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President's Weekly Brief: Avengers Of Innovation – Assemble


Hi Washington Football Family,

Tuesday is the classic "Day Off" for the guys on the squad, where they are focused on recovery, spending a little time with family, and pivoting their attention to the next game. A deep breath if you will. I thought that I would take advantage of that natural break in the week to give you a weekly update on the business side of the Washington Football House. I use a slightly longer format to answer some of the things I expect are on your minds, since 280 characters don't allow you to get details and often bring out the shittiest aspects in all of us 😊. So here we go…

Reflections From Rams Week

There is a stout loyalty that comes with being a player in the NFL. We go out each week and pour everything we have into making sure our team is the one that comes out on top. And when you're on the field, there is no friend with an opposite jersey, just a man to beat/ block/hit in the mouth. But at the end of the day, there is a fraternity that extends well beyond the jersey. The fiercest loyalty and enduring connection is across players, former players and their families.

It's a concept that can be difficult for fans to comprehend (I hear you hard core fans singing "These players ain't loyal…"), but a representation of that came Sunday afternoon, when after nearly two years of surgeries and rehab, Alex Smith returned to the field. What we saw across the sports ecosystem was a sense of solidarity for someone who had achieved a superhuman feat.

Alex is only two years younger than me (I get it, it's hard to believe). I know how a player's body wears and tears with age. That feeling is not insignificant. And let me tell y'all, I can not imagine sprinting down the street, much less getting into a football game. The fact that Alex has walked a two-year journey, after almost losing his leg and his life, to get in shape to play again shows a resiliency that is truly remarkable.

It's a harsh reality that professional football is a hard business. You can easily feel or be forgotten the moment you're out of the limelight. I want to commend this club and Alex's influence on the people around him for creating a community that saw him through this journey.

It starts with his wife and family, who were standing up and cheering as Alex jogged onto the field; It builds up to his current and former teammates who paid him respect on social media; and it even extends to the leadership of this club that said, "We are not going to abandon this man." That kind of commitment is rare in sports. There may not be a ton of things that we would take from the culture that was here before, but I think that commitment to Alex's recovery is an example of where we actually want to go.

That sense of unity and community we saw Sunday is a quality I want our culture on the business side to embody. I want us to evolve to a point where people who work for this organization feel deeply connected to one another. I want everyone to feel a sense of shared purpose and commitment to each other's well-being, that even when they move on in life, there is a positive and deep connection amongst the Washington Football Team business alumni that is meaningful in similar ways.

I don't know if we'll ever approach the level of brotherhood that exists across the football ecosystem, but I'd like us to have senses of connection that are lasting and would allow us to cheer each other in the future.

Business Question Of The Week

How do you think about innovation and bringing in new ideas to the franchise?

Innovation is an evergreen topic with companies, and frankly, it's one that usually comes with a lot of fancy words wrapped in smoke and mirrors. There are few "real" innovators out there and I wouldn't dare claim I'm one of them. But I do have a set of principles around innovation that I believe are concrete and practical and should bring some novel improvements to the business operations of this club.

The first step is to create a clear and aspirational target- clearly defining the gnarly, hairy problem that you're trying to solve. It is difficult to just tell someone to be innovative without any boundary lines to spur initial thinking; that just doesn't often work. But when you give someone a target of something they're supposed to innovate, the structure has a tendency to unlock creativity.

Let's make a hypothetical problem statement: "How do we make our playing surfaces simultaneously safer for players, more durable, and able to be used more frequently for non-football events (e.g. concerts), all without using synthetic products?" Once you name the problem, then you can bring in the right expertise to get different perspectives. It's almost like Nick Fury assembling an "Avengers" team of gardeners, horticulturalists, coaches, players, business executives, and Taylor Swift's road manager so they can brainstorm ideas to defeat the threat of poor field conditions and forfeited concert revenue on our unsuspecting organization.

Another thing I find helpful is to set a time limit on for the first draft of the first product to get rolled out. Some people call it a minimum viable product (MVP), but the point is to get an initial solution out quickly, even if it isn't perfect, so you can test it and avoid being perpetually stuck just thinking about an idea. People like to refer to the fast cycle iteration of the MVP as "agile development."

One benefit of agile development is that you might solve another problem you weren't intending to solve in the first place. Maybe while down on the field examining blades of grass, we figure out a way to bring fans closer to the playing surface with creative new premium seating. Innovation begets innovation.

We're starting to develop this muscle as an organization now in baby steps. We love our fans, and we want them to have more ways of engaging the team, players and our content. As a result, one problem our leaders are now tackling is "How can we make portions of FedExField more enduring destinations beyond Sunday games?" Sports betting (fingers crossed that becomes a reality!), creative dining, memorials to past franchise heroes, and many other things could be combined to make a really cool, off day experience of our field. We'll see if we actually come up with something great, but even if we don't, I expect we will discover several other great ideas in the process.

And of course, we're always trying to expand innovation beyond just the dollars and cents business of the franchise. We took a bold approach to our social impact efforts around Voting through our participation in the DMVotes initiative. I will talk more about it another time, but by thinking about our impact a bit differently, we were able to get 100% of our players and coaching staff registered to vote. I'm very proud of this and give so much credit to the players and coaches for taking the step towards making their voices heard in November! A special shout out to Malcolm Blacken and Evan Harrington on Coach's Player Engagement staff for their hard work alongside so many on my business team.

Encounters Of The Week

I've been meeting with innovators who bring some really disruptive thinking to our business operations. As I think about what we're currently navigating in the COVID environment and the possibility (I am truly praying for mercy!) that we still have things to navigate in 2021, I want to know what's possible to potentially provide an even safer environment in and around the stadium. I recently met with a business leader and technologist who is actively thinking about ways in which a stadium can be made more antibacterial through the use of various different materials and organic content. It was a fascinating conversation that went from business development to polymers in rapid succession. We really covered some ground!

I've also been talking with several people on how to evolve our sports franchise into something that is so much more than just a team. It's people like San Francisco 49ers team president Al Guido that have me excited about the future- he has helped his organization build its own business and sports analytics arm alongside many other cool ventures. In the last week I've had conversations with Boston Red Sox CEO Sam Kennedy (#YNWA ;)), Los Angeles Rams COO Kevin Demoff, Baltimore Ravens team president Dick Cass, former XFL CEO Oliver Luck, and several others I'll keep under wraps who are helping me test ideas on what's possible here in Washington.

What's Next

The team is back on the road this week, this time heading to MetLife Stadium to play the New York Giants! I'm excited to visit a stadium that I got to play in often when I was in the League. Hopefully the familiarity with the field combined with my new vantage point from the executive role will spur some creative new thinking.

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