Ron Conway’s Favorite Investment

Ron Conway

In this clip of his OZY interview, Conway talks about his favorite investment right now (besides OZY, of course).There’s a good chance that at some point today you will use a product that exists, in part, because of Ron Conway. Conway isn’t simply an investor. He’s an early investor, which means he puts his money into startups when they’re just a few people and a big idea. No surprise that the role is dubbed angel investor—who else would give you money at that stage?—and Conway is one of the best known in Silicon Valley. Over the years, he’s helped launch companies like Google, PayPal and Facebook. Full disclosure: Conway’s also an investor in OZY. 

The Fabulousness of International Fight Week

Rich Franklin vs Wanderlei Silva. One guy hitting another in the face, both of them with expressive reactions, fighting in the ring

The United Nations General Assembly kicked off its global celebration of “happy” with March 20th’s International Day of Happiness way back in June 2012, and it took a mere two years for what? For the antidote to end all antidotes to emerge on OZY’s horizon line.

Which is to say, alongside Administrative Professionals’ Day, International Beer Day and International Day Drinking Day, our newest and nextest personal favorite international celebration is International Fight WEEK (too good for just a day, we guess). Cooked up by the cage-fighting folks at the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and held July 1 through the 6th in Las Vegas, International Fight Week is either the crassest example yet of corporate co-option of the spirit of International Days of Celebration, a perfectly genius promotional ploy, or a true tribute to the universal love of mano a mano dispute management.

”The Independence Day thing is a nice touch,” said Nathan Lee Wilcox, League Manager for Combat Sports at SB Nation (and, total disclosure: my occasional co-commentator on the MMA Tete-a-Tete video podcast). ”But I guess, for many, 51 long weeks of peace and quietude is too much. So probably: all of the above.”

So, any and all of the above, and internationally speaking, more fight love than you could shake an angry stick at.

The week itself is anchored by UFC 175, which features a championship bout between Lyoto Machida, the challenger, and Chris Weidman, the champion at 185 pounds. There’s also a geektastic fan expo and ”Community Days” which we imagine feature, um, fighting? Pool parties with fighters and ring girls that will probably inevitably lead to fighting, free concerts with, we’d hope, fight-themed music, and a fight-related bake sale.

gghhh

Author + fighter “Big Ben” Rothwell

Source M. Spicuzza

OK. We made up that last bit about the bake sale, but the point remains: if combat sport is your cup of tea, then International Fight Week is the pot. Of tea. Overdone and overblown, chockfull of celebs from both inside the cage and out, and from inside the U.S. and out, International Fight Week is just what the doctor ordered for those hardcore fight fanatics and those who previously preferred life minus punches.

”Look, if you’re not a fan before this fight week, and this week doesn’t convince you, you’ll probably never be one,” former sports agent Sal Russo said. ”And if you’re still a fan after this week, you’re probably going to be one for life.”

You going?

“This is going to be like the SuperBowl for our sport,” says Russo. “But with planes of people coming in from Russia, Japan, Brazil, England and all over the rest of Europe? This is precisely the kind of thing they invented the phrase ‘must-see’ for.”

Five days of unremitting/unrelenting combat sport love. See you there.

Onyx Takes You to the Last Dayz

Man in foreground with piece sign, man behind looking on

Not everyone is in love with Pharrell Williams’ super sun-shiny pop hit, “Happy.”

“Whenever it comes on in the car, I… I… turn it off. I can’t listen to that shit, straight up,” says a Fredro Starr, with a razor sharp voice and quick laugh. He’s one-third of the boistorious and gritty Queens, New York rap trio, Onyx. Sticky Fingaz and Sonny Seeza complete the three (Seeza isn’t featured on the new album Wakedafucup. “Communication got lost over the years with Son. We never broke up. I still speak to Son See on the regular,” says Starr). A former fourth member, Big DS left the group after the first album and passed away from cancer in 2003.

The rhyming-wrecking crew formed in the late 80s in the South Jamaica section of Queens. Not far from where hip-hop legends Run-DMC grew up. So it was pretty much fate that the group ended up being discovered and produced by Run-DMC’s DJ, the now late-great Jam Master Jay.

Rap group Oynx circa 2000.

Rap group Oynx circa 2000.

Source Al Pereira/Getty

Hitting the scene with trademark baldheads, military jackets, black hoodies and Timberland boots, they shifted the hip-hop landscape with brash, vulgar and unapologetic street raps. They defined the rebel culture of corner-standing youngsters from New York. Even their logo is mad. The group’s first official single on Def Jam Records was 1992’s “Throw Ya Gunz”. Politically correct they were not.

Now, straight from the acting world, Sticky and Starr have returned to music. Sparked by the recent 20th anniversary – in October 2013 – of their classic debut album, Bacdafucup, the fellas find themselves with a new album, (their 8th) this month. The project is produced entirely by German beatmakers, The SnowGoons, titled Wakedafucup. “We named the album Wakedafucup because hip-hop is sleeping. The hip-hop that we know is sleeping. This album is dedicated to boom bap hip-hop,” Starr explains. They stay true to their original gritty style with today’s underground banger, “We Don’t Fuckin’ Care” featuring hardcore rappers Sean Price and ASAP Ferg.

Yet even among all the shiny-and-new, when asked about a memorable show that the guys have had, Starr doesn’t hesitate with the answer: “There was a show that we did on the ’Survival of the Illest’ tour, I’ll never forget, it was in Trenton or Newark, New Jersey, 1996. And ’Last Dayz’ was like the joint at the time and I told everybody in the audience that, ‘Yo, we got the power to take over the world. We could do what the fuck we want to do.’ When I said that, the whole crowd just got vibrant. I had to stand back and say, ‘Yo, these are powerful words coming out my mouth.’ You can control people’s emotions with this shit. ’Last Dayz’ had [them] in a trance. It was a feeling of anger, angst…but people was letting go. It was a release, cus nobody got shot! From being on stage, the crowd reaction…throwing chairs, it was the illest five minute brawl I’d ever seen.”

Relive the moment with Onyx as they perform “Last Dayz” (around the 3:37 mark), which speaks on the ills of the world and the struggle of personal strain. See how the other side of “Happy” lives.

Minnesota Hotdish

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., gets on an elevator on Capitol Hill on Monday, Oct. 14, 2013 in Washington.

When asked whether she’s going to run for president, Senator Amy Klobuchar might say something like this:

“The joke is that in Minnesota, new moms bounce their babies on their knees and say, ‘One day, you could run for vice-president.’” 

Or, as the second-term senator told OZY:

“I’ve been very supportive of Hillary Clinton running. I think she’d be a great president, and right now I love being senator.”

Notice that “right now”?

Klobuchar herself is the antithesis of flashy.

Klobuchar is a superstar in Minnesota. Her approval ratings there approach 70 percent. Her mentor, former Vice President Walter Mondale, considers her “the most popular and respected leader in Minnesota’s history.” Some see a direct lineage from President Hubert Humphrey, to Mondale, to Klobuchar. By all accounts, she’s hard-working, smart, conscientiously bipartisan and immensely likable.

Walter in suit with glasses on smiling speaking from podium

U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) (R)

No question Klobuchar wants to be more than senator. Behind her affable demeanor is an overachieving pol who drives her staff as hard as she drives herself. She appears regularly on “If not Hillary in 2016, then who?” lists, and whenever she visits Iowa, the press reminds readers that politicians never accidentally visit Iowa.

“I clearly like going around the country and helping my colleagues,” Klobuchar says, noting she had recently traveled or would travel to Texas, Arizona and North Carolina.

The question is whether Klobuchar’s low-key, practical and sometimes-goofy style will play outside Minnesota. For all their virtues, which are abundant, Midwesterners sometimes lack the glamor and hint of danger we tend to crave in national leaders.*  

*As a Midwesterner, this reporter has license to tease Midwesterners. 

Klobuchar herself is the antithesis of flashy. No blinding Bachmann lip gloss, no Pelosian blowouts. Washingtonian Magazine deemed her one of the two senators least likely to get into a scandal. (The other was Orrin Hatch.) And her appearance—short brown hair, minimal makeup, unremarkable wardrobe—is as careful as her politics. Despite the legions that support her, Klobuchar won’t be leading the charge to the barricades anytime soon.

Then again, some might look at the state of our democracy—shutdowns, dumb fights, legislative gridlock, polarizing rhetoric– and think a dose of Klobuchar is exactly what we need right now.

Despite the fact that she’s a Democrat, I still like her.

“I’ve looked at all the hyper-partisanship and I truly believe that being bold is looking for common ground,” says Klobuchar. Courage, she says, sometimes means standing “next to someone you don’t always agree with for the betterment of our country.”

Klobuchar likes to note that two-thirds of the bills she sponsors have a Republican co-sponsor—among them, immigration reform legislation that would revamp visa requirements for tech workers and invest in STEM education here.

More than that, though, is the affection she seems to elicit from across the aisle.

“Despite the fact that she’s a Democrat, I still like her,” says Charlie Weaver, head of the Minnesota Business Partnership. “I’ve put up with her and her liberal ways for a long time.”

But seriously, folks. Weaver counts himself as a friend and commends Klobuchar’s support of Minnesota’s business community. Klobuchar is authentic, he says. “She votes with the president 90 percent of the time, but she’s well liked, and very, very well liked and respected by the business community.”

She’s gone to bat for the state’s biotech industry, urging the repeal of a medical devices tax, and for Minnesota-based General Mills, asking the FTC to roll back voluntary guidelines related to sugar labeling. As important is her attitude, which seems genuinely respectful and positive toward business: She’s as likely to call a CEO to congratulate him on a favorable profile in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune as she is to name-check local companies in the recipe for her entry to the annual Hotdish contest. (Her entry this year, a freezer pie named “It’s So Cold My Hotdish Froze,” garnered runner-up.)

Business support is key to her politics. The recession and jobs hemorrhage made Klobuchar “step back and ask—how do we be a country that makes stuff again and exports stuff to the world instead of just churning money around,” she says. It doesn’t always sit well with progressives. 

U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) (R) jokes about her excitement that there are enough women in the U.S. Senate to cause a

Newly elected members of the U.S Senate Democratic majority meet with their party leadership

But their main complaint concerns something else: Klobuchar is overly cautious, they say, eager to champion easy wins (like legislation that makes swimming pools safer), but not willing to stick her neck out on issues that might alienate conservatives. The diss goes something like: “Well, there’s Amy Kobuchar, leading on pool drains.”

I think she’s been looking at the presidency forever.

That’s not quite fair. Just last week she was campaigning for the Senate’s bill to hike the minimum wage, which she cosponsored. Moreover, even those who wish Klobuchar were bolder on issues like inequality concede she might not have much choice. “There’s not a lot of common ground to be found in DC, but to her credit, she is able to find it,” says Dan McGrath, executive director of Take Action Minnesota, a grassroots organization.

Still, observers suspect that excessive caution could become a liability. Without a signature piece of legislation or a position in Congressional leadership, Klobuchar does not yet have the profile that would support national politicking. “You have to be around for a long time to have that kind of sway, and she’s not at that level yet,” says Larry Jacobs, a political scientist at the University of Minnesota.

But it’s also clear Klobuchar, 53, is playing the long game. “I think she’s been looking at the presidency forever,” says Jacobs. Her resume is wholly Type A. As a Yale undergrad, she interned at the office of Vice President Mondale. (Klobuchar likes to quip that “she was an intern in Washington when it was safe,” Mondale wrote in an email to OZY.) Her senior thesis investigated the decade-long legislative fight to build Minnesota’s Superdome. It was published as a book.

Klobuchar studied law at the University of Chicago, where she was on the law review. She returned to Minnesota and made partner at two law firms before turning to public service. In 1998, she was elected Hennepin County attorney—chief prosecutor in Minnesota’s most populous county. She ran for senator in 2005 and won reelection in a landslide, 65 to 30 percent.

Along the way, she’s cultivated an approachable, folksy demeanor. “If you knew her 20 years ago you wouldn’t say, ’That’s a folksy person.’ She’s really worked at it,” Jacobs says. “It’s genuine, it’s not a put-on. But she’s also been very conscious of creating an aura around herself of, ‘oh, shucks.’ And the humor thing, too.” 

Oh, yes, the humor thing. President Obama isn’t the only one who half-jokingly calls Klobuchar Minnesota’s funniest senatorreally quite something when you consider the competition is Al Franken, formerly of SNL. Klobuchar is astoundingly good at stand-up. Whatever boldness she lacks on the Senate floor, she’s got in spades behind the podium. Just check out her jokes and the belly laughs they elicited at the GridIron dinners she headlined in 2009 and 2013

Some liken her to a duck gliding along the water, seemingly unruffled above the surface and paddling furiously underneath the surface.

But most of the ribbing is affectionate. 

Klobuchar and Franken take turns appearing at an annual dinner hosted by the Minnesota Business Partnership. Last year was Franken’s turn, and that occasioned some teasing in absentia. The joke went: “If this were the Iowa Business Roundtable, Amy would have been here, no question.”  

Air America + the Rise of Rachel Maddow

Rachel Maddow draped by an American flag smiling on white backdrop

As The Flipside, billed as yet another “conservative version” of The Daily Show, gets set to launch this fall, it’s a good time to remember that the American media landscape is littered with the corpses of conservative comedians, liberal talk-radio hosts and others who have tried to play against political type or media genre.

Case in point: 10 years ago, Air America Radio, a nationwide progressive talk radio network, promoted as the left’s response to Rush Limbaugh, took to the airwaves. “We will bring a fresh new voice to America’s ears,” promised its chief executive, Mark Walsh, amid the massive fanfare that accompanied the launch in March 2004.

“There’s no liberal echo chamber in this country,” observed comedian, Air America DJ and current U.S. Senator from Minnesota Al Franken, who pledged to provide one and help defeat incumbent George W. Bush in that year’s presidential election.

As 2004 would show, the American left was not ready to win a presidential election or dominate the talk-radio circuit.

With the election approaching, a fiercely divided polity and blue-state America geared up to bring down the much-loathed Bush, it seemed like the ideal time for progressives to get behind the mic. And with several big-name liberal entertainers — Franken, Janeane Garofalo, rapper Chuck D — anchoring a lineup of fresh young talent, Air America went straight for the jugular. The new network’s flagship show, Franken’s The O’Franken Factor (a play on Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly’s The O’Reilly Factor), aired opposite Limbaugh, to this day the nation’s most popular talk-radio host.

But, as 2004 would show, despite the rhetoric and the wrath, the American left was not ready to win a presidential election or dominate the talk-radio circuit.

The network may have launched with a swank $70,000 party, attended by stars like Tim Robbins and Yoko Ono who sipped red, white and blue vodka cocktails, but just six weeks in it was struggling to pay its bills — and the debt-ridden, blue-state ensemble was seeing mostly red. And whatever Air America’s anchors may have thought about Rush Limbaugh, they quickly learned that what the conservative commentator managed to do for hours on a daily basis — entertain, provoke and pontificate — was not easy, especially when many of your top voices have no background in radio.

Air America stabilized after the initial turbulence and stayed on air for six more years before filing for bankruptcy in 2010, by which point it had fallen victim to greater forces: radio listeners trending older, liberals trending younger, and NPR, MSNBC and other more established outlets satisfying the needs of core demographics.

Still, it wasn’t a total defeat for the voice of liberal America. The network gave Franken a pedestal ahead of his successful Senate bid, the Democrats re-took the Senate and Barack Obama was elected under its watch, and it helped launch the careers of many, including Cenk Uygur, Marc Maron and Randi Rhodes.

Perhaps the biggest star to rise from the ashes was Rachel Maddow, the host of MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show, now the flagship show of the cable news network.

Nearly 6 feet tall, openly gay, unabashedly liberal and a self-described nerd, it was hard to imagine, even 10 years ago, that someone matching Maddow’s description would become a major cable news personality.

But Maddow’s ability, not unlike Limbaugh’s, to combine humor and levity with outrage and argument was apparent from the very first episode of Air America’s version of her show, which debuted on April 15, 2005.

Not bad for someone whose friends had convinced her to walk on to a local radio audition ‘on a lark’ five years before. 

She opens by joking about being a non-morning person who must start work at midnight, then lambasts the “shame-faced House Democrats” voting for a Bush-backed bankruptcy bill, before deftly moving to her geek specialty: policy explication. Dissecting complicated subjects from the oil-for-food program in Iraq to how the U.S. tax system subsidizes non-wage earners, she explains her often-arcane interests by noting that her mother watched the “Watergate hearings for the entire time she was pregnant with me.”

Not bad for someone whose friends had convinced her to do a local radio audition “on a lark” five years before. Or for someone who Air America initially brought in to fill the third chair of its morning show Unfiltered, starring Chuck D of Public Enemy and Daily Show creator Lizz Winstead.

Still, Air America producers knew what they were doing when they hired Maddow away from her Big Breakfast show at “The River” WRSI in Northampton, Massachusetts. For those who didn’t know her, she might’ve seemed little more than a “filler third chair on the morning show,” says Matthew Traub, managing director at DKC, which helped launch the upstart network. (Editor’s note: OZY is a DKC client.) “[But] it was pretty clear to us from the very beginning that that there was something special about her.”

Not only was Maddow knowledgeable and articulate about a range of subjects, but she was also comfortable in her own skin and quickly became a big hit with listeners.

“She’s somebody who knows everything about everything,” Winstead said, and it was not long before Maddow was, as Chuck D observed, “steer[ing] the bus” from the third chair.


“It came out purple, but I did it again to get it blue,” she would later admit.
A Stanford graduate and the first openly gay candidate to win a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford, where she earned a doctorate in politics, Maddow had learned how to wear both her politics and her sexual orientation on her sleeve, and defend them vigorously. Indeed, as a “symbolic gesture” that she had not sold out to “the establishment,” Maddow shaved most of her hair after winning the Rhodes, dying the rest of it blue.

Today, even though Maddow may be an anchor who “disdains the conventions of TV news,” she has clearly become a part of its establishment — while remaining far closer to blue than purple on the political spectrum. (“He’s a centrist Democrat. I’m a liberal,” she says of President Obama.)

But Maddow is also a realist. When asked if Air America would ever provide an “effective counterpoint” to conservative talk-radio, she demurred, saying, “In talk radio we are still in a humongously right-wing universe … [and as to] whether or not we’ve tilted the playing field so it’s level — no way! Not even close.”

“Not even close” might have been a fitting epitaph for the Air America effort, but that’s not the whole picture.

“Talk radio doesn’t need ‘balance,’ ” Jay Severin, a longtime political commentator and radio host, remarked around the time of Air America’s demise. “In the larger scope of American media, talk radio is the balance.”

Will The Flipside fare any better when it debuts in the fall, or will it too stumble when it tries to upend the established media landscape?

Many of us will be watching closely, except when we’re not.

This piece was originally published March 31, 2014, and updated as of Nov. 4, 2014.

OZY on That Feminism Thing

Woman looking back at camera in front of window.

Lactation Dissident

Says OZY writer Rachel Levin, oh so fearlessly: Breast-feeding sucks. She doesn’t mean this in some politically charged, rah-rah feminist, ”F*** you, Bloomberg, and your formula prohibition” kind of way. And she says she doesn’t much care if moms post breast-feeding photos on Facebook, Beyoncé whips ‘em out in public or 5-year-olds still suckle. (Although, really, what’s that all about?) But after having to nurse her newborn for, like, the 12th time in 24 hours, Levin was ready to call bullshit on the whole bonding thing.

Looking for the Part-Time Sheryl Sandberg

OZY contributor Anna Nordberg wrote this blowup piece for us, and here’s just a taste: ”If you told me five years ago that I would leave a full-time job I loved to spend more time with my son, I would have thought you were crazy. Full-time working parenthood has always been a pillar of feminism to me, based on my own mother, whose fleeting experiment with freelancing from home was so disastrous that the family breathed a collective sigh of relief when she stopped cooking dinner and went back to the office, and the Earth was put back on its axis.”

Frozen Egg Fund

”Single ladies, you know you want to,” says OZY tribe member Pooja Bhatia. In fact, you wish you had already — like 10 years ago. Admit it. Despite your justified resentment of the way certain media outlets bait fertility fears for sales and clicks, despite the 2 a.m. Internet surfing that reveals egg-freezing is like an insurance policy that often doesn’t pay out, despite a nagging suspicion that cryopreservation is some misogynistic hoax, you nonetheless wish you’d frozen those little suckers right around the time you got your master’s degree.

In Rwanda, Women Rule

Young woman in Kigali, Rwanda.

America may have launched feminist icons from Gloria Steinem (famously turning 80 this month) to Washington power brokers from Lindy Boggs to Hillary Clinton. But Rwanda is putting us to shame. 

Sixty-four percent of the lower house of the Rwandan Parliament are women. They represent the largest percentage of women in a national governing body in the world, elected in the fall of 2013. In fact, no other country comes close. Little Andorra has 14 female representatives out of 28. Every other nation tallies less than half. 

How the tiny and historically troubled nation achieved this serves as a lesson in rising from the ashes. April marks the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, when up to 1 million people died during 100 days of terror, most of them men.

When the bloodshed stopped, women had to pick up the pieces of a patriarchal society. Before the killings, women stayed home with children and worked the fields while the men sought wages elsewhere. Inheritance laws favored fathers and sons. But after the genocide, women formed a key part of the recovery.

Millions of dollars of international aid supported women’s rebuilding efforts. In 1999, laws changed to give women equal footing on inheritances. A later bill addressed land ownership. Another restricted domestic abuse. 

Quotas written into Rwanda’s national constitution in 2003 require women to occupy 30 percent of all decision-making bodies in government.

That’s not to say Rwandan women have life easy. Take reproductive health, for example: almost half of all pregnancies are unintended, and almost half of those end in abortions (many clandestine). The infant mortality rate has dropped slightly in recent years, but it’s still far from more medically-advanced nations: 39 for every 1,000 births. In the U.S., it’s 6 deaths for every 1,000 infants. Education is another touchstone. The female literacy rate in Rwanda is 78 percent, according to the United Nations. Nearby Kenya: 94 percent.

But experts agree women in Rwanda have made great strides in two decades, and the parliamentary numbers reflect that. The biggest change regarding women’s rights in government may have come from quotas written into the national constitution in 2003, which required women to occupy 30 percent of all decision-making bodies in government. That’s when the big changes in government started. 

It’s hard to imagine quotas for women in government passing in the U.S. But maybe it’s time to consider some more drastic measures, considering that the U.S. ties for 83rd in the number of women in the legislature internationally, barely above the conservative United Arab Emirates (85th).

Even Cuba does better (by far). 

Are you listening, Washington?

Taking the Game to the Fans

Man wearing 3D glasses staring at flat screen tv with a football.

When was the last time you actually went to a game? 

You’re not alone. Most of us have not attended a pro sporting event for a long time. Attendance rates at most major U.S. sports, from football to basketball to major league baseball, which opens this week, have declined or leveled off over the past few years — with no foreseeable end in sight.

What can our favorite teams do to get more of us through the turnstile? Simple: Bring the turnstile closer. Collect our tickets while we lounge in the living room or multitask on our iPads. It’s time to embrace the fully-wired, HD-home theater venue that is the future of sports fandom and start growing the stay-at-home, digital fan base.

It’s time for virtual season tickets.

Declining Attendance, Not Interest

“The drop-off in attendance for live sporting events is getting worse,” says Lee Igel, a professor of sports management at New York University.

According to Igel, there are a number of factors at play, from a recovering economy to bad weather to higher ticket prices. But for many fans, it boils down to this: Once you add up the traffic, the parking and the costly concessions, it gets harder to justify spending 5-6 hours of your life at a stadium event when you have HD TV, an array of Internet options and a really comfy couch waiting for you at home.

Take our ticket from us while we lounge in the living room or multitask on our iPads.

To stem declining attendance rates, many pro sports franchises have tried to enhance “the stadium experience.” They’ve expanded food offerings to include sushi and gourmet salads, added post-game concerts and fireworks, and bolstered stadium WiFi. Some NFL teams have even installed large stadium screens to make it easier for fans to watch other games and track their fantasy teams.

But it doesn’t appear to be enough. According to a recent ESPN poll, just 29 percent of NFL fans said they would prefer to watch a game in the stadium, down from 41 percent in 1998.

Man catching virtual football

Source Jeff Minton/Gallery Stock

Declining attendance rates, however, do not signal declining interest. By one estimate, more than 200 million fans in the U.S. are interested in regularly following their favorite pro sports team, but only a tiny fraction of those  (3.2 million) actually buy season tickets. The level of commitment may be there, but many fans simply cannot make good on that commitment given limitations on their time and finances.

Many fans already act like virtual season-ticket holders — they just put together the package for themselves.

Besides, for the millions of us who do not live close to a pro team or who have family, work and other demands on our time, it doesn’t matter if they start serving dollar caviar in the bleachers; we just aren’t going to become regular attendees, much less season ticket holders.

Or at least not traditional season-ticket holders.

The Virtual Season-Ticket Package

The very same factors that conspire against the turnstile point toward the future of sports fandom and a host of untapped revenue sources. The future is the virtual season-ticket package

How might it work? Well, it starts with consolidating the diverse range of existing services. Many fans already act like virtual season-ticket holders — they just put together the package for themselves. A baseball fan might, for example, subscribe to MLB.TV to watch games online, visit official team websites, participate in unofficial fan club events and interact with other fans and even players through an assortment of social media outlets and fan blogs.

Since the leagues and teams control most of the underlying assets driving fan interest in these activities, there’s no reason that they can’t be the ones to bundle them together and offer them to fans through a single portal.

“Think of the current market of season-ticket holder benefits as hundreds of pick-up sticks. The virtual season ticket could bring order to this chaos,” claims Andy Dolich, former COO of the San Francisco 49ers and executive VP of the Oakland Athletics, who has been a leading proponent of the idea.

Such a package would capture revenues from already engaged fans and facilitate additional engagement from casual fans — all, as Dolich suggests, “without cannibalizing existing team profit centers.” The broadcasts of undersold home games could still be blacked out in local markets to protect gate receipts, though hopefully expanded virtual offerings would help accelerate the trend toward a less draconian use of this tactic in the NFL, MLB and other leagues.

For a team like the Tampa Bay Rays — with an outdated stadium and low attendance levels — attracting fans in Seoul or Caracas could be a game-changer.

In addition to packaging existing assets, teams could provide virtual season-ticket holders with new online experiences in much the same way that some franchises have already started to offer regular season-ticket holders “augmented reality” and other perks. These add-ons could range from behind-the-scenes access to the clubhouse and team road trips to direct engagement with players, coaches and ownership to new fantasy and social gaming options.

The possibilities abound for raising the level of engagement for existing, casual fans. But the best reason for teams to go virtual is to attract new fans — perhaps millions of them from around the world.

Opening New Markets

No doubt, watching sports will continue to evolve, just like watching television has already. Some viewers will seek out on-demand offerings to consume as they have the time; others will seek out forums in which they can interact live with others as games and events unfold. Pro teams and leagues should be encouraging these trends and capturing value from them. 

One way the virtual season ticket could do this is by providing a gateway for teams to tap into foreign markets to expand their fan bases. And it pays to be a first mover in this market: As shown by the Brooklyn Dodgers and the African-American community in the late 1940s, and again more recently by the Seattle Mariners and their Japanese fan base, communities of supporters remain loyal — for decades even — to the franchises that first make a concerted effort to embrace them. 

The benefits from investing in a global, virtual fan base are even more pronounced for small-market teams. For a team like the Tampa Bay Rays, who must compete with big-market titans like the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox every year — with an outdated stadium and low attendance levels — attracting fans in Seoul or Caracas could be a game-changer.

Sure, the taste of a hot dog and the smell of the grass are nice, but not shelling out $8 for that weiner is also pretty nice. And if Major League Baseball is willing to schedule Opening Day at the Sydney Cricket Ground in a bid to expand the sport’s horizons, then surely it won’t mind bringing the game a little bit closer to you as well. You can always pop outside between innings for that hit of fresh air.

From Fire Hose … to Furniture?

Red rolled up rubber firehose with metal nozzles.

Move over salvaged wood. A new material needs a second life. Fire hoses. Yes, the ones that gush water, extinguish flames and save lives. Made with synthetic material built to be indestructible, fire hoses become somewhat of an environmental nuisance when they are decommissioned after 10 years. They are landfill-bound and non-biodegradable.

A pity really, considering their heroic history as well as their pretty darn nice aesthetics. Chances are you probably haven’t had a moment to notice. But they come in primary colors and are often stitched with letters, words and symbols. To the touch, the material is rough like canvas. To the eye, kind of exotic snakeskin.  

And when you sit in a chair made out of it, specifically Oxgut’s O-Type chair, it just works. That chair was one of the first fabricated after LauraLe Wunsch had the mother lode of hose dropped into her lap.

The firemen showed her 1,000 feet of material. ’If you don’t take it, it’ll go to the dumpster,’ they said.

It was about 2011, and Wunsch was working on a commission to help build Apple accessories from Montana wood that had been destroyed by the pine beetle. “I began to think, ‘What other discarded materials could be repurposed?’” She considered denim and leather. Until her business partner, Kevin Riley, suggested fire hoses, after seeing the work of British company Elvis and Kresse, which has been making belts and bags and candle holders out fire hoses since 2005.

The more she investigated that material, the more drawn to it she became. Then came the phone call from a tipster about some decommissioned fire hose available to her at a station in Marin, California.

The Elvis & Kresse's ladies purse.

The Elvis & Kresse’s ladies purse.

“I expected to leave with a sample,” Wunsch recounts. Instead, the firemen showed her 1,000 feet of material. “If you don’t take it, it’ll go to the dumpster,” one of them said. “At the time, I lived in an apartment in San Francisco, and I didn’t even have parking.” 

Well, if life hands you fire hoses… it’s best to make Kepple stools and O-Type chairs. Those Marin fire hoses became those chairs, with Oliver DiCicco designing and David Potenza fabricating the prototypes. The chairs are sculptural with strong steel lines—and price tags over $1,000. Not cheap, but, hey, they once saved lives and will last a lifetime.

The look was important. “I wanted this to be an example of what a fire hose can live up to. We didn’t want to be kitschy or look DIY,” she says. “When I saw how the material ended up in a high-end beautiful application and how it lived against the steel frame, that upped the ante for me,” Wunsch explains. She formed the Emeryville, California-based Oxgut Hose Co., then launched a Kickstarter campaign in 2013.

The Shanes Lounger that followed, however, is named after fire captains where the hoses came from. It is so modern and strongly shaped that it’s distantly reminiscent of the famous Frank Gehry Wiggle Chair. People really connect to Oxgut because of its history, she says. 

Oxgut refers to the very first fire hose of Ancient Greece that was made from ox intestines. (Ew.)

At their studio, Wunsch and her team are experimenting with all sorts of possibilities for fire hoses. Thinking beyond chairs to even bigger stuff, like building materials, she says.

For now, though, take your pick of, truly, durable stuff: a dog bed, or one of Oxgut’s chairs, log carriers, wine carriers, iPad covers, welcome mats, even eye glass cases. All of which you can buy here. It’s worth noting that you can clean them by hosing them down—gently.