By Zach Leonsis
Whenever I hear someone mention the word ‘platform,’ I often cringe thinking about how cliché the term has sadly become. Scenes from HBO’s Silicon Valley quickly pop into my head and make me quietly chuckle to myself. But building and leveraging a platform actually is a good strategy for facilitating rapid growth and scale, while also making a greater impact on customers and community. So, what do we really mean when we talk about leveraging a platform?
Sometimes I absorb knowledge best by learning from real-life examples. Since I referenced Silicon Valley, let’s stick with the Bay Area for this one. Let’s take Apple’s iOS software platform for iPhone, iPad, Macbook, and other devices for example. iOS provides a base layer of code from which third party developers can build apps off of for commercial use. iOS is highly distributed, it features built-in security enhancements, it touts tried & tested payment processing, it leverages the device’s inherent computing power, it’s takes advantage of touch screen interactivity, its able to handle hundreds of millions of users, and much, much more. Most importantly though, Apple has tuned and refined iOS over time to feature the most desirable functionality that Apple fans love the most. When you have that kind of foundational infrastructure, it makes it far more attractive to build apps because developers don’t have to ‘reinvent the wheel’ every time they want to launch a new product, and they know that the basic functionality will be agreeable to most customers.
What don’t they have to reinvent exactly? Well, they don’t have to build their own operating software platform from scratch or build their own hardware that can accept the new software, just so they can launch a single app. Think about how inefficient and expensive that would be! It would be totally prohibitive for a startup to ever take on seriously. And it would make little sense for most developers, which is why it hardly ever happens. Apple’s iOS isn’t perfect, but it’s ultimately a pretty easy platform to launch apps off from and as a result, an enormous app universe developed over a decade that’s incredibly attractive to users. As more new apps launch, the platform becomes more powerful for Apple who collects a percentage on all paid transactions, the platform becomes more attractive for users who want more functionality on their phones, and the platform becomes more desirable for developers who want access to a growing audience of daily active users. It’s a tremendous flywheel affect, and when it takes off, it takes off in a very meaningful way. Ask yourself, could companies like Uber have scaled as quickly as they did without Apple’s iOS? Probably not.
Businesses can build their own platforms too. That’s certainly something we’ve aimed to achieve at Monumental Sports & Entertainment. Our platform isn’t a base layer of software for developers to take advantage of, however. Instead, our platform is the sum of our collective efforts across our multiple teams, venues, networks, and other investments. Our platform benefits from shared resources like financial services, accounting, corporate strategy, human resources, corporate partnership sales, business intelligence, streaming networks, a growing database of users, and production resources. It also benefits from the tremendous reach that our brands have collectively grown, enhancing our ability to make a greater positive impact in the DMV. For every new team, venue, network, or other investment that we add to the Monumental platform, we don’t need to reinvent the wheel and create all of the standard back of house services that every business requires because we already have that infrastructure in place. If the platform works correctly, we should be able to grow our fanbase faster, create more robust packages for blue-chip partner brands, increase the value of our Monumental Sports Network subscriber bundle, raise greater funds & awareness for our partner foundations, and more with each additional property that we add to our house of brands.
Platforms are advantageous for plugging in new acquisitions because they create efficiencies for new business P&Ls while also providing a new marketing boost. They’re incredibly helpful for incubating and launching new businesses too. Launching a startup business from scratch is difficult to state the obvious. Brave entrepreneurs require a multitude of factors to go their way if they are to succeed. Great businesses know that they too can be entrepreneurial though. Actually, let me rephrase that. Great businesses know that they must be entrepreneurial as well. For many businesses, if they are not able to take calculated risks on new strategic investments, they might get left behind. You don’t need to look much further than to classic business cases like Eastman Kodak: the leader in camera technology that was left behind by the digital age. Why didn’t Eastman Kodak invest in more digital camera technology? There are countless stories like theirs that often include a similar theme: a fear or ambivalence towards innovation. As a result, intrapreneurial efforts are often as worthy and sometimes just as important as entrepreneurial ones. And a solidified business platform is the perfect launch pad for an intrapreneurial endeavor.
At Monumental Sports & Entertainment, we need to flex our intrapreneurial spirit to grow. We pride ourselves on growing revenues, our number of companies, our audience reach, our dollars raised for charity, and our number of full-time employees. Our core businesses are large and at scale. The Capitals, the Wizards, and Capital One Arena are growing at a steady and predictable clip, while also nurturing a growing local fanbase. We own smaller, more venture capital-like opportunities too that are advantaged by being a part of the Monumental platform. Those venture opportunities may grant us with the most upside potential and our risk should be mitigated by the fact that they are supported by the larger platform. These venture-level companies are often strategic. Our streaming platform, Monumental Sports Network, aims to build a secondary, direct-to-consumer subscriber base while the linear subscriber base slowly decays. And our esports teams grant us access to a brand new, emerging, and younger audience, while also exposing us to brand new media monetization models which we need to learn from for future operations. As a business, we must continue to hold a mirror up to our community to match their changing demands. A platform approach allows us to quickly mobilize to meet those challenges head on.
Thinking of Monumental Sports & Entertainment as a platform is also what fueled the creation of Monumental Basketball, the platform that now services the Washington Wizards, the Washington Mystics, the Capital City Go-Go, and Wizards District Gaming. Those four teams leverage the platform’s shared services for medical treatment, player development, team security, strategy & analytics, and more. ‘A rising tide raises all boats’ as they say. If one team figures out something revolutionary, why would we keep that secret from our other teams? Why wouldn’t we share best practices with all of our teams to ensure that every team is best positioned for success? Our NBA 2K League team would never be able to afford the same services that the Wizards have on their own for example. But as part of a shared services organization, Wizards District Gaming can take advantage of greater resources which should ultimately advantage the team in the future.
Our platform approach to Monumental shouldn’t just be good business though. Most importantly, it needs to be beneficial for our fans and our community first. We take a lot of pride in the fact that the sum of our parts at Monumental grants our players with unparalleled opportunities to make a difference in our region via volunteer opportunities and monetary donations. Our Chief Administration Officer & President of External Affairs, Monica Dixon, recently rolled out a brand-new social impact campaign where the entire organization highlights one charity per month. During that month, Monumental leverages all of its various marketing channels, all of its dollars raised, and its employee and player volunteer hours towards that partner’s cause. We wouldn’t be able to make as big of an impact as we have already if it weren’t for our coordinated approach as an organization.
Platform style approaches always sound great in theory but are harder to execute in practice. That’s part of our daily challenge: we must ensure that the platform actually works for all of the businesses under the Monumental Sports & Entertainment umbrella. When our Monumental platform works, it advantages us in so many ways. As our businesses leverage the platform to scale, they produce more revenue, they employ more people, they pay more taxes, they address more consumer needs, and hopefully they also make greater positive impact on our community. Everyday, we seek to leverage our platform to ‘raise the game’ and ‘be Monumental.’