Asides

Sporting

NB: I may have previously mentioned that I’m not “into sports”, by which I mean I have not followed football or baseball or basketball teams. It’s only just recently that I’ve figured out when those seasons start and end, and that I have learned the rules of football (thanks to a SuperBowl party and the fact that my region’s team was in the SuperBowl this year. As the kids say, “Go Hawks!”) This post will therefore be unusual that it deals with sports. It will not be unusual in that it deals with gender perception and economics.

This past Wednesday some 700 thousand plus people descended on downtown Seattle to celebrate the Seahawk’s winning of the SuperBowl. Busses were jammed all morning, many folks did not go to work, kids skipped school; this was all for the privilege of standing along 4th Avenue, in the cold, hours on end, for a parade that ironically started late because those in the parade couldn’t get to their starting point because of all the people.

The parade seems to have made many people happy; my Facebook was replete with happy family photos of smiling, green-and-blue-dressed people, plus blurry photos of those in the parade. Everyone seems to have had a good time.

Nestled in that timeline, though, was a comment (actually two, from two different people), that the Seattle Storm (our local female basketball team) won National Championships twice, and no parade was had for them. (It should also be noted that the Seahawks paid for their own parade. )

In reviewing those comments the implication is, I think, that because it was a women’s team that won previously they were not “good enough” (not my words, just what I’m inferring from the context of the statement) because they were female. It doesn’t help that articles like this announced that the last time Seattle had earned a national title was when the Sonics won in 1979 (considerably before the Seattle Storm’s victories of  2004 and 2010 ). Forbes went so far as to acknowledge them and indicate they weren’t “counting” them. And yes, when the Sonics won in 1979 a parade was had.

There are two culprits here: sexism and economics.

Let’s take the simpler one: economics, specifically the concept of Supply And Demand. More specifically, there are demand differences between Women’s Basketball and Men’s Football. (It would have been nicer to have a Men’s Basketball team to weed out the gender variable, or a Women’s Football team, but alas we lost the former and the latter doesn’t really appear to exist except for the Lingere Bowl).

The Seattle Storm plays in Key Arena which holds  slightly over 17,400 seats; they play 34 games per season. 16 of those games are played “home”.  Ticket prices range from $16 to $155 with a mode of $28.  Let’s further say that 20% of anyone at an “Away” game is there for the Storm, and 80% of anyone at a “Home” game is. However, the Storm doesn’t actually sell all of the seats in Key Arena (they block off a portion, and they don’t often sell all the seats that are unblocked). 9,600 seats are actually available to sell and at times The Storm sells about 50% of those. Let’s assume similar seating volumes at away games, and or the purpose of this hack math, let’s say half of the time they’re at half, and the other half of the time they’re sold out, for a blended average of 75% capacity. So a back-of the-envelope dollar value for interest in The Seattle Storm would be about (9600*.75*.8*28*16)+(9600*.75*.2*28*18)= 2580480+725760=$3,306,240. (This obviously doesn’t include sponsorships, swag sales, etc.)

The Seattle Seahawks play in Century Link Field (the Clink) which holds about 68,000 seats and the Seahawks had sold out every one by July. The average ticket price was $220, they had 17 games in their regular season, and had 62,000 season ticket holders. Let’s just stick with the season ticket holders, as that is cash up front. (17*62000*220)=$231,880,000. (This also doesn’t include sponsorships, swag sales, etc.)

In short, there is a purchase-behavior disparity of 7000%.

That disparity is driven by not only volume (the Clink seating is 7x the amount in Key Arena used by The Storm), but also by price (average ticket price for the Seahawks is larger than the HIGHEST ticket price for The Storm).  Even if The Storm were to sell 100% of the available seats in Key Arena, they’d fall very short of economic comparability to the Seahawks in terms of fan fiscal investment.

But this isn’t telling us anything we didn’t already know: the demand for entertainment via male football is much greater than the demand for female basketball. The Sonics left in 2008 and their ticket demand is 44,000 season ticket holders, meaning that even if they sold at the same price as The Storm they would still outsell on overall ticket volumes. And so we can infer that demand for entertainment via male basketball is greater than the demand for female basketball.

And so we segue into sexism: essentially that people are making economic demand decisions based on gender preference in sports.  As a society we tend to like our sports hyper-competitive, confrontational, metricized and self-aggrandizing. Nowhere is this more evident than how we idolize the players, how we purchase team jerseys and say “us” vs “them” when talking about upcoming games. “We won”, “they lost” is how games are summed up; followed by an earnest delve into strategic review of plays, the metrics and statistics behind those plays, and player strength.

These are not things we encourage in our girls. Much has been made of now-pink Legos and Goldie Blox, of Sheryl Sandberg Leaning In and the overall interest in getting More Girls into STEM. We enroll our daughters in soccer just as readily as Girl Scouts, we tell them they can be anything when they grow up. A girl who is hyper-competitive though is deemed less attractive, a girl who is confrontational is deemed a bitch. (Let’s not even touch self-aggrandizing). Women’s basketball is not televised nearly as much, or touted as often, as men’s.

We make these choices, and display our preferences, by our societal expenditure. The Seattle Storm will have a parade when the larger group decides that the athletic achievements of women is as representative and worthy as that of men, and that will have to come from increased ticket sales, which will in turn have to come from increased demand.

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Yes, It Was The Right Choice

Five months ago I accepted a new job with Sur La Table. I had spent nine years at Expedia doing a variety of things, and learning a tremendous lot, but it was definitely time to move on and be the “fresh blood” somewhere else. As I gleefully told my family, friends, and professional associates of my move, I got mainly 3 reactions:

1. That’s great… what do they do again?

2. That’s great… wait, you’re moving from Director to Manager?

3. That’s great… are you making more money?

I can sort of see the first reaction, if you’re talking to someone who’s not in one of the 27 states that SLT operates in, and/or you don’t cook. (I am not judging.  Yours truly has a few friends who know an awful lot about food but you shan’t let them in the kitchen). The other two have been reiterated so often that I figured I’d just answer them here, and then point people to it.

1. Sur La Table (www.surlatable.com) is a store, and site, for cook’s tools and entertaining. That’s it. You are not going to find beekeeping outfits, a large selection of scented candles, ironing boards, etc. You are going to find a wide selection of knives and people who can tell you how to use and care for them, because they know. You are going to find a variety of stove top cookware, in a variety of materials and colors, and any one of the people wearing a Sur La Table apron can tell you, depending on YOUR cooking style and YOUR stove what will work for YOU. In more than half of the locations you will find a roster of classes you can take that will teach you everything from how to use your knife properly to how to make homemade pasta to how to do five recipes on one grill for six people.

2. Yes, I moved from a Director to a Manager. Specifically the course was Director of Business Development to Director of Content to Applications Development Manager. And here’s your first clue why “different” does not mean “downward”: I went from what was essentially inflated project management (with a bit of ability to direct the change that instantiated the project) to Operations management to development management. With each step the skill set gets broader, and deeper. Project management is about managing people you don’t technically manage, Operations management is about managing people you manage and managing by proxy.  Development management is all of the above and now you get to speak two languages: business and technology.

I could go on: development offers a chance to actually BUILD THINGS, the reality that a Director at Expedia is not equivalent to a Director at Microsoft is not equivalent to a Director at Sur La Table, in either breadth of responsibility or in terms of compensation. And frankly, I’m mercenary enough to be happily titled the Hobgoblin of Object Oriented Programming if they pay me enough, which leads us to…

3. Yes. I mean, I can offer the logic that benefit packages from Company A to Company B require careful weighing and measuring, and that there are quality of life trade-offs with commuting time, etc.  But any way you slice it, frankly, the answer is yes. Anyone who tells you that “Retail” is this or “Technology” is that is at best over-generalizing and at worst missing opportunities.

None of this answers the question, four (working) months later, of “Are you enjoying it” and the answer is an unqualified YES. Do not get me wrong, there have been seriously frustrating times. Sur La Table has been around since the 70’s but its growth pattern is such that it *feels* like a start-up, with all that that entails. Development has to run quickly and there is enormous demand for my department, which leads to both the wonderful sensation that “we can DO this” combined with “OMG how are we gonna do this??” There’s a bit of “hey let’s go down this path… no wait that path… no let’s go down the first path” that you see in nascent organizations, and for someone who was at a company that went from start-up (well, close to, it was about 4 years in) to Mature Large Company in my tenure, there’s the urge to be much farther along the development path than we are.

Then again, it affords me (us, really) the opportunity to be there to make the changes that need to be made, and build the cool, fun stuff that needs to be built. That, by far, is the best reason.

Summer

School is OUT! I fondly remember, as a child, waiting anxiously for this day to come, and revelling in the ten (or was it twelve?) weeks of summer. Summer, in my case, was summer camp, at the local YMCA. This was in California, and so I spent every day in the pool, if we weren’t going to Disneyland, Magic Mountain, Knot’s Berry Farm, or into the mountains to hike. Every summer I got a wicked burn, then a wicked tan (for those who know me today: yes, it is possible. I have proof.) At the end of camp in 4th grade I broke my arm skateboarding, at the end of camp in 6th grade I had a “boyfriend”. We held hands.

School seemed an interminable period of judgement, testing, studying, and BORING things. Fun fact: I like learning now, I did NOT like learning then. I have dozens of saved report cards from my formative years informing my parents that “Bobbie could do so much better if she just applied herself.”

When I hit 28, I was in full-on baby-mania. Actually, that’s not quite accurate, I was in “have a kid, change my life” mania. It wasn’t just the “baby” I wanted; I wanted the 9-year-old telling me he forgot he needs to bring 2 dozen cupcakes (the morning he needs to bring them). I wanted the cramming for the SAT’s, and the first trip to Disneyland, and reading books goodnight. And I felt sure that when I had a child, what with my academic-leaning parents, I too would become an academic-leaning parent and come to see the value of school.

It is therefore with a mixture of embarrassment and wonder that I report that while I do truly cherish the value of school, and I am that academic parent (that was me, putting my kid in tutoring), I also could not wait for summer. Because it meant a reprieve.

A reprieve from parent-teacher conferences, from enforcing homework revisions, from watching the frustration on his face when he didn’t get a concept or (in the long tradition of my family line) didn’t get it exactly perfect the first time. (He carries that trait to everything, skateboarding and electric guitar have been recent lessons in “no one is perfect the first time”). It’s a reprieve from emails from the teacher, from looking for lost hoodies in the Lost and Found, from waiting for the June Box (items taken by the teacher go into a box and are retrieved… in June), from nights filled with homework, projects, and the dutiful requirements of school.

By the time the end of August rolls around I will revert to the feelings of my youth and delight in back-to-school shopping, even if my son doesn’t. I will feel re-invigorated and redouble my PTA efforts, all the more excited as this is our last grade school year (and I’m chairing the Science Fair). I will be all excited again.  And the boy… the boy will have had ten weeks of fun, and sun; he will have a wicked tan (bless his Father for giving him better skin than I had, the kid does not burn). Even he will be looking forward to school and seeing his friends on a more regular basis, if not the excitement that being a 5th grader (and therefore, top of the heap) brings.

But here we are excited and grateful, officially, for summer.

Taking Back Travel

Sitting on a plane that until recently held a screaming baby (the baby was not jettisoned, the baby stopped screaming) I realized that I no longer will be traveling for work, or not nearly as much, and this is, I think, a good thing.

While I love to travel — specifically to see new things, eat new things, to take pictures of the new things I’m eating so others can see it (tweet tweet) — traveling for work is much different from traveling for pleasure. When you travel for work, your time is NOT your own; your arrival is usually timed for *right before* your first meeting, your departure is usually timed for *right after*. There is no sleeping in, you rarely use that fitness center you wanted to be certain was in the hotel, you frequently discover you packed the wrong shoes. Airports become a game of “who has free wi-fi?” (NB: in Heathrow and Fiumicino you need to pay for it, I recommend the business traveller get a Boingo pass; in Phoenix and SeaTac it’s free) Your fellow passengers, even at their most charming, are merely cogs in the system and a hinderance to getting through the security line, or to the restaurant, or to the gate, or to your seat. You become a connoisseur of airlines for their coffee service, for their in-flight magazine, for their leg room. The trip isn’t fun anymore, in short.

As we drove in our rental car to the airport today (fun fact: Phoenix airport has an offsite car rental facility — 20 minutes’ drive offsite. If you follow the freeway signs, you’ll be treated to the full driving tour of all 4 terminals of PHX before being sent down a variety of roads for 15 minutes to get to where the facility actually *is*, only to get bussed *back* to the terminal), I realized that my son and I had “time” at the airport — time that wasn’t going to be spent playing “catch up on email before 9 hours in flight”, or “see who can get the freshest sandwich out of the vending machine”. I was not flying at an odd time, the restaurants in the terminal were open, we even looked at overpriced souvenirs. (We chose a hot sauce that may or may not have a swear word in the name).

I will miss team dinners in foreign lands where the currency is colored and the food is graciously unhealthy, I will miss someone else paying for my in-flight wi-fi. I will miss the welcoming of my team and the ferrying duties of bringing treats to, and from, “home”. (Tip for Americans traveling to teams abroad: bring Girl Scout Cookies. Just do it.)

I am, however, ready to travel for fun again.