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Sports Leaders Learn To Run Companies Remotely

Sports Leaders Learn To Run Companies Remotely

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Photo Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

There is a popular saying that has been used for decades by figures like John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Al Gore that Houston Texans CEO Jamey Rootes thinks rings particularly true right now: the Chinese symbol for crisis is the combination of danger and opportunity. 

“The danger is there, and it’s present and clear, but there are also the opportunities you have to look for,” Rootes said. “From the beginning of this, we really encouraged our team to not only persevere through this time of challenge, but keep your eyes open for things that can make us better.”

Like most sports leaders pre-coronavirus, Rootes questioned the effectiveness of remote work given its previous scarcity. Data from research firm Gartner showed that 70% of workers across all industries had never worked from home before. 

Rootes wondered how the sports industry, which relies so heavily on face-to-face communication and interaction, could still make an impact outside of the office. 

He also was unsure of the Texans’ short-term future. When he and his colleagues walked into the office on March 12, it was business as usual. Free agency was still in its relative infancy and the club was preparing for two highly anticipated events in the 2020 NFL Draft and the release of their 2020 game schedule.

By the end of the day, the Texans were one of a handful of NFL teams getting ready for the unexpected: at-home work. 

“It’s been really inspiring to see that for us on a Thursday afternoon, we were contemplating how at some point in time we might take our entire staff and have them work effectively in a remote environment to Monday morning being in that remote environment,” Rootes said. 

Upon the transition to work-from-home, Rootes was not confident that he could be productive in that environment. With the help of Microsoft Teams and Zoom, apps he had never previously used before, that perception was quickly dissolved. 

Although Rootes knows direct contact with others is the preferred method of communication, he saw that there are ways to operate the team’s business not only outside of NRG Stadium, but in new ways.

On May 9, the Texans were supposed to host their eighth annual Texans Care Volunteer Day, which is presented by Chevron. Other years had seen the event appear at the Houston Food Bank – but in 2020, it went entirely virtual. Team celebrities ranging from players and alumni to cheerleaders and the TORO mascot helped bring this year’s edition to life online.

“It was so exciting to see people posting all the great work that they do for the city of Houston,” Rootes said. “That’s probably a way for us to take what is typically a physical engagement with limited capacity and expand it out to a lot more people… without actually being together.”

Now, Rootes is adjusting to what the old normal was before everything happened: having people back in the office. On May 18, the Texans were one of six NFL teams that opened their facility in a limited capacity; the others were the Atlanta Falcons, Pittsburgh Steelers, Kansas City Chiefs, Arizona Cardinals, and Indianapolis Colts.

READ MORE: Work From Home Finding A Role In The Sports Business World

According to a league memo, the facilities can open up to 50% of their employees, with no more than 75 employees allowed in. No coaches or players are allowed to enter, but there are exceptions for players who were rehabbing an injury before the league-wide lockdown. 

Rootes has treated this return as the start to “phase zero,” which contains a small group that will go in and ensure that the office environment is compliant with all of the necessary protocols. The Texans have taken this one step further by creating the facility hygiene coordinator position, who will report to coordinator of medical administration Geoff Kaplan and run coronavirus risk mitigation throughout the team’s facilities. The Texans are the first known major United States professional sports team that has hired a dedicated industrial hygiene expert.

Going forward though, Rootes does not expect the traditional office lifestyle to return to the Texans. Previously, scouts were normally the only personnel who worked remotely in the organization; now, the team will begin adopting it as a common business practice – under the right circumstances. 

“It’s another tool for our toolkit, but it doesn’t always make sense and it certainly doesn’t make sense for everybody,” he said. “We’re a highly collaborative environment. Being together makes us a lot more productive and more efficient… it’s better in person, but now we know in the appropriate circumstances [working remotely] can work.”

For Barstool Sports CEO Erika Nardini, she never witnessed what the company’s beginning was like. In 2003, Dave Portnoy founded the company in Milton, Ma. Shortly thereafter, he worked early on with personalities like Dan “Big Cat” Katz out of Chicago and Kevin “KFC” Clancy and Ketih “KMarko” Markovich in New York to get Barstool off the ground. 

Fast forward 17 years later, and Barstool’s valuation has increased to $450 million after Penn National Gaming acquired a 36% stake for $163 million in cash and convertible preferred stock in January. It is also one year into moving into its Midtown Manhattan office, which at 210 employees has already maxed out its capacity. 

Although January seems like a distant memory, Nardini is excited to see Barstool maintaining its production output post-coronavirus. Within one weekend of shutting down the office, its radio shows, Snapchat shows, and other content series were up and running by the following Monday. She estimates that they are doing 10 hours of streaming a day and that Barstool has “made sports when there haven’t been any sports.”

Barstool has also seen an uptick on its social media platforms like Instagram Live, TikTok, and Twitch, Nardini said. Instead of doing shows that require shooting and releasing, she says that this pause has helped accelerate Barstool’s pursuit of becoming a video-led company. 

That evolution that Nardini plans on seeing will likely involve Barstool employees back in the office. Having everyone work from home has not made her perception of work from home change. 

“Our whole plan was to just put more people in the office,” she said. “We were going to put people closer together… now that’s not going to be an option. There will be things we have to figure out, but I think people are excited to do stuff with one another… I think you’ll see some of the stuff we started taking a new life of their own once they can happen in an office or at the studio.”

The World Surf League was gearing up for the start of its 2020 campaign under newly appointed CEO Erik Logan. The men’s and women’s championship tours were slated to begin on March 26 in Queensland, Australia, before its eventual cancellation. 

Like Rootes, Logan was one of those leaders who was skeptical about remote work for his company. Since the switch, not only has productivity risen across the board for the WSL – which has offices in Santa Monica, Australia, France, Portugal, South Africa, Brazil, and New York – but it has shown him that opinions about working from home can change.

“I’ll put myself in the basket that I wasn’t totally sure if a company can completely be operated in this way – and I think we have proven that we could and we are now,” he said. 

Logan saw almost instantly that WSL employees were productive and able to schedule an abundance of phone calls – to the point where he encouraged them to take fewer calls. Going forward, he has mandated that no work calls are to exceed 45 minutes in length.

Logan says that his experience has changed him as a leader, and has increased his desire to be more connected to his employees. He himself is not only more aware with their schedules, but he has also increased the frequency of his town halls – which provide organizational updates – from once a month to every two weeks. 

Logan is also wanting to better understand his employees’ attitudes about their day-to-day work-life. Over the course of several interviews involving his leadership team, he has found that his workers are placing a greater emphasis on self-care and establishing a daily routine. Examples like these are some of the ways in which Logan is thinking about how to improve the relationship his employees have with the WSL. 

As of right now, the WSL has not issued an official mandate for employees to return to work, Logan said. For those who want to return, the WSL has established social-distancing protocols across its numerous offices. It also added dividers between workers’ cubicles to further isolate them from any risks of contamination. 

In the near future, Logan sees a point in which some departments – like content and production – need to be back in the studio. But for the large number of employees who have proven to work well from home, he wants them to continue to feel comfortable wherever they are. 

“There’s not a need that I see in the imminent future that has to say we have to be pushed back into an office in a very accelerated or short amount of time,” he said. “But, there is a need for human interaction. There’s a need for human connection, but I think having the flexibility and the openness that we have as an organization for people to do that could be a game changer for a lot of reasons.”

READ MORE: Tennis Channel Adjusts To New Reality Of Live Coverage

One of the first professional sports organizations to return to action was NASCAR. When racing came back on May 16 at Darlington Raceway, the governing body maintained some semblance of its current work-from-home ordere.

For NASCAR chief digital officer Tim Clark, that meant keeping the majority of his department’s operations remote. He noted that on a normal raceday, roughly six people would work on-site in digital operations and much more for content generation and social media purposes. Now, he estimates that that number of personnel will be cut by more than half, with only select people facilitating the majority of those tasks from the track. 

To make up for the lack of in-person work, NASCAR incorporated several new features into its mobile app, including a “scanner” for fans to hear audio from cars; in-car cameras that provide a unique view into the driver’s vision; live data that collects info from the cars and sends it directly to users; and a Fantasy Live function that allows for fantasy players to make in-race driver swaps.

While the data collected from the cars and track made his department’s remote work possible on race day, it was also the culmination of what he and NASCAR saw from employees over the past several weeks and months. 

“Our team will really be facilitating everything that you see on our digital and mobile platforms remotely,” Clark told Front Office Sports ahead of the Darlington Raceway event. “That’s a change for us and it’s a new way of doing business, but I think we have the confidence in the team and our existing platforms.”

Unlike some major sports organizations, the Premier Lacrosse League was built to operate remotely in its early stages. Mike Rabil started the company in San Francisco, and immediately asked his brother Paul to move from Baltimore to join him. 

To start, Mike Rabil said that the PLL had people working out of Baltimore and San Francisco before making its first hire in New York. At the outset, the league was in three different cities, leveraging various cloud-based technologies and communications tools such as Dropbox and Slack to manage the business at a faster pace. 

Those days are what helped the PLL transition back to remote work during this coronavirus era, Mike Rabil said. It even was able to create one of its most impactful social media campaigns in recent memory from its workers’ homes. 

On April Fools Day, the PLL revealed the arrival of its “eighth” team, Beans Lacrosse Team. Marketing the prank team as an actual club with a logo, slogan, site launch, merchandise, and an announcement from Paul Rabil, it marked the highest ecommerce store traffic day in league history by more than 30%. The PLL also added eight Beans-branded items to its online store; within 24 hours, it sold 1,600 Beans merchandise items worth a combined $50,000.

“That was an example of a way that we could create meaningful content from home and then have it tied to revenue,” Paul Rabil told Front Office Sports in early April.

The April Fools Day surprise is only one instance in which the PLL has had to readjust its plans. Its 2020 season has since been turned into the PLL Championship Series, a two-week, fanless tournament from July 25 to August 9. Having to rebuild only two years into its existence has been a new experience for Mike Rabil, he has used it as an opportunity to improve his leadership skills. 

“With what happened with this current pandemic and in the unique circumstances that it presented, sometimes you just don’t have the fast answers, and if you can’t provide them, the only thing you can do is to be open that you don’t have the answers,” Mike Rabil said. “Just being really open about this process, I think, was hopefully adequate for where we were.”

Although many sports leaders have seen the positives associated with remote work, none have taken it as far as some of the world’s leading tech companies. Twitter has given most employees permission to work from home permanently after the coronavirus pandemic. After initially just allowing its workers to work from home through 2020, Facebook is letting some workers apply to work remotely full-time, and CEO Mark Zuckerberg estimates that roughly 50% of its 48,268 global employees will be working remotely within the next five to 10 years.

Nardini has already stated that she is looking forward to having everyone back in the office at Barstool. Rootes is not going as far to say that all Texans employees can work from home forever. The same goes for Logan and Rabil, who also see the value in maintaining remote-work possibilities, but not on a full-time basis. 

Although having remote workers creates more financial freedom for companies – which can save as much as 20% of the total cost of any employee who works-from-home full-time – they, along with their employers, might not pursue it further. 

According to a finding from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and Oxford Economics, all but 5% of respondents – who were roughly 3% of 1,000 HR professionals within the U.S. – expect their workforce to return to pre-crisis levels by November. Additional data from Gartner shows that out of the jobs that could be done remotely full-time, only about 10% of people actually did so, and only 20% worked remotely part-time.

While the future surrounding remote work remains uncertain, one trend involving it has quickly made its way across businesses.

Before becoming CEO of the WSL, Logan had previously served as president of the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) and executive vice president of Harpo Studios. Throughout his 30-year career in media and sports, he had always heard conversations about this topic, how it worked, and where it existed in organizations. 

Now, this word has taken on a larger meaning, and is something that will be front of mind for both employees and employers: culture. 

“Because of the pandemic, it’s one of the most important things all companies are talking about,” he said. “I think the seismic shift is that the conversation that we’re having, every organization is having to a degree that they may not have ever been having before. That only will breed great outcomes for the employees.”

“That also will breed great outcomes for the organization because every CEO that I know will tell you the same thing: you’re only as good as your employees. What the global pandemic’s going to teach us is a thoughtful, holistic, loving approach to culture and your employees – when that happens, your company will soar.”

The post Sports Leaders Learn To Run Companies Remotely appeared first on Front Office Sports.

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Exosomes Could Improve Inhaled Therapeutics

Instead of disguising vaccines in synthetic lipid nanoparticles, researchers used exosomes as their drug delivery vehicles to the lung. The exosomes are…

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For respiratory diseases, from asthma to COVID-19, inhaled treatments can quickly deliver a drug to the desired target, the lungs. Global health depends on such treatments. As Kristen Popowski, a PhD candidate in comparative biomedical sciences at the North Carolina State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine in Raleigh, and her colleagues wrote: “Respiratory diseases are among the leading causes of morbidity and mortality worldwide, with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) remaining prevalent in the ongoing pandemic.”

Kristen Popowski [North Carolina State University]
Although lipid nanoparticles offer one delivery vehicle for such treatments, nature creates an obstacle. “The lung has natural defense mechanisms against inhaled particulates, and traditional lipid-nanoparticle vaccines present challenges in cytotoxicity and respiratory clearance,” says Popowski. “A nanoparticle formulation that can withstand these defense mechanisms remains a critical challenge.” So, Popowski and her colleagues explored an alternative approach.

“Instead of disguising vaccines in synthetic lipid nanoparticles, we utilize cell-secreted nanoparticles called exosomes as our drug delivery vehicles to the lung,” Popowski explains. “Our exosomes are secreted from native lung cells and are recognizable by the lung.”

Consequently, she says, “We can minimize pulmonary toxicity and clearance to better deliver and retain vaccines.” In addition, the exosome-based treatments developed by Popowski and her colleagues can be formulated as a dry powder that requires no refrigeration and can have a shelf life of 28 days.

Despite the incentives to take an exosome-based approach to inhaled treatments for respiratory diseases, turning that into a part of bioprocessing requires more research.

“Although commercial manufacturing of exosomes has recently shown extensive improvement, optimization of mRNA loading into exosomes remains a challenge,” Popowski says. “Endogenous mRNA expression through exosome engineering would likely be necessary for large-scale production.”

The post Exosomes Could Improve Inhaled Therapeutics appeared first on GEN - Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News.

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War, peace and security: The pandemic’s impact on women and girls in Nepal and Sri Lanka

The impacts of COVID-19 must be incorporated into women, peace and security planning in order to improve the lives of women and girls in postwar countries…

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Nepalese girls rest for observation after receiving the Moderna vaccine for COVID-19 in Kathmandu, Nepal. (AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha)

Attention to the pandemic’s impacts on women has largely focused on the Global North, ignoring countries like Nepal and Sri Lanka, which continue to deal with prolonged effects of war. While the Nepalese Civil War concluded in 2006 and the Sri Lankan Civil War concluded in 2009, internal conflicts continue.

As scholars of gender and war, our work focuses on the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security. And our recently published paper examines COVID-19’s impacts on women and girls in Nepal and Sri Lanka, looking at policy responses and their repercussions on the women, peace and security agenda.

COVID-19 has disproportionately and negatively impacted women in part because most are the primary family caregivers and the pandemic has increased women’s caring duties.

This pattern is even more pronounced in war-affected countries where the compounding factors of war and the pandemic leave women generally more vulnerable. These nations exist at the margins of the international system and suffer from what the World Bank terms “fragility, conflict and violence.”

Women, labour and gender-based violence

Gendered labour precarity is not new to Nepal or Sri Lanka and the pandemic has only eroded women’s already poor economic prospects.

Prior to COVID-19, Tharshani (pseudonym), a Sri Lankan mother of three and head of her household, was able to make ends meet. But when the pandemic hit, lockdowns prevented Tharshani from selling the chickens she raises for market. She was forced to take loans from her neighbours and her family had to skip meals.

Some 1.7 million women in Sri Lanka work in the informal sector, where no state employment protections exist and not working means no wages. COVID-19 is exacerbating women’s struggles with poverty and forcing them to take on debilitating debts.

Although Sri Lankan men also face increased labour precarity, due to gender discrimination and sexism in the job market, women are forced into the informal sector — the jobs hardest hit by the pandemic.

Two women sit in chairs, wearing face masks
Sri Lankan women chat after getting inoculated against the coronavirus in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in August 2021. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

The pandemic has also led to women and girls facing increased gender-based violence.

In Nepal, between March 2020 and June 2021, there was an increase in cases of gender-based violence. Over 1,750 incidents were reported in the media, of which rape and sexual assault represented 82 per cent. Pandemic lockdowns also led to new vulnerabilities for women who sought out quarantine shelters — in Lamkichuha, Nepal, a woman was allegedly gang-raped at a quarantine facility.

Gender-based violence is more prevalent among women and girls of low caste in Nepal and the pandemic has made it worse. The Samata Foundation reported 90 cases of gender-based violence faced by women and girls of low caste within the first six months of the pandemic.

What’s next?

While COVID-19 recovery efforts are generally focused on preparing for future pandemics and economic recovery, the women, peace and security agenda can also address the needs of some of those most marginalized when it comes to COVID-19 recovery.

The women, peace and security agenda promotes women’s participation in peace and security matters with a focus on helping women facing violent conflict. By incorporating women’s perspectives, issues and concerns in the context of COVID-19 recovery, policies and activities can help address issues that disproportionately impact most women in war-affected countries.

These issues are: precarious gendered labor market, a surge in care work, the rising feminization of poverty and increased gender-based violence.

A girl in a face mask stares out a window
The women, peace and security agenda can help address the needs of some of those most marginalized. (AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha)

Policies could include efforts to create living-wage jobs for women that come with state benefits, emergency funding for women heads of household (so they can avoid taking out predatory loans) and increasing the number of resources (like shelters and legal services) for women experiencing domestic gender-based violence.

The impacts of COVID-19 must be incorporated into women, peace and security planning in order to achieve the agenda’s aims of improving the lives of women and girls in postwar countries like Nepal and Sri Lanka.

Luna KC is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Research Network-Women Peace Security, McGill University. This project is funded by the Government of Canada Mobilizing Insights in Defence and Security (MINDS) program.

Crystal Whetstone does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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ThreatX raises a fresh round of capital to protect APIs and web apps

ThreatX, a vendor selling API protection services to mainly enterprise clients, today announced that it raised $30 million in a Series B funding round…

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ThreatX, a vendor selling API protection services to mainly enterprise clients, today announced that it raised $30 million in a Series B funding round led by Harbert Growth Partners with participation from Vistara Growth, .406 Ventures, Grotech Ventures and Access Venture Partners. With the new cash, which brings ThreatX’s total raised to $52 million, CEO Gene Fay tells TechCrunch that ThreatX will “accelerate” investments in platform development while scaling sales and marketing initiatives.

The raise highlights investors’ continued confidence in cybersecurity businesses to net returns, despite the current macroeconomic woes. While there’s some evidence that fundraising has begun to slow down, cybersecurity startups raised $2.4 billion between January and June, according to PitchBook. Companies that defend APIs from outside attack have been particularly fruitful, lately, with startups such as Ghost Security and Corsha raising tens of millions of dollars in capital.

ThreatX was co-founded in 2014 by Bret Settle and Andrius Useckas. Prior to starting ThreatX, Settle was VP of enterprise architecture at BMC; Useckas had worked with Bret at BMC, where he was an enterprise security architect. The two were also colleagues at Corporate Express, which was acquired by Staples in 2008, where Useckas came in as an external pen tester.

“Over the course of working together for several years, Settle and Andrius saw a massive gap in the market in terms of solutions to protect BMC’s application portfolio,” said Fay, who was appointed CEO of ThreatX in 2020. “The products available required endless tuning and rule-writing and returned piles of false positives. Through all of this, the notion of innovating in the space — and ThreatX — was born.”

ThreatX offers API protection, bot and DDoS mitigation and traditional web application firewalls (WAF) for first- and third-party web apps. The platform builds a profile of threat actors, leveraging a detection and correlation engine to show which actors are actively attacking and which might pose the greatest threat.

Image Credits: ThreatX

Fay sees ThreatX competing primarily with two categories of cybersecurity vendors. The first are newer API observability tools such as Salt Security and Noname. The second are bot management platforms like Cequence and WAF players such as Akamai, F5 and Imperva, which generally rely on applying rules-based protection to web apps and APIs.

Fay argues that the former group — the bot management and WAF vendors —  tend to offer capabilities that came together through acquisition, so they’re less integrated. As for the latter — the API observability tools — Fay asserts that they often don’t offer web app or bot protection and require offline analysis, which precludes the ability to block attacks in real time.

“The bottom line is that to protect APIs, you must be able to block attacks in real time,” Fay said. “Grabbing data through observation and analyzing it after the fact may be interesting, but it does little from an immediate security standpoint. For our customers, the number one priority is protection — in real time, all the time. That is the value proposition we offer to our customers.”

Real-time protection or no, it’s true that API attacks are a growing cyber threat. Gartner predicts that by 2022, API attacks will become the most frequent attack vector, causing data breaches for enterprise web software.

“The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated use of APIs as companies looked at how they might provide new services to deliver value — and derive revenue — from customers,” Fay added. “As people — both as consumers and professionals — turned to technology to get more done, reliance on both APIs and web applications grew substantially. That, in turn, has increased the need for security in this context — which presents a ton of opportunity for ThreatX.

While Fay demurred when asked about financials, he said that ThreatX currently has “more than” 100 customers. He declined to name any names.

When reached for comment, Harbert Growth Partners general partner Tom Roberts said in a statement:

APIs are a strategic priority for businesses of all sizes and have become a primary target for threat actors. Organizations are now contending with constant threats and require API and web application protection capabilities that can identify and respond to attacks in real time. This need for “real-time attack protection” is driving the API security market toward an aggressive pivot. Based on ThreatX’s strong customer traction and unique product capabilities, we believe the company is well positioned to meet this shift head-on as a valuable partner to businesses looking to secure their attack surface.

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