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On the money

Amazon muscles in on American football

Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Live sports broadcasting is being upended by, you’ve guessed it, Amazon. Just as Rupert Murdoch’s Fox caused a tremor in the US television industry by outbidding CBS for the rights to National Football League (NFL) games in the early 1990s, so the e-commerce giant’s recent $11bn bid for the exclusive right to stream Thursday-night NFL games on Amazon Prime could mark another “once-in-a-generation upheaval”, says The Economist.

Sport trumps everything else for TV ratings and ad revenue in the US, and American football is the most watched sport in the country. Amazon may not be trying to end the pay-TV business as we know it, or offer wall-to-wall streaming, but the arch disrupter’s move is seen as part of an incursion into live sport “on three fronts”. One is Prime, which has more than 150m global subscribers. They spend twice as much on Amazon as non-subscribers, and the company is using selected games in targeted markets – football in Germany, cricket in India – to attract new sign-ups. It helps that pay TV is in decline and sports rights prices have gone off the boil.

The second front is Twitch, an e-sports platform that will also show the NFL matches. Its fans “watch and discuss online gaming tournaments as if they were crosstown derbies”, says The Economist. This suggests “a future in which sports programmers can create a chattering class of connected buffs rather than supine couch potatoes”. Finally, Amazon’s cloud computing arm, AWS, should demonstrate that the tech giant can stream content to mass audiences without crashing – making it easier for leagues and clubs to stream directly to consumers, bypassing broadcasters.

Tesla’s new twist on horsepower 

Forget cool watercoolers, rooftop gardens and climbing walls. Fifty years after the Rolling Stones first sang “Wild horses couldn’t drag me away”, Elon Musk is using the vision of mustangs “roaming free” to lure workers to Tesla’s battery factory in a Nevada office park. In a bizarre new twist to the war for talent, The New York Times reports that while employees at the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center may not be able to ride the wild animals, they are “nearly guaranteed to see bands of them loping over sagebrush”.

The horses are “symbolic of what America was, and they’re just beautiful,” says Jeffrey Berns, a former consumer protection lawyer and chief executive of Blockchains, a blockchain software development business that is the park’s biggest tenant. Berns, who says his company’s “DNA cares about the environment”, spends about $300,000 a year on five water tanks and feeding programmes for the herds – though he insists that, unlike Musk, he is not marketing them.

Not everyone is happy about the latest idyll in Nevada, home to more than half of America’s 95,000 wild horses and burros (small donkeys brought to the continent by Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century). With occupancy at the park expected to double in the next five years, the frequency of road and rail accidents caused by horses is increasing. In addition, further expansion depletes open spaces and decreases grazing areas.

Nor will the mustangs, intended to burnish corporate environmental credentials, offset the park’s overall carbon footprint. Others question the need to use the horses as a lure. Most of the roughly 25,000 workers at the office park are blue-collar Nevadans who live within an hour’s commute, the park’s project manager tells the NYT. “They’re here for jobs, not because of horses.”

Who’s stashing all the cash?

Wallets, like suits and high heels, have been gathering dust in the pandemic, says Lex in the Financial Times. Digital payment platforms now handle a growing number of transactions. Yet in the year to February there was a 12% rise in physical euros in circulation, a 13% increase in sterling and a 17% rise in dollars. What’s going on?

To some extent it’s down to fear in a crisis, just as worry about computer glitches ahead of the millennium encouraged the hoarding of cash. But there are darker forces at work, fuelled by the growing number of large denomination notes such as $100 and 10,000 yen bills. Central banks estimate that only about a quarter of sterling and euro notes are used for legitimate purposes, while Kenneth Rogoff, a Harvard economics professor, has said that more than half the currency in most countries is used to hide transactions.

Inflation and “a move away from rock-bottom interest rates” could shift cash from under the mattress and dent the “informal economy”, says the FT, but that’s unlikely in the short term. Although the US consumer price index jumped 2.6% in the year to March – the biggest increase since August 2018 – Federal Reserve officials and economists expect the inflation surge to pass. The Wall Street Journal says the Fed’s price index of personal consumption expenditures is projected to rise from 1.6% in February to 2.4% by the fourth quarter of 2021, receding to its target level of 2% in 2022.