National News

Big college football donors pay for access, even glory

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-08-15 13:15

Have you always dreamed of running through the storied Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum tunnel onto the field in front of 70,000+ roaring fans before a University of Southern California football game? Up until now, you usually had to play or coach for the team to have this "once in a lifetime experience," as the school calls it.

Today, you can do it for $1,500, if you're a USC season-ticket holder. If that's too pricey, consider the pre-game locker room tour for $1,000, or a pre-game photo with the "World Famous" USC Song Girls for $750. (Added bonus: The money is considered a donation, so it's tax-deductible, but that's a different story.)

USC recently started selling these experiences and more for its upcoming season, but at least one former player says they commoditize something that shouldn't have a price tag.

“It does feel a little weird to me to put a price on running out of the tunnel to play a football game, which we were told as players constantly was a very earned and special right," said Petros Papadakis — who captained the USC football team in 1999 and 2000 — on Fox Sports Radio's Petros and Money Show. “It’s USC football. It’s supposed to be honorable to be in that locker room. I didn't think you could put a price on that.”

Craig Kelly, an assistant athletic director at USC, says what donors get to do won't match the specialness of actually playing on the team.

“Putting on the pads, the walk through the tunnel, coming out of the locker room, the meetings that they have and the speech before the game… all that’s included in what Petros is referring to and what we’re offering isn’t that," Kelly said.

Kelly says lots of schools lavish perks on donors, which is true. That’s how the game is played — the most generous boosters get the ear of the athletic director, get to travel with the team and get the very best seats.

At the University of Alabama, you can put your name on the coach’s office, for $1 million. What makes USC’s approach unusual is they’ve gone mass-market, according to Josh Rebholz, UCLA's senior associate athletic director for external relations.

"We do offer some of these experiences, but we really believe that many of them — like running out of the tunnel with the team and being on field pre-game — are pretty sacred assets, and so we try to limit who we offer them [to], and really, we try to only offer them to highest and most generous donors that we have," Rebholz said.

In other words, these prized assets are so sacred that they can only be sold for lots of money.

"Access for the sidelines for us can run as much as $100,000 a year," said Rebholz.

If you want to run out on the field at the Rose Bowl with the Bruins and join them in the locker room after the game, you'll have to write a half-million dollar check to UCLA.

So here’s the lesson, USC: It’s not that you’re commoditizing college football. Schools have been doing that for a long time. 

It’s that you’re probably not charging enough.

US housing recovery still uneven

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-08-15 13:07

Anjli Raval is a London-based correspondent for the Financial Times, but she recently took a trip through the U.S. to analyze home prices.

Her first stop was South Sacramento in Northern California, where she noticed home prices still stagnated: 

These areas of California’s capital had some of the highest foreclosure rates in the US after the housing bust that wiped out $7tn of homeowner equity in the wake of the financial crisis. Since then, Sacramento has seen a rebound, at least on paper. But there are clear signs that it – and many other cities – are stuck in a multiyear housing hangover that has serious implications for economic recovery.

The standard playbook for an economic recovery often relies on a housing market rebound. But in the U.S., that rebound continues to stop and start depending on where you live.

Click play above to listen to Anjli Raval's interview, or read her story at FT

Ferguson Officer's Motives In Police Shooting Remain Murky

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-15 12:57

New information was released Friday about the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Mo., but the answers have prompted still more questions.

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Russian Military Vehicles Reportedly Move Into Ukraine

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-15 12:09

Heavy fighting continues in eastern Ukraine, as government and separatist forces still fight for control of the cities of Luhansk and Donetsk.

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Massive Rallies Descend On Islamabad, As Authorities Dig In Trenches

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-15 12:09

Thousands of people are converging on Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, for a protest rally against the government. The protesters began their 300-mile march in Lahore, led by Imran Khan, who believes he was robbed of last year's election by voting fraud. Meanwhile, a populist cleric is leading a separate march on the capital.

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With A Friendlier Face, LAPD Avoids The Worst Of Ferguson's Woes

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-15 12:09

In Los Angeles, police shot and killed an African-American man during a scuffle with officers Monday night. While many black members of the community were angered by the killing, it hasn't sparked the same outcry as in Ferguson, Mo. Frank Stoltze of KPCC says that's because the Los Angeles Police Department has sought to build relationships with the neighborhood.

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U.S. Policy On Syria Mired In Excess Caution, Official Says

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-15 12:09

Rick Barton, a top State Department official, says sometimes the U.S. has to take risks in diplomacy. Citing his own frustrations, he says that the Obama administration has yet to come up with a real strategy to resolve the war in Syria and isolate jihadi fighters.

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After Shooting, LAPD Uses Friendlier Face To Avoid Ferguson's Woes

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-15 12:09

In LA, police shot and killed an African-American man during a scuffle with officers Monday. While it angered many black members of the community, it hasn't sparked the same unrest as in Ferguson, Mo.

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Baseball Owners Call Up Commissioner Bud Selig's Relief

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-15 12:09

Major League Baseball owners have selected Rob Manfred to succeed Bud Selig as the league's commissioner. Manfred is the sport's 10th commissioner, selected after six rounds of voting by the 30 MLB owners. Sportswriter Stefan Fatsis joins Robert Siegel to speak about the news.

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Drawing On Pentagon Surplus, Police Now Wield Weapons Of War

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-15 12:09

Every year, police and sheriffs' departments receive hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of military-style equipment from the Pentagon. The equipment is passed on with the intent to fight drugs and terrorism, but it was on display in Ferguson, Mo., where it was used for crowd control during protests there.

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In Defense Of U.N. Aid In Iraq

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-15 12:09

For more on the challenges of supporting internally displaced persons in Iraq, Robert Siegel speaks with Kieran Dwyer, the spokesman for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Dwyer responds to criticisms of the U.N. agencies trying to help.

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Startups Pitch Cricket Flour As The Best Protein You Could Eat

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-15 11:20

Cricket flour is a thing, and it's showing up in protein bars and baked goods. A few companies are testing the water to see if Americans can get on board with cricket as an alternative to meat or soy.

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When does a start-up stop being a start-up?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-08-15 11:14

One way to tell a company if a company is a baby start-up? By its location. The farther an address is from the subway in New York – and therefore the cheaper the rent – the more likely the start-up will be a youthful one.

Which is the case with Kinisi. The company, which makes an environmental sensor to gauge problems like air pollution, was founded in June. You can measure its age like a baby's – in weeks.

Bryan Valentini, one of the company's five co-founders, says there are other quick ways to spot the youngest of young start-ups. “You can ask them, 'Do you have business cards?'  Something simple like that," he said. And the answer for me would be 'not right now.'"

Does Kinisi have a human resources department? “You’re looking at it," he said.

Valentini says, for him, one sign a start-up has stopped being a start-up "is when you come in, you’ve started something and it stops being fun.”

What would older start-ups have to say? To find out, we stopped by Columbia Business School’s Startub Lab, hosted at co-working space WeWork in SoHo, an open-plan office with high ceilings, long tables and lots of entrepreneurs with laptops. You can practically smell the IPOs.

“I’m not sure that a start-up ever stops being a start-up," said Benji Jack, a co-founder of start-up BoardRounds, which aims to improve follow-up for emergency room patients. His company has been around for a year, and Jack says start-up-ness is a frame of mind – being able to innovate and change quickly.

"I don’t think one can point to Google and say 'on this date, Google was no longer a start-up,'” he said. 

Just a few SoHo blocks – but many years of start-up experience – away, are the offices of ShopKeep. Founded in 2008, CFO and co-founder David Olk described the company as a "petulant teen." "It’s a little bit more mature," he said, "but it doesn’t mean it’s not going to have its problems, issues and stumble to grow up into a normal human adult."

Olk says he agrees with Jack – that plenty of public companies are run like start-ups. “We’re a start-up," he said. "Look, we have a pool table, we have a kegerator, we have a Foosball table, we have free food.”

Olk said Shopkeep is a mature company and a start-up. Now his focus is on day-to-day business. He doesn’t have to worry about capital like he used to, But he said the company retains its start-up qualities, like employees’ ability to make decisions and to take ownership of their jobs.

But then again, although ShopKeep has 130 employees, with offices in the UK, New York and Portland, it’s no Microsoft.

The problem with gargantuan companies, said Hayagreeva Rao, a Stanford professor and author of "Scaling Up Excellence: Getting to More Without Settling for Less", "is the larger you become as a company, the more likely are smart people inside the company to become dumb.”

Rao said he doesn’t mean smart people become stupid. Instead, he cited the work of anthropologist Robin Dunbar: “He studied a number of species to find out: What is the optimal size of a tribe or a social grouping?"

The magic number is around 150 people. Beyond that, Rao said, your tribe is going to break apart. The bigger a company is, the harder it is to know everyone’s name, let alone what they do.

Imagine you're the founder of a start-up that’s grown from two employees to 2,000: "You go to a meeting and you see a lot of people you don’t know – that’s like definitely a warning sign.  You go to a meeting and say, 'who are these people? What the hell are they doing here?'" he said.

In other words: Once a company becomes successful, it can become its own enemy.

Rao said large companies like Google and Facebook are not start-ups. As they grow, he said, it’s nearly impossible to hold on to their original start-up-y culture. That’s why companies like Google give venture capital money inside the company – to try to stay Google-y.

At Columbia’s Startup Lab, Liz Wilkes, a founder of Exubrancy, an office health and happiness company, is working on her laptop. She says a start-up stops being a start-up when it stops feeling like a family and becomes an organization with hierarchy and systems. But she also says start-up-ness is cultural, which can, if a company isn't careful, be bad for business. 

“You know when you meet that guy who’s like 40 and he’s wearing  a backwards cap and he’s at the bar with your friends who are in their 20s?" she said. "And you’re like, this guy might be a little too old to be here? I do feel like there’s some of that in the start-up scene. Where a company, potentially to its detriment, has not formalized and organized in a way that they should."

Start-ups can get stuck in their teenage years, but they don't have to, Wilkes says. 

Growing up, while retaining just the right youthful qualities, for people or for companies, or for both, is tricky.

Cyrus Massoumi, CEO and founder of the physician location service ZocDocs,  said there are three attributes that define startups: the first he says "is relative to speed, how quickly can you get decisions made, how quickly can you get new products and services." The second, creativity - "are you building new products and processes, are you growing?" And "of course, the last one is fun."

Even with over 600 employees, ZocDocs remains a start-up, Massoumi said. He pointed to the shag carpet skateboard near his desk. "Maybe that’s what makes it not a start-up, he joked. "When your team doesn’t let you ride your shag carpet skateboard around your office for fear that you're going to injure yourself."

"If you want to retain the attributes of a start-up as you get bigger, you absolutely need to focus on it. And it needs to be a top priority or you will lose it."

He nodded toward a stuffed monster, given out as inter-office award. Then, to a large bean bag chair, "we have the world's largest beanbag sitting here," and finally a ping-pong table in the cafeteria. "Ping-pong," he said, "is an important part of what we do."

 

[<a href="//storify.com/Marketplace/when-does-a-startup-stop-being-a-startup" target="_blank">View the story "When does a startup stop being a startup?" on Storify</a>]

 

 

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misidentified David Olk's title. He is CFO and co-founder of ShopKeep. The text has been corrected.

Has Health Law Helped Young People Get Mental Health Treatment? Maybe

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-15 09:55

The Affordable Care Act has allowed many young adults to stay on their parents' insurance. A study suggests the coverage may be helping more of them get treatment for mental health issues.

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EU OKs Arms Shipments To Iraqi Kurds

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-15 09:15

In an emergency meeting in Brussels, the European Union also called for an investigation into possible crimes against humanity carried out by Islamic State militants.

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While Films And TV Shows Miss Latinos, A YouTube Outlet Grows

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-15 09:15

Since it was created in 2012, the MiTú network has been rapidly expanding to meet demand for Latino Web content. Now, it's partnering with Televisa, a Spanish-language media company.

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Wide Range Of Hospital Charges For Blood Tests Called 'Irrational'

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-15 08:24

An analysis of hospital charges in California couldn't explain the wide variation in listed prices for routine lab work. Teaching hospitals and government-run hospitals charged the least.

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In Hawaii, Storm-Battered Area Becomes A Kingmaker

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-15 07:18

Sen. Brian Schatz leads Rep. Colleen Hanabusa in the Democratic Senate primary by a slim 1,635 votes. Two remote precincts, damaged by Tropical Storm Iselle, could hold the decisive ballots.

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What Your Junk Drawer Reveals About You

NPR News - Fri, 2014-08-15 07:11

The Great American Junk Drawer is a scrap yard, a time capsule and a box of curiosities and memories. It can also be a Rorschachian reflection of your life.

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