Numlock News: April 27, 2020 • Kanye, Esports, Bugs
By Walt Hickey
New documents reviewed by Bloomberg demonstrate the financial success of the apparel empire launched by Kanye West, best known as Kim Kardashian’s husband. Bank of America valued the sneaker side of his business alone at $3 billion last year, and the Yeezy business’s shoe revenue alone was on track to make $1.3 billion in revenue last year, up 50 percent year over year and enough to score West some $147 million in royalties. By comparison, West’s entire music catalog has been valued at about $110.5 million, so it’s likely not all that accurate to describe his primary occupation as “musician” anymore.
A $517,000 wager on three games of rock paper scissors was ruled as invalid by the Quebec Court of Appeals, which I guess is bad news for sports gambling types desperate for some new action. The loser of the game had to take a mortgage out on their house, but Quebec law requires wagering contracts to be related to activities that require skill or bodily exertion on the part of the participants and not just chance. Unfortunately, the court did not rule on the truly pressing questions surrounding rock paper scissors, primarily if it’s “Rock, Paper, Scissors, Shoot” or the more sing-song “Rock, Paper, Scissors says shoot.”
So far in 2020, 48.1 percent of the songs in the Spotify top 40 U.S. hits were the first track on their album, a possible new trend in music production as record companies and artists seek to play along with the algorithmic distribution of how users of streaming services consume music. In 2017, just 40 percent of the Spotify top 40 were the first song on their album, and only since mid-2019 have the tracks in the second to fourth slots slipped from around 40 percent of the top 40 to just 26.2 percent of the top 40 in 2020. Another motivation could be TikTok, which encourages music discovery through brief dance challenges, so making it as easy as possible to find a song can be life or death for the success of a track.
Under withering scrutiny from legions of ticked-off buyers — some of whom are in Congress — Live Nation Entertainment, owner of Ticketmaster, said that customers who have tickets to events with no new date can ask for a refund 60 days after the postponement is announced, and then have 30 days to request their money back. Though that’s onerous, annoying and definitely bait for an enterprising public official hungry to make an example out of a profiteer, it’s better than their previous policy for ticketholders to those events, which comprise about 45 percent of the 30,000 disrupted shows. The previous policy was “pound sand.” The company has processed $400 million in refunds, and so far only 3 percent of customers have requested refunds. Morgan Stanley estimated Live Nation may have to pay out $1 billion in ticket refunds this year.
The good news is that in a world craving competition of any and all stripes, a sport that can be played with no human contact whatsoever is in a prime position, which is one reason so many esports have been appearing on actual cable, rather than their typical means of distribution on streaming sites. That’s been the case for a while, and it’s also a rising scene in the shadow sports economy of gambling: wagers on esports are expected to hit $13 billion this year, up from $5 billion in 2016 and a solid chunk of the sports betting market, which is estimated to be $135 billion. The bad news? As the Black Sox will tell you, turns out that having enormous amounts of money riding on events where the players are compensated comparatively little breeds bribery, match fixing, and illegal betting syndicates. South Korea — an early adopter of pro esports — has already endured its fair share of such corruption, but as esports go mainstream it’s becoming worrisome on a global scale. It’s wild to know that if Pulp Fiction were made today, Bruce Willis wouldn’t have been a boxer, but rather an amphetamine-addled 19 year old throwing a Counter-Strike: Global Offensive match.
A new study published in Science adds nuance to the “insect apocalypse,” and it’s not the most comforting, but it’s also not all bad news. Populations of arachnids and insects that live on land are declining at a rate of 0.92 percent per year, which over the course of a decade is about 9 percent. That sucks because most of my favorite insects — bumblebees, butterflies, the Pseudo-Arachnid species of Klendathu, grasshoppers — live on land. However, the study found that there’s actually been an increase in freshwater insects, like midges and mayflies, of about 11 percent in a decade. The positive overall is that even those figures for terrestrial insects are not as bad as some other estimates, which had come in higher, but again more study is always useful and the downward trend remains not great.
New home sales fell 15.4 percent in March to a seasonally-adjusted annualized rate of 627,000 units, which means that had the conditions in March held for the duration of the year that’s how many new homes would change hands in 2020. That’s down from a pace of 765,000 units in February, which itself was revised down to 741,000 units if annualized. That is the largest percentage decline since July 2013. Listen, I’d love to buy a house, but with my clothing line not taking off, Ticketmaster dragging its feet, my illicit League of Legends gambling winnings seized by the Prosecutor General of South Korea and my even more illicit Rock Paper Scissors gambling winnings seized by Ministère de la Justice du Québec, I’m hard up for scratch.
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