What in the World—Week of April 19

A fight breaks out in European soccer
A very nasty battle kicked off in European soccer yesterday, with 12 teams from three different countries—six from England, three each from Spain and Italy—confirming they want to create their own Super League. Currently the top clubs in national leagues across Europe take part in an annual cross-continent tournament—run by UEFA and known as The Champions League—for the title of top club in Europe. It’s tough to draw an analogy in North American sports, but imagine if, say, the top eight NHL markets wanted to create their own tournament without Columbus, Arizona or other smaller markets taking part—and without Gary Bettman’s approval. You don’t have to know much about the game or the leagues to guess the fight is about money. A lot of money. “Tension has been mounting for years over how to slice up a global television and commercial rights pie that is currently worth more than $3.3 billion a year,” reported The Wall Street Journal. The fight sparked very vocal and angry backlash from fans and media alike, with calls for sanctions and penalties for participating teams and even players.

Amazon sets diversity hiring targets for 2021
Amazon says it will act quickly to increase the number of women and Black employees in leadership positions, with new targets set for this year. The company, which tends to say little about workforce diversity, plans to double the number of high-level Black employees and increase the number of women in senior technical jobs in 2021, according to Bloomberg. In a note to employees, Amazon also provided details about racial representation of its workforce: Black employees make up 26.5%, but just 3.8% of its leadership, while white employees represent 32.1% of the total workforce and 70.7% of senior leadership. The company also revealed that women make up 22.8% of its senior leadership team. “Diversity and inclusion historically hasn’t been among the public priorities at Amazon, a company reluctant to air internal issues of any sort,” reported Bloomberg.

From food to clothes, comfort is in
The pandemic has led to increased consumer interest in comfort in all of its forms, from food to clothing. Earnest Research used anonymized debit and credit card spending to track consumer shopping habits over the past year, with predictable results. According to Recode, spending on online grocers and delivery services surged by as much as 400% as consumers sought safer alternatives to supermarket shopping, while active and athleisure brands including Lululemon and Spanx have also seen growth (+49% in March compared to the same period two years ago) at the expense of professional and dress attire (-35%). While foot traffic to high-end and mid-tier department stores is slowly returning after bottoming out in April 2020, big box stores have been the biggest beneficiary of consumer retail spending. And after surging 218% in September, home fitness continues to perform well, with March sales up 145% over the corresponding period two years ago.

Roblox to institute content ratings
Massively popular gaming platform Roblox is working on introducing content ratings and making parental controls easier to find and use, says The Wall Street Journal. According to Roblox’s VP of trust and safety and chief privacy officer Remy Malan, the company employs more than 2,300 people to monitor games for safety through a combination of AI and human moderators. However, the platform still has some “dark corners,” says WSJ, and it’s not uncommon for its 32.6 million users—half of which are under the age of 13—to stumble on them while gaming. “In some games players’ blocky avatars simulate sex, engage in raunchy talk and ‘date’ other avatars,” says the WSJ.

Penske Media buys stake in SXSW
Penske Media Group, which owns magazines including Rolling Stone, Billboard and Variety, is acquiring a 50% stake in the Austin, Texas-based tech, music and movie festival South by Southwest. According to The Wall Street JournalPenske owner Jay Penske sees partnerships between the festival and entertainment publications as a driver of long-term growth for his 17-year-old media company. The pandemic led to the last-minute cancellation of the annual festival last year, with organizers saying it cost them millions. Organizers ran a scaled down virtual event this year, but expect SXSW to return as an in-person event next year. The event is said to pump as much as US$355 million into the Austin economy.

Facebook will push into ‘social audio’
Facebook will reportedly introduce a new suite of “social audio” products this week, according to Recode. They include a competitor to the audio-only social network Clubhouse, as well as a push into podcast discovery and distribution aided by Spotify. The products are expected to include an audio-only version of its one-year-old videoconferencing product Rooms, as well as an unnamed Clubhouse competitor that will enable users to listen and interact with users on a virtual stage. “[T]he announcements are meant to signal CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s belief that his users are ready to use voice and audio as a way to connect with each other,” said Recode. Clubhouse recently announced a new funding round valuing the company at US$4 billion.

David Brown