It has been widely reported in the last few days that some players on the New Orleans Saints football team developed a home-grown bounty system whereby players would reward each other with personal money for inflicting injuries onto opposing players. While the National Football League is investigating the New Orleans Saints specifically, there are indications that such a system might be in existence across the league, along a continuum from the clearly legal (players rewarding a punt return) to the apparently illegal variety (the NFL seems to have rules that prohibit intentionally putting a quarterback on a stretcher).
The New Orleans Saints have developed a perfect system of co-creation we should write up in Harvard Business Review, not decry in the New York Times. The system developed by the players has all five ingredients of co-creation:
- A community. The players who decided they were going to build a kitty to reward injury-causing hits on opposing players set themselves up as a community. Had the NFL not intervened in ill-advised fashion, the player community might have expanded into allowing investment from fans into the bounty scheme. A “Knock Tom Brady cold” Super PAC could not have been far behind, supported by Libyan or Syrian capital.
- An engagement platform. The platform was an organized spreadsheet where players kept tabs on bets and rewards. The spreadsheet was further institutionalized when an assistant coach started keeping score on behalf of the players. The next expansion would have included an idea generation web site open to the public (myinjuryideas.com), with an injury pricing site and rotisserie league to follow.
- Continuously expanding interactions. The platform was originally developed as an incentive system to reward legal plays (e.g., causing a fumble), but started sprouting injury-causing moves over time. The community and platform in place could have been further expanded into player gambling on football games, sponsoring dog fights, or financing armed robbery by young deserving football players.
- New win-win experiences for all parties. We’re told the bounties helped young players round off their modest paycheck, allowing them “to buy shoes” with the proceeds. I understand Zappos and Nike were eager to become involved in the Saints co-creative ecosystem. Elder players enjoyed the developmental experience of providing nurturing advice to their younger colleagues, supported by the team’s Human Resources function. The assistant coach was clearly on the short list for Coaching Innovation of the Year. And the New Orleans Saints fans got a winning football team after years of futility, allowing the entire city to regain its pride after Katrina (well, sort of).
- New value for the club owner. The bounty system produced a highly motivated work force that fully dedicated itself to the task at hand, ultimately winning the Super Bowl. Absenteeism was at an all-time low. Career progression was rapid. The bounty system had no cost to the owner since everything was financed by the players. The system did have a tremendous revenue impact in terms of gate attendance and media revenue. What else could one wish for as an owner?
The bounty system was such a perfect example of co-creation and produced an ever-expanding win for all parties (except for a few injured parties along the way, but doesn’t there have to be some Schumpeterian creative destruction?). The Saints bounty system could have become the new Facebook, the new Google or the new Groupon. Will regulators ever learn?