to create a national cluster for the robotics industry.

[A] place [like GRIP], local supporters say, might help Minnesota catch up to the country’s robotics leaders and help drive what they say will be a coming robotics revolution.

“Nobody in the middle of the U.S. has really stood up,” Street, GRIP’s CEO, said. “We’re trying to move as quickly as we can to really take advantage of this industry while it’s really not settled.”

It is a big unknown how seriously Minnesota wants to commit to Street’s vision and chase robotics.

It would require commitment not just from local academic institutions but also businesses and government to support such a project, observers from other parts of the country said. The price tag is unknown, and the payoff is not guaranteed.

The article also mentioned the research study we recently commissioned on the impact of robotics and automation on Minnesota’s economy.

Featured image: “Army Robotics Rodeo” by David Axe is licensed CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. The image has been cropped and filtered.