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TechGraphs News Roundup: 3/25/2016

According to the solar calendar, spring arrived in the northern hemisphere this week. According to that regular calendar on your desk with the new Jeopardy! answer to tear off every morning, it’s just another Friday, which means it’s time for the weekly TechGraphs News Roundup, wherein we bring you the sports-tech stories from the past week that we found interesting.

March Madness has been pretty wild this year, with the first two rounds of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament featuring a number of shocking upsets. The Sweet Sixteen tipped off last night, and the Maryland Terrapins, who advanced to that round for the first time since they left the ACC to join the Big Ten conference, lost a tight game to the favored Kansas Jayhawks. A disappointing on-court result for Maryland, to be sure, but not for a lack of technology-driven training off the court, where the Terps have been employing an array of biometric monitoring tools. Much of their technological application surrounds team practices, which begin with readings from the OmegaWave system’s monitoring of central nervous system activity. During practice, they incorporate the Zephyr system for heart-rate and G-force tracking. Coaches keep an eye on all of the data these systems collect in real time and adjust training regimens accordingly. Sure, we’re just talking about practice, man, but, at least in College Park, basketball practice in 2016 looks like it has a lot more A.I. in attendance than it did in Philadelphia in 2002.

The latest chapter in the daily fantasy sports legal saga finds FanDuel and DraftKings shutting down all of their paid contests in New York pursuant to the terms of a settlement agreement with the New York Attorney General’s office. We’ve called Yahoo! the “third wheel” in the daily fantasy marketplace, but it was not a party to that settlement agreement and therefore appeared to be the big winner in the Empire State, at least temporarily. The New York Daily News reported that Yahoo! still was taking paid bets in New York on Monday after FanDuel and DraftKings had ceased such operations, but, on Tuesday, Yahoo! agreed to join its DFS competitors in ceasing paid contests. The legal battle will continue in New York, with further court arguments set for later this year, but, for now, the New York Attorney General’s office appears to have won a substantial victory.

PITCHf/x, the baseball pitch-tracking and mapping technology, has been a major boon to the study and analysis of America’s pastime, and it’s a foundational pillar of much of the crack baseball analysis you’ll find in the pages of FanGraphs. The recently introduced StatCast technology expands beyond PITCHf/x to track batted balls, defensive positioning and movement, and baserunner movement. “But what about cricket?”, you might have wondered. That worldly mixture of baseball, bocce, lawn darts, and fraternity-style hazing now has PitchVision, a camera-driven technology that tracks ball and player movement and can compile and analyze the collected data. PitchVision is designed to be portable and relatively cheap (kits start at around $52,000, if my Rupee-to-Dollar conversion was accurate), and the manufacturer, miSport, is marketing them to cricket training schools and teams.

Even in its offseason, the NFL is never far from the daily news cycle, is it? The league’s owners’ meeting wrapped up this week in Florida, and, among the various rule tweaks and other minutiae announced came word that data from the RFID chips embedded in each player’s shoulder pads last season (which we told you about back in September) will be available to teams beginning in May. What they’ll do with it is anybody’s guess, but you can be sure that Bill Belichick won’t reveal any clues.

Australian researchers have created a prototype of a concussion-monitoring headband athletes can wear to allow coaches and game officials to receive brain-trauma information in real time. The goal with the brainBAND technology is to both facilitate in-the-moment concussion diagnoses that should preclude players from returning to game action and measure the smaller hits that, cumulatively, can contribute to a substantial effect on the brain. So far, the brainBAND has been tested on amateur rugby players in Australia, but it would seem to have obvious applications for other sports, including (American) football as well.

Before Oscar Pistorius became controversial for decidedly wrong reasons, his use of prosthetic legs in conventional running competitions raised deep ethical and competitive questions with which many continue to grapple. Research and development in the area of prosthetic technology, continues, of course, and a new research paper from a university in the United Kingdom proposes guidelines for avoiding competitive advantage where prosthetic leg technology is used in sporting events. The paper’s central proposal is to apply a set of practical testing guidelines, including the use of the “dynamic drop technique,” designed to generate objective data on competitive advantages that can better inform future rules and regulations.

In the moments leading up to a sporting event, athletes commonly don headphones and listen to music as part of a preparatory routine designed to aid focus, eliminate distractions, and, for those of us who really loved Jock Jams, get pumped up to come off the bench in a middle school B-league basketball game. When it comes to headphone technology, most of us just want to make sure we’re getting enough volume to our ears. Now, a Bay-Area startup called Halo Neuroscience actually wants to turn up the electricity in athletes’ headphones in order to improve their athletic performance. Halo’s headphones, which look suspiciously like Beats headphones with scalp massagers attached, actually contain neurostimulating electrodes designed to improve motor function through electrical interactivity with the brain’s motor cortex. The company’s own research suggests that their “transcranial direct current stimulation” can improve physical outcomes, but some neuroscientists are skeptical, and the company’s research has not yet been published in peer-reviewed publications. Still, the possibilities Halo Neuroscience’s headphones present have been enough to draw $9 million in venture capital funding.

That’s all for this week. Whether you plan to spend the weekend hunting for Easter eggs or just watching your team hunt for a spot in the Final Four, please remember to be excellent to each other.


TechGraphs News Roundup: 3/11/2016

The volatile month of March is upon us, and in comes this TechGraphs News Roundup, surely the lion of the sporting blogosphere and the FG family (check out our colors!), to deliver the sports-tech stories from the past week that we found interesting, along with just the right amount of bluster.

The baseball countdown clock‘s still ticking, measuring our ever-closing temporal gap between the now and the start of the baseball season. One thing that might happen in the 2016 season is that Mike Trout, extremely good hitter, becomes Mike Trout, even-better-than-before hitter. If that thing happens, it might be due, in part, to his use of a new “smart bat” he helped develop. Our own Bryan Cole has some of the details over at Beyond the Box Score, where he reports that Trout, together with sports sensor manufacturer Zepp and Old Hickory Bats, the company that makes Trout’s in-game bats, have created a bat that houses a Zepp sensor– comprised of gyroscopes and accelerometers– right inside the handle of the bat itself. The idea behind this bat, which will be available for sale to the public this summer, is that increased measuring and monitoring of a player’s swing from the 1,000 data points the bat collects, can be used to help improve a player’s swing. Zepp is seeking approval for in-game use of these smart bats.

Baseball bats are getting smarter, and so too is the way MLB teams are using social media to interact with their fans. For at least a few teams, including the Tigers, Dodgers, and Giants, this digital interaction has expanded to encompass live video streaming during spring training activities. We have covered the live-streaming capabilities of video apps such as Periscope and Meerkat here before, but the MLB teams moving in this direction seem to be favoring Facebook Live, the Facebook-integrated live video app. While Periscope’s ready integration with Twitter means it probably will remain a strong player in the live video streaming space, it also makes sense for teams to bring their content to where most of their fans already exist. For now, that appears to be good old Facebook.com.

Baseball fans aren’t the only ones who are into live video streaming, and with less than a month remaining in the regular season, the NHL playoff race is in full swing, making this an especially timely moment for the news that Yahoo’s new partnership with the NHL will include free live streams of real NHL games. Yahoo plans to stream four games each week, and they will make the streams available on sports.yahoo.com and on the Yahoo Sports Tumblr page (which I just had to Google) to out-of-market viewers at no cost. The first such game is tonight’s Flyers-Lightning matchup.

Did you know that the twenty-first season of Major League Soccer just kicked off? It’s true: MLS finally can share a beers with its fans. In addition to a new drinking buddy in the form of an anthropomorphic sporting league, MLS fans also can look forward to implementation of the Audi Player Index, player-tracking technology designed by an automotive company to collect near-real-time movement and secondary statistical data for every player on the pitch. The goal of the Index appears to be to boil all of this data down to a single number for each player that represents the degree to which the player contributed to or detracted from the player’s team’s win or loss. According to MLS, a top individual game Index score could fall between 500 and 1600 Index points, with the highest individual game score awarded to date being 3330 for a player who scored five goals in the game. At the end of the season, MLS will recognize the player with the highest per-game Play Index average. Fans of new and advanced baseball statistics are likely to recognize some principles of WAR and win-probability added at work here, and, depending upon how effective MLS and its broadcasters are at disseminating this information, the Audi Player Index could offer an engaging entry point for new fans.

For the NBA, player tracking is mere surface-level stuff, with player biometric monitoring continually advancing in that sport. While such monitoring soon may push up against ethical boundaries, if it hasn’t already, the teams do not appear to be slowing down in this department. According to a press release issued Monday, Kinduct, a Halifax-based company, has registered the Indiana Pacers as a new client and will be providing the team its “athlete management software . . . to collect  performance and health data for smoother visualization and analysis within a centralized location.” Does Paul George sleep well at night? Team President Larry Bird soon may be able to answer that question with a quick glance at his tablet device.

In case the sudden absence of advertising made you forget, daily fantasy sports remains a thing that exists, and, in a surprising move in light of the nationwide legal landscape, Virginia recently became the first state to legalize DFS via the Fantasy Contest Act. DFS operators badly needed a legal victory, but, like most legal victories, this one comes at a price. DFS may be expressly permitted in Virginia, but it’s not unregulated, and the regulatory costs, which include a $50,000 operating fee and an annual auditing requirement, may be enough to sink some smaller providers. On the other hand, this sort of regime is exactly what larger providers, like FanDuel and Draft Kings, want, because it shields them from both legal challenges (in the Old Dominion, anyway) and upstart competitors that can’t afford to comply with the regulations.

The annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference runs today and tomorrow in Boston, where a number of potentially interesting topics are on tap. The SXSW conference also begins today in Austin, and the conference has its own sports segment, with many events and panel discussions scheduled over the coming days. For those who won’t be on the ground in Boston or Austin this year, check next week’s roundup for any pertinent highlights that emerge from these hip gatherings.

Whether you’re spending this weekend at a sports-tech conference or just trying to enjoy some springtime weather, please do remember to be excellent to each other.


TechGraphs News Roundup: 2/26/2016

The countdown to the 2016 baseball season is on, and Friday brings us one day closer do the action. Before you crow hop into your weekend, catch up on these sports-tech stories from the past week that we found interesting.

Contrary to the wishes of some of our more outspoken readers, it looks like expanded safety netting will be a reality in both MLB and MiLB parks this year. In what should be more universally well-received news, the league released information on this year’s MLB.TV package this week. We’ll cover it in greater detail here soon, but, for now, know that the regular package is available for $109.99 (a reported $20 discount over last year’s rate) or $24.99 per month. The bigger news, resulting from MLB’s settlement of the Garber litigation, is that, for the first time, the league will offer single-team packages. The single-team annual subscription price, $84.99, is not a significant discount from the newly reduced full package price (and one wonders whether the league reduced the full package price in order to deter purchases of single-team subscriptions in a marketplace in which individual team allegiance, rather than broader interest in the sport, may be the driving factor for fan attention), and the single-team offering, like the full package, is restricted to out-of-market games. For real junkies, spring training coverage also is available.

Speaking of baseball spring training and, a popular topic here, biometric tracking, the Yankees may have found the new inefficiency: sleeping in. Recognizing that most actual baseball games occur in the afternoon or at night, the Bombers are looking to sync their players’ biological clocks with regular-season patterns by starting daily spring training activities closer to noon, rather than adhering to the near-dawn-patrol regimens to which the sport historically has been accustomed. This could be bad news for the rest of the AL East, whose batters the New York bullpen already was effectively putting to sleep last year. (Yes, you can hit me with your pillow for that one.)

February, with the Super Bowl and arrival of books like the Baseball Prospectus and Hardball Times Annuals, ostensibly signals the yearly end of football and beginning of baseball. We know that, like rust, the NFL is a probably corrosive force that never sleeps, however, a reality to which inane tweets and sports-talk-radio discussions this week about the NFL combine likely have alerted you. Something of interest for our readers, though? The emergence of virtual reality in professional football scouting. STRIVR Labs is bringing its VR technology to the combine in order to test quarterbacks’ adeptness at reading defensive schemes. Overkill? Maybe, but it definitely seems more on-point than the latest combine subject du jour: QB hand size measurement.

As for that other brand of football, fans of Italian soccer can look forward to the results of a newly announced partnership between STATS, LLC and European Broadcast Development that promises to deliver “advanced performance data to the clubs and media partners of Serie A TIM, the highest tier of Italian football.” This will reportedly include use of the SportVU tracking technology that has been revolutionary in advancing NBA analytics, among other tools.

Technology indeed has been a boon for better analysis and understanding of the dynamics at play in professional basketball, but you may not be surprised to learn that one NBA player, Steph Curry, is breaking the computer: “The Golden State Warriors guard has gotten so good at draining shots that historically have been statistically improbable that the NBA 2K [videogame] team hasn’t found a way to virtualize his skill set without compromising the realism of the game as a whole. ‘To be completely honest, we are still looking for ways to better translate his game into NBA 2K,’ gameplay director Mike Wang told Forbes.”

On the home front, advancements in exoskeleton technology are allowing those suffering from spinal injuries a chance to walk and run again. One such person — Charleston, South Carolina resident Adam Gorlitzky — had been a competitive runner and basketball player before he lost the ability to use his legs in a motor vehicle crash. His goal now that he’s acquired a ReWalk Exoskeleton: complete the 10k Cooper River Bridge Run.

Our goal is to keep you appraised of the latest and greatest in sports-tech news. In order to complete that goal, we provided you with the content above. As you now contemplate weekending, please remember to be excellent to each other.


Expanded Safety Netting: Coming to MLB and MiLB Stadiums Near You

Last summer, Oakland A’s fan Gail Payne filed a class-action lawsuit against Major League Baseball in an effort to compel the league to provide more protective netting at all ballparks, including minor-league parks, seeking class-action treatment for her lawsuit and, among other remedies, “a rule requiring all existing major league and minor league indoor and outdoor ballparks to be retrofitted to extend protective netting from foul pole to foul pole [sic] by the beginning of the 2016-2017 [sic] MLB season.” In October, MLB responded by moving to dismiss the case in its entirety.

Little has changed in the case since last fall. Payne has amended her complaint to add two other named plaintiffs: Robert Gorman, a Charlotte Knights (White Sox AAA affiliate) season-ticket holder who alleges that he and his wife have been hit by foul balls at games and is the author of Death at the Ballpark: A Comprehensive Study of Game-Related Fatalities of Players, Other Personnel and Spectators in Amateur and Professional Baseball, 1862-2007, and Stephanie Smith, a fan who alleges she was hit by a foul ball at a Dodgers game last summer. The Amended Complaint also names each MLB team as a defendant and adds a state-law claim targeting the liability-waiver provisions of MLB game tickets, as well as a simple personal-injury claim by Smith, individually, against the Dodgers. In addition, the revised pleading contains citations to more articles on baseball fan injuries; more (often graphic) photographs of injured fans; more allegations of fan injuries at games in 2015; quotations from current and former players and managers (including Detroit Tigers Justin Verlander, Nick Castellanos and Anthony Gose, former Atlanta Brave Chipper Jones, Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez, and Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon) calling for the expansion of safety netting or attesting to the dangers of sitting in unprotected areas; and an expanded section asserting that MLB failed in unspecified ways to utilize the technology at its disposal– i.e., Statcast– to protect fans, primarily citing Statcast’s ability to determine batted-ball speeds.

The defendants (with the initial exception of the Blue Jays, who later joined the motion once the plaintiffs complied with international service-of-process procedures) again moved to dismiss the case in its entirety, essentially on the same grounds on which they moved to dismiss the original Complaint.

The court was supposed to hold a hearing on the defendants’ motion to dismiss last week, but it has postponed that hearing until late March due to a scheduling conflict with the plaintiffs’ lead attorney’s family vacation plans. At a minimum, that delay offers you plenty of time to read Nathaniel Grow’s analysis of the possible application of the “Baseball Rule” in this case, and why that legal precedent strongly favors the position of MLB and its teams.

While the Payne case is stagnating (surely a relative description in the judicial context) in court, actual developments in safety netting expansion are occurring. When we last checked in on this story, there was some indication that MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred would be discussing the issue at the then-upcoming owners’ meeting. Following that November 2015 meeting, Manfred said it was “absolutely clear” that changes in safety netting would be coming, but he declined to discuss specifics at that time.

Specifics still seem to be lacking, but MLB’s recommendation, issued in December, appears to be that teams provide safety netting for all seats within seventy feet of home plate, beginning with the upcoming season. A report on a minor-league team said to be complying with the new safety directive indicated that the team would extend netting “to the end of each dugout,” referring to the end farther from home plate. (For scale, another minor-league team, the West Michigan Whitecaps, is following suit, with the distance from the center of the backstop to the far end of a dugout reportedly constituting seventy-eight feet.)  That’s what the Royals are doing as well, and that report, which states that the Phillies, Cubs, and Rays also planned to extend safety netting in response to the league’s recommendation, quoted a Royals’ executive, who said that Kansas City’s netting expansion “exceeds all of [the league’s] recommendations.” The Twins are doing the same thing, and the Rangers may be going even farther, with one report claiming that safety netting in Arlington will extend “beyond the team dugouts” (although another report has the netting extending only to the end of the dugouts).

All of the teams installing more nets in advance of the 2016 season look to be doing so to the same extent, lengthwise, but some variance remains with respect to the height of the nets, though no team yet is extending them so high as to offer protection to fans seated in upper decks — which is where Gorman, one of the new named plaintiffs in the Payne case, says he was seated when he alleges a foul ball hit him in the face.

The plaintiffs in the Payne case want the league to mandate netting expansion “from foul pole to foul pole” (presumably they actually mean two lines of nets extending outward from home plate to each foul pole, not across the outfield wall), so the new recommendation doesn’t provide them all of what they’re seeking in that regard, but it’s clear the league is trying to meet them somewhere in the middle, which is where most litigants end up.

The impetus for covering this story at this site was that the coming collision of the new safety regulations, driven at least indirectly by the Payne suit, and the interest of those fans who, unlike the Payne plaintiffs, oppose expanded netting because they believe it will significantly obstruct their view of the game (a number of whom expressed those views in the comments to our initial post on this subject) created a seemingly fruitful opportunity and incentive for innovation in safety netting technology that could increase safety while decreasing visual obstruction.

Preliminary inquiries to netting companies last year and reviews of the minimal technical specifics that made it into news stories on the subject largely were non-revelatory, but now, with expanded netting imminent at a number of MLB and MiLB parks, at least one team is taking steps to address both safety and sightline concerns through the type of netting they’re installing. From the (St. Paul) Pioneer Press report on the new nets at the Twins’ Target Field:

Despite the fact they were safely within industry guidelines set forth this winter, the Twins will replace the traditional netting behind home plate with knotless Dyneema material. They will use a thinner version of that same netting to span the remaining distance to the end of each dugout.

The dugout netting, which will be 7 feet high and require its own system of cables, is 1.2 millimeters thick as opposed to 1.8 mm behind the plate. It will be affixed to the front of the dugout roof, making it “less invasive to sightlines,” according to Hoy, and preventing fans in the front row from brushing against it.

C&H Baseball of Bradenton, Fla., the same company that installed the original netting at Target Field, will handle this project as well. Installation is scheduled for mid-March, well in advance of the Twins’ home opener on April 11, and the Twins say the cost is relatively nominal.

A 2016 C&H Baseball sales brochure describes Dyneema as an “Ultra High Molecular Weight Polyethylene” fiber manufactured by a Dutch company of the same name, whose website describes the material as “the world’s strongest and lightest fiber.” Given C&H’s position in the industry– their customer list touts relationships with many MLB, MiLB, and major college teams, and a competitor has described them as “really the last word on the subject” of baseball netting– and the indication from the Twins organization that the cost of this newer netting is “relatively minimal,” it seems reasonable to expect that more teams will be moving to knotless Dyneema, or something similar, in the near future, in the hopes of satisfying both the entertainment and safety interests at stake.

(At the time this post was published, C&H Baseball had not responded to multiple requests from TechGraphs for comment.)

With Opening Day less than two months out, let us know what changes you’re seeing at your local ballparks, and if you’re reading and commenting on TechGraphs at the game (not not recommended), be sure to keep one eye on the action too.

(Header image via Elvert Barnes)

Super Options For Super Bowl Watching

Super Bowl L50 is nigh. While the NFL missed the opportunity to treat the world to Super Bowl Large, they’re keeping it simple with Arabic numerals, and CBS, which has the broadcast, is following suit: there will be no Megacast on Sunday night, and, really, nothing outside of what has become the ordinary. Truly a Jim Nantz production. Kickoff is set for 6:30 pm Eastern, and your broadcast options are as follows:

  • Traditional television broadcast: CBS
  • Spanish-language traditional television broadcast: ESPN Deportes; can’t keep La Nave Nodriza down
  • Online stream: CBS is streaming the Super Bowl for free through their online player; Roku, Chromecast, and Apple TV users will have access to this feed through their respective CBS Sports apps; USA Today reports that CBS “is working with” Amazon to provide service to Amazon Fire TV users; Windows 10 and Xbox One users reportedly will have access to additional camera angles
  • Mobile stream: the NFL Mobile app, available only to Verizon subscribers with Windows phones, iPhones,  Android phones, or similarly-connected tablets; outside of the usual data charges, there appears to be no additional cost for streaming live NFL games through the NFL Mobile app
  • Radio: CBS-owned Westwood One (find your local affiliated station here) has the terrestrial radio broadcast; the satellite broadcast on SiriusXM will be on the NFL Radio channel; the Panthers’ local radio broadcast will be available only on the Carolina Panther Radio Network’s flagship station, WBT out of Charlotte; the Broncos’ local radio broadcast will be available across the entire Denver Broncos Radio Network
  • Las Vegas-area television broadcast: As of yesterday, CBS; on Thursday, cable provider Cox Communications and area CBS affiliate KLAS-TV resolved an “impasse” that threatened to black out the Super Bowl broadcast to approximately forty percent of area viewers

If you’re more of a Puppy Bowl person, Puppy Bowl XII airs at 3:00 Eastern on Animal Planet. While there is a beta-quality stream of the channel, Animal Planet Live!, reports indicate that it will not be carrying the Puppy Bowl, so you likely will need to find a cable subscriber with a television to catch those little mutts in action.

Finally, if media overload is about to make you crack, I suggest Key & Peele’s completely unauthorized live Super Bowl commentary video feed, which starts a half hour before kickoff and is available online here.

(Header image via NFLRT)

TechGraphs News Roundup: 1/15/2016

2016 already has seen more than its share of changes, so we welcome you back to the regularity and predictability of the TechGraphs News Roundup with this collection of sports-tech stories we found interesting this week.

The 2016 Consumer Electronics Show wrapped up on Saturday. We covered the highlights in last week’s Roundup, but the good folks at Baseball Prospectus assembled a nice summary of some of the baseball-specific applications showcased there. (And don’t miss our own Bryan Cole in the comment section with a video clip of Shaq O’Neal wiping out while testing a baseball swing analyzer.)

Speaking of the future of baseball, the trial in Garber v. Office of the Commissioner of Baseball, a class-action lawsuit against MLB over the league’s television-broadcast policies, starts on Tuesday, and Nathaniel Grow has a preview of the arguments.

While CES featured a number of audio companies promising future development in the wireless headphone space, two, Earin and Bragi Dash, already have retail-ready wireless earbuds. As this thorough review explains, truly wireless earbuds still have some hurdles to overcome, one of which is the fact that our dumb human heads are full of water, an unfriendly medium for the transmission of wireless signals. While it’s apparent that this technology remains in the developmental phase, it will be interesting to see whether it has uses beyond personal fitness and entertainment, such as for communications between football players and their coaches.

Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, among others, has backed Courtside Ventures, a Detroit-based $35 million venture capital fund targeting early stage sports technology and sports-centered media startups. Early indications are that the group is interested in virtual reality and analytical data.

Way back in September, we were one of the first site to tell you about Pylon Cam, which since has become the star of this (NFL and college) football season. After its special seat at the table during ESPN’s multi-platform broadcast of the college football national championship game, it should come as no surprise that CBS will be incorporating the technology into its Super Bowl 50 coverage. Also included: a 360-degree replay view courtesy of thirty-six cameras mounted on the stadium’s upper deck and a camera providing viewers with the on-field perspective of certain players, such as the quarterback.

It seems as if companies make these types of claims every week these days, but a company called VCIS just unveiled a new style of football helmet that they say reduces the threat of head injuries. Putting a dual-shell design into an attractive helmet is no easy task, but th high price ($1,500 a pop) might be a hindrance. VICIS hopes to have the helmets for sale before the coming football season.

Speaking of football, if you happen to fall in the very narrow spectrum of people who don’t care about the Super Bowl, but happen to have a Google Cardboard headset lying around, you’ll be happy to learn that this year’s Puppy Bowl will be broadcast in VR.

Finally, today is the deadline for nominations for the 2016 Sports Technology Awards. If your proposal, development, technology, or product in one of about a dozen categories is good enough, you could earn a trip to the awards ceremony in London this April. Past winners include the All England Lawn Tennis Club (known to most Americans as Wimbledon) in the “Best Technology Partnership” category for their partnership with IBM, something we’ve documented here.

That’s all for this week. Have a mindful Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, and please be excellent to each other.


Sweet Sixteen: The College Football Championship Megacast Strikes Back

The college football season wraps up tonight with the national championship game, which pits #1 Clemson against #2 Alabama. When the game kicks off at 8:30 (Eastern) this evening, ESPN will offer sixteen different ways to follow the action live. Let’s count them:

  1. ESPN/WatchESPN: The traditional television broadcast will be on the Worldwide Leader’s flagship television channel both through TV and online;
  2. ESPN Deportes: Spanish-language traditional television broadcast.
  3. ESPN Radio: The traditional radio broadcast will be on your local ESPN Radio affiliate, as well as through WatchESPN and the ESPN mobile app;
  4. WatchESPN: Clemson’s radio broadcast, with isolated camera shots of Dabo Swinney and Tigers players;
  5. WatchESPN: Alabama’s radio broadcast, with isolated camera shots of Nick Saban and Crimson Tide players;
  6. ESPN2: Film Room, featuring live game analysis from Florida head coach Jim McElwain, UNC head coach Larry Fedora, South Florida head coach Willie Taggart, Pittsburgh head coach Pat Narduzzi, and newly hired South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp, joined by ESPN analysts. This simulcast has been the most well-received alternative broadcast during ESPN’s two previous college football championship Megacasts.
  7. ESPNU: New this year is what ESPN is calling the “Homer Telecast,” overtly biased coverage from Clemson alum (and the school’s all-time leader in passing yards) Tajh Boyd and Alabama alum (and three-time national champion) Barrett Jones, mediated by ESPN/SEC Network’s Joe Tessitore. According to ESPN, other “partisan” guests are expected to join the action, and the broadcast will come from field level, rather than a traditional broadcast booth.
  8. ESPNEWS: Have a few empty spots on your couch? ESPN Voices promises to be a casual, “living room-type” conversation between an assorted bunch of ESPNers, including Michelle Beadle, Jay Bilas, Marcellus Wiley, and Teddy Atlas (sure!).
  9. SEC Network: The Finebaum Film Room, which debuted at last year’s national semifinal game between Alabama and Ohio State, and made a return appearance at this year’s New Year’s Eve semifinal game between Alabama and Michigan State, will make its first appearance in conjunction with a college football championship game tonight. If you’ve never heard or seen the Paul Finebaum Show, this should serve as a good introduction to the program’s host, as well as its many colorful callers, who will be able to phone in during the game.
  10. ESPN Classic: Sounds of the game. Had enough with all the jibber jabber and want to enjoy the game in relative peace? This is the channel for you, featuring nothing but the sounds of the fully enclosed University of Phoenix Stadium. Hear the public address announcer, as well as the full pregame and halftime entertainment programs. Also available on WatchESPN.
  11. ESPN Goal Line: For the true football junkies, this is the “Command Center” feed, with enhanced split-screen action. You’ll see live game action next to replays of every play, isolated feeds of both head coaches, drive charts, and statistics. Over this will play the audio feed from the ESPN Radio broadcast.
  12. WatchESPN: Replay Booth – What purports to be “an authentic recreation of the replay booth experience,” offering viewers the experience of those officials tasked with reviewing every single play and signaling when further review is required. Hosted by replay officials from the ACC and SEC, as well as an ESPN rules expert.
  13. WatchESPN: Data Center – “Significant on-screen graphic content ranging from analytics, real time drive charts, win probability updates, curated social media reaction and more.” Guess you’re just going to have to dial this one in to find out what that means. Hope it works better than the Comcast/Xfinity sports app sidebar. Unclear how it differs from the “Command Center” feed on ESPN Goal Line.
  14. WatchESPN: Student Section – Cameras focused on the student fan sections, bands, cheerleaders, mascots, and, if we’re lucky, a Bojangles outside Spartanburg.
  15. WatchESPN: Pylon Cam – Want the simultaneously best and worst seats in the house? This feed promises to rotate between the twenty-four available end-zone pylon cameras, apparently showing twelve at any one time.
  16. WatchESPN: Spider Cam – Not advisable if you’re extremely susceptible to motion sickness. Fly above the field the entire game with this view. Maybe the spider camera will get nailed by a punted football!

Say what you will about ESPN, and I have, but the Megacast is fun and the sort of thing more of which the network ought to do. Now we just need Bristol to invent a Buffalo-sauce-resistant television remote control. Enjoy the game!

(Header image via Wikimedia Commons)

TechGraphs’ Guide to Watching the College Football Playoff Semifinals: Return of the Multicast?

While shifting technological, media, and economic sands may be signaling the approaching end of ESPN, the Worldwide Leader’s not dead yet, and it’s closing out 2015 with a bang. Along the lines of last year’s inaugural College Football Playoff Megacast, ESPN will be leveraging its multi-channel capabilities to deliver a variety of simulcasts for the two semifinal games taking place tonight, as well as the other four major bowl games– the Rose, Sugar, Fiesta, and Peach Bowls– spread across today and tomorrow. Although there won’t be as many options tonight as were available during last year’s championship game Megacast, it’s good to see the network continuing to take advantage of its resources by expanding coverage of these games. Viewing details on each of the “New Year’s Six” bowls are below.

Peach Bowl:

Teams: #18 Houston vs. #9 Florida State

Time and location: December 31, 12:00 pm, Atlanta, Georgia

Primary television: ESPN

Alternate television: Spider cam feed on ESPN3/WatchESPN

Audio: ESPN Radio, ESPN Radio app

Spanish-language television: ESPN Deportes

Trophy presentation: ESPNEWS, ESPN3/WatchESPN app

Orange Bowl (playoff semifinal):

Teams: #4 Oklahoma vs. #1 Clemson

Time and location: December 31, 4:00 pm, Miami, Florida

Primary television: ESPN

Alternate television: Spider cam feed and home or away audio plus ESPN visual on ESPN3/WatchESPN

Audio: ESPN Radio, ESPN Radio app

Spanish-language television: ESPN2, ESPN Deportes

Trophy presentation: ESPNEWS, ESPN3/WatchESPN app

Cotton Bowl (playoff semifinal):

Teams: #3 Michigan State vs. #2 Alabama

Time and location: December 31, 8:00 pm, Dallas, Texas

Primary television: ESPN

Alternate television: Spider cam feed and home or away audio plus ESPN visual on ESPN3; Finebaum Film Room, featuring in-studio analysts and guests, as well as live viewer telephone calls on SEC Network

Audio: ESPN Radio, ESPN Radio app

Spanish-language television: ESPN2, ESPN Deportes

Trophy presentation: ESPNEWS, ESPN3/WatchESPN

Fiesta Bowl:

Teams: #8 Notre Dame vs. #7 Ohio State

Time and location: January 1, 1:00 pm, Glendale, Arizona

Primary television: ESPN

Alternate television: Spider cam feed on ESPN3/WatchESPN

Audio: ESPN Radio, ESPN Radio app

Spanish-language television: ESPN Deportes

Trophy presentation: ESPNEWS, ESPN3/WatchESPN

Rose Bowl:

Teams: #6 Stanford vs. #5 Iowa

Time and location: January 1, 5:00 pm, Pasadena, California

Primary television: ESPN

Alternate television: Spider cam feed on ESPN3/WatchESPN

Audio: ESPN Radio, ESPN Radio app

Spanish-language television: ESPN Deportes

Trophy presentation: ESPNEWS, ESPN3/WatchESPN

Sugar Bowl:

Teams: #16 Oklahoma State vs. #12 Ole Miss

Time and location: January 1, 8:30 pm, New Orleans, Louisiana

Primary television: ESPN

Alternate television: Spider cam feed on ESPN3/WatchESPN

Audio: ESPN Radio, ESPN Radio app

Spanish-language television: ESPN Deportes

Trophy presentation: ESPNEWS, ESPN3/WatchESPN

The big addition here is the simulcast of the ESPN Deportes Spanish-language television broadcast on ESPN2 for both semifinal games. ESPN also plans “cross-platform coverage” of the national championship game, which it will announce next week. At a minimum, I expect a return of the general “film room” coaching analysis channel, a televised (i.e., not just online) alternate camera feed, and, in the unfortunate event that Alabama topples Michigan State tonight, the SEC Network Finebaum broadcast for the January 11 championship game.

(Header image via Wikimedia Commons)

Imagining a World Without ESPN

Imagine there’s no ESPN.
It’s easy if you try.
No broadcast partner intermediaries to charge us,
above us only direct access to sporting events live.
Imagine all the cord-cutters

living for today[, a day without ESPN].

Today, and for at least the past twenty years, it is difficult to imagine four letters more associated with sports in America than ESPN. Heck, as of 2006, there were at least four kids named ESPN, according to ESPN.com. The network invented the concept of a twenty-four-hour sports television channel at a time when ninety-three percent of the television audience restricted its viewing to ABC, CBS, and NBC, all of which still were signing off entirely each night. Part of the invention included SportsCenter, of course, but the network first established its national reputation when it broadcast the entire 1980 NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

While ESPN is thirty-six years old and living the starkly corporate lifestyle these days, its teenage years were wild, at least by broadcast television standards. In the 1990s, the network’s comparatively brash attitude provided it with a cultural identity that existed almost independent of sports. It may be difficult to remember this now, but it’s true: ESPN used to be cool. A selective timeline:

  • 1992: Keith Olbermann joins SportsCenter to host “the big show” alongside Dan Patrick
  • 1993: ESPN2 launches with Olbermann, Suzy Kolber, Stuart Scott, and, later, Jim Rome and Kenny Mayne, who would also work as a SportsCenter anchor; Craig Kilborn joins ESPN as a SportsCenter anchor; the modern era of College GameDay begins; ESPN.com launches
  • 1994: ESPN Presents: Jock Rock Vol. 1 is released, beginning a series of Jock Rock and Jock Jams audio CD releases that featured popular sports-related pump-up songs interspersed with clips of SportsCenter personalities like Patrick and Chris Berman dishing out their catchphrases
  • 1995: ESPN hosts the first X Games
  • 1996: Rich Eisen joins ESPN to host SportsCenter with Scott
  • 1998: The first ESPN Zone opens, in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor; Norm Macdonald hosts the ESPYs
  • 2000: Page 2 launches on ESPN.com, an alternative site that would feature the bylines of Ralph Wiley, Hunter Thompson, Scoop Jackson, and, of course, Bill Simmons
  • 2001: Pardon the Interruption debuts on ESPN
  • 2003: ESPN debuts Playmakers, the network’s first original drama series, about a fictional professional football team

Playmakers was a blend of Friday Night Lights, Entourage, and Hard Knocks, and, aside from the Sunday night NFL game and Saturday afternoon college football games, it was the most-viewed program on ESPN. Despite its wild popularity, the show was on the air for less than three months. Under pressure from then-NFL Commissioner Paul Taglibue, ESPN first restricted promotion of the show and then cancelled it. The NFL didn’t care for the way Playmakers portrayed NFL players — too realistic, it seems — and wanted the show off the air. Mark Shapiro, then the executive vice president of ESPN, defended the network’s decision to adhere to the NFL’s wishes: ”It’s our opinion that we’re not in the business of antagonizing our partner . . . . To bring it back would be rubbing it in our partner’s face.”

Action speaks louder than words, and the cancellation of Playmakers signaled a turning point for ESPN, which began to purge itself of the people and programs that had built its unique identity in the decade from 1993 to 2003. From the viewers’ perspective, it became clear that ESPN was removing anybody whose name had become bigger than the network’s.

That represents an interesting notion of network cohesion, but there really is one explanation for the shift that ESPN executed in the period beginning with the cancellation of Playmakers and running through the termination of Simmons earlier this year: the prioritization of live-sports broadcast rights. Beginning with the 1980 NCAA tournament (and its early agreements with smaller conferences like the Big East), and running through whichever Monday Night Football or SEC volleyball game you just watched, ESPN’s core programming is live sporting events. The network’s adolescent dalliance with original content and individual personalities a thing of the past (what are they doing with Mayne these days?), that live-sports core is almost all ESPN is in late 2015, the remainder largely consisting of an internal #hottake-generating echo chamber.

Live sports is what national sports networks are supposed to be all about, though, right? So where’s the problem? Yes, ESPN has competition now, but FS1, CBSSN, and NBCSN aren’t serious threats to the Worldwide Leader, at least for the moment. Each rival network has tried different approaches, with Dan O’Toole and Jay Onrait’s Olbermann/Patrick Big Show sendup on FS1, and CBSSN and NBCSN attempting to steal ESPN on-air talent (only to see that talent eventually return to the Mothership). But the organizing principle remains unchanged: for a rival to mount a legitimate challenge to ESPN, the accepted view is that those other national sports networks need more live sporting events, and right now, nobody beats ESPN in that department. By both inventing the medium and controlling the market for so long, ESPN has been able to raise the barriers to entry by gobbling up live sports broadcasting rights, starving its competitors of the programming they need to draw eyes to their channels (or the TV Guide to even find their channels) in the first place.

ESPN spends a boatload to make sure its collection of channels remain the go-to destination for live sports events, which are among the most valuable properties in all of television. That’s long been true, but it’s even more true today with the proliferation of advertisement-avoiding DVR technology. In 2015, it’s not unreasonable to begin binge-watching the entirety of The Good Wife, a drama that debuted in 2009, but nobody’s going to start catching up on all of the Vanderbilt baseball games they saved from back in the spring, championship-caliber MLB feeder program that the Commodores are. People watch games live or not at all. That’s why ESPN has unloaded billions of dollars for the right to broadcast live sporting events on their channels. The estimated numbers from FY 2015 provide an illuminating snapshot:

League
Annual Rights Fee
National Football League
$1.9 billion
Major League Baseball
$700 million
National Basketball Association
$600 million
Major League Soccer
$45 million
Wimbledon
$40 million
U.S. Open (Tennis)
$23.3 million
The Masters (Golf)
$25 million
British Open (Golf)
$25 million
College Football Playoff
$610 million
NCAA Championships
$42 million
ACC Sports
$240 million
Big Ten Sports
$100 million
Big 12 Sports
$110 million
Pac-12 Sports
$110 million
SEC Sports
$227 million*
American Athletic Sports
$18 million
Mountain West Sports
$9 million
Little League World Series
$7.5 million
TOTAL
$4.831 billion

* – ESPN splits SEC Network profits with the conference. The SEC received $150 million from ESPN’s primary rights deal, plus approximately $77 million from SEC Network for the 2014-15 season.

By leveraging its capitalization to corner the market on live-sports broadcasting rights, ESPN has insulated itself against serious competition from FS1 and the other national sports networks, to which are left the scraps. Think bull riding, arena football, and auto racing series you’ve never heard of. (Long live SPEED!) In the course of ensuring a low ceiling for its rival national sports networks, however, ESPN has become exposed to competition from another quarter. Rather than worry about its would-be peers, ESPN’s biggest threat now may be its own broadcast partners.

As we have been noting in our regular news roundups here, ESPN has been losing subscribers as a result of cord-cutting, people ditching traditional cable and satellite television providers, and now we have a number: seven million subscribers lost in the past two years. According to parent company Disney, ESPN now is down to 92 million subscribers. Cord-cutting is an obvious problem for the network because of its cost relative to other channels on viewers’ cable and satellite bills. ESPN relies on cost-spreading– everybody with a cable or satellite subscription pays for ESPN regardless of whether they watch it– to make its price more palatable to its actual users, and it relies on its robust portfolio of live sporting events to make itself so in-demand that everyone continues to pay those costs. The other side of that coin, of course, is that ESPN needs all of those subscriber fees to be able to afford its obligations under its broadcast-rights agreements. So far, it’s a model that’s worked very well for ESPN. But what if they lost those broadcast rights that make them a must-have component of every cable and satellite subscription?

ESPN’s programming portfolio, and those of its fellow national sports networks, is increasingly one-dimensional. Is The Doug Gottlieb Show really appointment viewing? Is Scott Van Pelt’s “midnight” SportsCenter? (what time does it start, exactly?) Nah. We’re all tuning in to watch the games. And without the games, would the remnant husks of networks be able to survive?

Perhaps a better question: why are sports leagues still selling off their broadcast rights? The NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL all have their own television channels. (Some collegiate athletic conferences also have networks, although these tend to be more akin to partnerships between the conferences and existing television networks like ESPN and Fox, rather than independent media entities.)  They all have well-developed web platforms, and they all exercise control over the use and sharing of their content online, some more stringently than others. Yes, the NFL received a $1.9 billion check from ESPN last year for the right to broadcast Monday Night Football, but ESPN only cut that check because it knew that its broadcast of that event would allow it to make even more money. Why can’t the leagues eliminate these intermediary networks and realize an even greater portion of the value of their own broadcast rights?

This already is occurring to some extent. There are regular-season NFL games that appear only on NFL Network, and some MLB playoff games have appeared only on MLB Network. Cutting ESPN et al. out of the picture completely would require a not-insignificant capital investment, of course, to expand the leagues’ broadcast capabilities, but the issue merely is one of scale. It isn’t as difficult to create and operate MLB2 when MLB Network’s already up and running. The model exists and is replicable, as the national sports networks themselves have demonstrated. Most importantly, the leagues hold the most valuable asset in the equation. Their products essentially market themselves, and distribution follows demand, which, as everyone agrees, follows the games themselves.

That said, there are reasons why each of the leagues might hold differing views of such a large-scale shift.  For example, while NFL football games may be sufficiently popular on a national level to justify a move to NFL Network-exclusive broadcasting, the NHL might find that its 1,230 games per season are only nationally marketable when bundled with other sports and therefore decide to remain with its regional sports network-based broadcast infrastructure. Still, even if leagues like the NHL and MLB, which have long seasons full of many games that draw only regional interest, wouldn’t be good fits to go 100% national, we still could see them bringing marquee matchups, Winter Classics, and All-Star and postseason games exclusively onto the leagues’ own channels.

Are these the End Times for ESPN? Unless the leagues suddenly and rapidly retrench onto their own platforms, probably not. And if the thought of Roger Goodell, Rob Manfred, Adam Silver, and Gary Bettman executing any changes in their respective leagues that might be described as “sudden” or “rapid” made you laugh, it’s probably because you know that these leagues are conservative institutions that change slowly, if at all. In the end, maybe what ESPN & co. offer the leagues is a product-delivery method that, while not necessarily superior to or more profitable on a transaction-by-transaction basis than a league-owned channel, insulates the risk-adverse leagues from the shifting vagaries of the market, politics, and public opinion, all of which affect the sensitivities of the advertisers and corporate and civic sponsors who ultimately fund the leagues. So viva ESPN, the Worldwide Leader in sports-media insurance coverage.


DFS Losers Seek to Recoup Losses in Class Actions Against FanDuel, DraftKings

Last week, a DeKalb County, Georgia resident, Aaron Hodge, filed two proposed class action lawsuits in federal court in Atlanta against daily fantasy sports (DFS) websites FanDuel and DraftKings in an attempt to recover money he lost playing games on both sites, which, he alleges, amount to little more than “illegal gambling.”

As DFS gained popularity and attention this summer and fall, in large part due to broad advertising campaigns by both FanDuel and DraftKings, users may have noticed that residents of a small number of states– including Washington, Louisiana, Arizona, and Iowa– were not allowed to play games for cash prizes.

While these early restrictions did little to slow the momentum of DFS and its two largest sites, the industry recently has come under more substantial public scrutiny following New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman’s initiation of an investigation of and request for an injunction against FanDuel, DraftKings, and Yahoo!, which also hosts DFS games.

Last week’s suits by Hodge are believed to be the first legal challenges to FanDuel and DraftKings brought by a private citizen. (Hodge’s attorneys have since filed a similar lawsuit in Alabama.) Hodge’s complaints (available here and here) are basically identical. The essence of his allegations is that the DFS games offered by FanDuel and DraftKings constitute unlawful gambling under Georgia law and he therefore is entitled to restitution for his losses at both sites. Hodge does not reveal how much money he lost playing DFS, but he does allege that the aggregated losses of the proposed classes — comprised of “All persons in the State of Georgia who participated in Defendant’s DFS, deposited money in a [FanDuel/DraftKings] account, and lost money in any game or contest” —  exceed $5 million in each case.

Hodge’s complaints allege only state law claims, and the legal centerpiece of these cases is O.C.G.A. § 13-8-3, Georgia’s gambling contracts statute. That law provides that all “[g]ambling contracts are void” and that a loser may recover his or her losses from a winner under a gambling contract:

(a) Gambling contracts are void; and all evidences of debt, except negotiable instruments in the hands of holders in due course or encumbrances or liens on property, executed upon a gambling consideration, are void in the hands of any person.

(b) Money paid or property delivered upon a gambling consideration may be recovered from the winner by the loser by institution of an action for the same within six months after the loss and, after the expiration of that time, by institution of an action by any person, at any time within four years, for the joint use of himself and the educational fund of the county.

Hodge argues that DFS contests on FanDuel and DraftKings are not skill games but rather games of chance; that these sites therefore are doing little more than taking bets on sporting events; and therefore he and the sites are parties to gambling contracts for which the user entry fees constitute the gambling consideration that Hodge is entitled to recover under O.C.G.A. § 13-8-3(b).

Among his other claims, Hodge also contends that the sites violate Georgia criminal laws pertaining to commercial gambling and the advertising thereof, and he argues that the sites’ claims that their DFS contests were lawful games fraudulently induced him to participate.

An interesting allegation Hodge sprinkles throughout his complaints is that both FanDuel and DraftKings “failed to disclose the use of ‘bots’ or fake accounts designed to operate as ‘shills'”:

Upon information and belief, [FanDuel/DraftKings] uses “bots” or fake accounts to act as “shills” in the gambling scheme in order that certain winnings go to the “house” ([FanDuel/DraftKings]), and also creating the illusion to the [FanDuel/DraftKings] user of interacting with a gambler on equal footing. The employment of “shills” (or “bots”/fake accounts) employs a similar concept to those “shills” that are permitted by law in states with casinos such as Nevada, but Georgia does not permit any gambling, never mind the use of “shills” in the form of “bots” or otherwise fake accounts. And regardless, in states where such devices are employed, there is no illusion, nor effort to create the illusion, that the “house” is not winning the losing bets (in the form of monies that are attributed to “shills”) and in the case of [FanDuel/DraftKings], there is no disclosure of the use of “shills” nor any legal basis for doing so in Georgia.

One of the first procedural hurdles Hodge will need to clear to proceed with his proposed class actions in federal court are the sites’ terms of use. He wants to avoid the applicability and enforcement of these terms of use because they contain arbitration, jurisdiction, and venue provisions that would neutralize his ability to maintain these class action lawsuits against FanDuel (terms of use) and DraftKings (terms of use) in court. On one hand, Hodge is arguing that a contract — albeit a gambling contract that’s void under Georgia law — existed between him and each DFS site. On the other hand, though, he argues that the sites’ terms of use are not part of any contract or binding agreement between him and each site.

If Hodge is able to keep these lawsuits in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, where he has filed them, his further success will depend upon his ability to convince the court that the DFS contests FanDuel and DraftKings host really are gambling, not skill games. On this point, in addition to the well-publicized New York AG investigation and Nevada’s determination that DFS constitutes gambling, he may find some in-state assistance as well. Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens now has opened his own investigation into the legality of DFS, and the court in Hodge’s cases could find Olens’ conclusions on the matter persuasive.

Another issue possibly lurking in these cases is preemption, a legal concept based on the supremacy of federal law over state law. In general terms, preemption means that if a federal law and a state law conflict, the federal law controls. On the question of whether their sites’ contests constitute gambling, FanDuel and DraftKings may argue that their contests are permissible under the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA), a federal law that prohibits certain activities and transactions connected with betting and wagering. Part of that Act provides that “[t]he term ‘bet or wager’ . . . does not include . . . participation in any fantasy or simulation sports game . . . in which (if the game or contest involves a team or teams) no fantasy or simulation sports team is based on the current membership of an actual team that is a member of an amateur or professional sports organization . . . and that meets the following conditions:

(I) All prizes and awards offered to winning participants are established and made known to the participants in advance of the game or contest and their value is not determined by the number of participants or the amount of any fees paid by those participants.
(II) All winning outcomes reflect the relative knowledge and skill of the participants and are determined predominantly by accumulated statistical results of the performance of individuals (athletes in the case of sports events) in multiple real-world sporting or other events.
(III) No winning outcome is based—
(aa) on the score, point-spread, or any performance or performances of any single real-world team or any combination of such teams; or

(bb) solely on any single performance of an individual athlete in any single real-world sporting or other event.”

If FanDuel and DraftKings fit within this exception to the Act, because, for example, their contests involve forming “fantasy” teams of selected individual players, as opposed to simply picking an existing team, like the Detroit Lions, to win, the sites may contend that the federal UIGEA preempts the conflicting state laws Hodge argues make their contests illegal and entitle him to recoup his losses. (For what it’s worth, the congressman who drafted the UIGEA, Jim Leach, doesn’t buy any part of this argument. According to the Associated Press, Leach’s view is that “the carve out for Fantasy sports in the [UIGEA] does not provide them with immunity against other federal and state laws that could limit their activities. . . . ‘Quite precisely, UIGEA does not exempt fantasy sports companies from any other obligation to any other law.'”)

Meanwhile, as legal scrutiny over DFS heats up in the United States, FanDuel and DraftKings are hoping to find friendlier regulatory environs abroad. Some wonder whether their expansion into the United Kingdom may come back to haunt them stateside, however. Calling themselves “gambling software” companies, both sites have applied to U.K. regulators for gambling licenses. DraftKings received a gambling license in August, while FanDuel, which applied this month, still is waiting on a decision. DraftKings’ Chief Internal Officer says he doesn’t see a contradiction between the site’s representations in the U.S. and U.K., but American officials, including the judge or judges handling Hodge’s lawsuits, may see things differently.

(Header image via Karsten Bitter)

MLB Lawyers Ignore, Commissioner Hints at Technological Solution for Fan Safety

About two weeks before the trade deadline, Oakland A’s fan Gail Payne filed a class-action lawsuit against Major League Baseball in which she asked the league to install more protective netting to shield fans from foul balls and bats. This month, MLB responded to Payne’s complaint by moving to dismiss the case in its entirety. (The motion is available here.)

When Payne filed suit, Nathaniel Grow, writing for FanGraphs, estimated that the case had little chance of success, for reasons including the possible applicability of “the so-called ‘Baseball Rule,’ a doctrine historically shielding MLB teams from legal liability for injuries incurred by fans from foul balls or broken bats.”

While I had little reason to be more optimistic than Grow about the lawsuit’s prospects, I wrote here at TechGraphs that, if the case did go forward as a class action, it could present a number of interesting legal and practical questions, such as whether the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, where the case is pending, will apply the Baseball Rule; whether and how the likely large number of dissenting class members might seek to influence the litigation; and, within our subject-matter jurisdiction here at TechGraphs, whether this lawsuit might serve as a catalyst for the development of a technological solution for the the problem posed by the competing interests of fan safety and fan enjoyment at baseball games.

To varying degrees, MLB’s motion to dismiss addressed all of these issues, among others, seeking to poke as many holes as possible in Payne’s complaint. As expected, the league strongly argued for the application of the Baseball Rule in this case, telling the court that, pursuant to a legal doctrine requiring federal courts to apply the law of the state in which they are located in certain circumstances,  it “must” follow that rule because California courts already had adopted it. The motion also included an apparent nod to those baseball fans who don’t share Payne’s desire for expanded protective netting:

Ultimately, Plaintiff’s action for injunctive relief is an overreaching attempt to impose unnecessary and unwanted regulation. Plaintiff’s choice to sit in an unscreened upper-deck section of the Oakland Coliseum, and her alleged fear resulting from that choice, do not justify forcing the majority of baseball fans in all Major and Minor League parks to sit behind netting.

By their nature, motions to dismiss do not come draped in the vestiges of compromise, so it is little surprise that MLB’s first substantive response to Payne’s complaint did not include a proposal for a technological solution to the underlying problem of safety and spectating this suit, however inartfully, attempts to address. The motion does make passing mention of some of the practical difficulties with the scope of the netting extension Payne requested, though, observing in a footnote that extending netting down the foul lines still would leave Payne, whose seat is in the upper deck, susceptible to the sorts of fly balls that might enter her seating area.

MLB’s lawyers may not have engaged in a discussion about actual steps for improving baseball fan safety, but that doesn’t mean the subject isn’t on MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred’s mind. Eric Fisher, who covers baseball and technology for SportsBusiness Journal, reported this week on the Commissioner’s comments that changes to protective netting at ballparks will be the subject of “a big presentation” to the teams early in the offseason:

Even if Payne’s lawsuit is too flawed to deliver reform in the judicial arena, Manfred’s recent remarks suggest she nevertheless may succeed. Whatever happens, this moment remains one of great opportunity for technological innovators to develop a means for delivering greater degree of baseball fan safety while minimizing visual obstruction.

(Header image via Tony)

TechGraphs News Roundup: 10/23/2015

As the World Series approaches– quick question: does StatCast display in metric for Blue Jays fans?– and sports dreams become reality, the tech beat, in which robot dreams become reality, marches on. What follows are some of the sports-tech stories from the past week that we found interesting.

First Gatorade, now head safety. The University of Florida football program has its priorities in chronological order, announcing this week that it is the first (collegiate, we suspect) team to test HITS sensors in its helmets. HITS stands for Head Impact Telemetry System, and the idea is to develop a better picture of the cranial contact football players receive during games for the purpose of improving safety.

Speaking of robot hats, IBM is turning the attention of its Watson computer to a number of sports-related applications, including player safety, through wearable technology monitoring; golf, though a “personal caddy” app that provides swing feedback; and hockey, through a program being used by the Pittsburgh Penguins to analyze fan data to improve the fan experience at home games. Still no word on that song Watson and Dylan are supposed to write together, though.

Feeling overwhelmed by all of these new wearable sports tech products? We’re only on the third story of this roundup! The NFL Players Association understands, though. Yesterday, the union filed a grievance against the NFL, claiming that use of sleep-monitoring sensors on players by “several” teams– including the Seahawks and Eagles– violates the collective bargaining agreement, because the technology is used outside of practices and games. This grievance is but the latest chapter in what is likely to be an ongoing battle over the scope of wearable biometric technology in professional sports.

In good news for the environment and most smartphone users, a significant segment of the secondary sports ticket market is going paperless. SeatGeek has introduced a mobile app through which the site will deliver a barcode for scanning when you enter the venue. Unfortunately, it does not have a ticket-sharing feature, but the company says that’s in the works.

It has been a somewhat contentious week in the world of online sports media. First, Deadspin and SB Nation resumed sports-GIF tweeting following account suspensions in response to Digital Millenium Copyright Act claims against them by the NFL (and not the MLB, as some initially suspected, based on a recently announced GIF-sharing crackdown by that league). The media entities appear to be preparing for a more combative approach in the future, arguing that their GIFs and Vines constitute constitutionally-protected speech. Meanwhile, ESPN and YouTube seem to be squabbling over YouTube’s new premium service, YouTube Red, which allows users to watch videos advertisement-free, in exchange for a ten-dollar monthly payment. ESPN shut down many of its YouTube channels, but it is too early to tell with certainty whether that decision was the result of a disagreement with YouTube policies or concerns over the legal rights to the sports footage often incorporated in ESPN videos.

Finally, still more drama in the e-sports world, where the coach and two members of a South Korea-based professional StarCraft2 team have been arrested on match-fixing charges. Authorities believe those involved manipulated the results of five matches this year, for which they received between $4,400 and $17,600. (If you want an even smaller amount to ogle, a professional League of Legends player was fined $556 for flipping the bird at one of his competitors. (Also, if you haven’t checked lately, take a look at that dollar-Euro exchange rate.)) Here, the magnitude of the government’s response, rather than the sum at stake, speaks to the growing global interest in competitive video game competitions.

That’s it for this week. Shake it off this weekend, and be excellent to each other.


How to Stream the 2015 MLB Playoffs

It’s early October, which means it’s time to start making some mental notes for the approaching decorative gourd season while enjoying some playoff baseball. You’re on your own for the former, but we can help with the latter. The MLB playoffs start on Tuesday, beginning with the American League Wild Card game. Here’s how to watch:

  • Traditional television: For you squares (like me!) who still want to make use of that giant box around which your living rooms are oriented, all of these games should be available to you. In general, look for the AL games on Fox and the NL games on TBS (somebody maybe tell Ted Turner the Braves didn’t quite make it this year), although you’ll need ESPN, MLB Network, and Fox Sports 1 (now being rebranded as simply FS1) for some of the early action. Here‘s a helpful schedule.
  • MLB.com Gameday: This old standby makes you feel both seriously plugged-in, by virtue of its integrated PITCHf/x and StatCast data, video clips, and social media streams, and seriously devoid of a human experience, by virtue of the fact that, say, Prince Fielder and Don Kelly do not really have the same body types. Free for anyone with a computer and an internet connection. Compare MLB At Bat app for mobile users.
  • MLB.tv: MLB’s premium, web-based service brought you live streams of all out-of-market television broadcasts during the regular season for a non-negligible fee. Due to the exclusivity of MLB’s playoff television broadcast rights agreements, however, you should not expect this service to be available in the postseason, with the exception of Gameday Audio, which the fine print indicates will remain available to MLB.tv subscribers. Instead, things shift to what the league calls Postseason.tv, which will allow subscribers to view “live alternate video feeds,” but not the main television broadcast feed. This will set you back $9.99 for the entire postseason, and does require you authenticate with you TV provider. But if you already pay for TV, the next two options might be your best bet.
  • TBS.com: It is not exactly clear what TBS will be offering this year in terms of playoff baseball streaming, but, in 2014, live streams were available to cable subscribers on TBS.com and through the Watch TBS mobile app, giving us every reason to believe the same will be available in 2015. TBS is also available to Sling TV subscribers.
  • Fox Sports Go: It’s the same story for Fox, which does not appear to have announced the scope of its playoff streaming, but we assume that, at a minimum, live streams will be available to cable subscribers through the Fox Sports Go app and at FoxSportsGo.com, as they were for the 2014 postseason.
  • Terrestrial radio: ESPN Radio will have every game. Find the dial location of your local ESPN Radio affiliate here. ESPN Radio also provides iOS and Android apps.
  • Satellite radio: SiriusXM. A subscription is required, but they almost always are offering free trials.

Enjoy cold weather baseball!

(Header image via Keith Allison)

TechGraphs News Roundup: 9/25/2015

Before the drones assume full command of our last vestiges of leisure, we wanted to provide you with this News Roundup, which highlights the sports-tech stories from the past week that we found interesting.

First, with dispatches from the very cutting edge, our own Brice Russ was in New York City Tuesday for the On Deck Sports and Technology Conference, scoping out upcoming developments in fan-oriented technology, including MLB’s StatCast, NBA in-arena tech, localized sports networking, and more. Look for additional reports on this event from Brice in the coming days.

It’s late September, which means MLB rosters have expanded in anticipation of the playoffs. Managers’ toolkits are expanding too, as teams now are permitted to use iPads (and other companies’ tablets, presumably) in the dugout during games. The unsurprising catch is that the tablets cannot be connected to a network, and all data– such as batter spray charts and pitcher video– stored on them must be downloaded to the devices no later than three hours before game time. Also, while the devices are allowed in dugouts, bullpens currently remain off-limits, probably because bored relievers are highly susceptible to gaming addiction. So far, reports indicate the Reds and Cardinals are using iPads to some extent in their dugouts. MLB previously restricted use of Apple Watches in dugouts, and the blanket ban on cell phones remains in place. That doesn’t apply to us fans, though, which is neat because a company called Scoutee is developing an app that will turn your smartphone into baseball radar gun.

“Cord-cutting”– the process of disentangling oneself from the expensive morass of packaged cable and satellite television services– is a popular subject around these parts. While new media technology is making this beneficial transition a reality for more and more consumers, the shift is not without its human costs. As people are learning, one of the priciest television channels is ESPN, which, alone, accounts for more than $6.00 of cable and satellite subscribers’ monthly bills, regardless of whether they watch the channel. With cord-cutting on the rise, however, the Worldwide Leader may not be able to sustain its operation by spreading its costs across a broad pool of cable and satellite customers. According to a recent report, ESPN is losing “millions” of subscribers and, in light of the billions of dollars it has committed to broadcast rights for live sporting events, “is gearing up to lay off hundreds of employees to trim costs.” The move away from traditional television services isn’t a total job-killer, though: the linked story quotes John Brillhart, a Minnesota man who works full-time as a “cord-cutting consultant,” and whose name may be the secret identity of Minnesota resident and TechGraphs Managing Editor David G. Temple.

We love science at TechGraphs, and here we find a report on work by some Swedish researchers who set out to discover whether athletic success breeds further success. The study examined professional golfers and compared the performances of the last person to make the cut and the first one to miss the cut at a particular tournament– two very similar golfers– in subsequent tournaments: “In other words, they were asking, if you just happen, largely by chance, to make the cut in tournament A, does that change your odds of making the cut in tournament B?” The result was a strong “yes,” as the researchers found that the golfer who just made the cut in tournament A was much more likely to make the cut in tournament B.

I’ve long contended that the NBA offseason is more exciting than the NBA season itself, and while that contention may merely be a reflection of my personal taste, there’s no doubt that the fairly public tug of war between the Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Clippers over DeAndre Jordan was one of the wildest basketball stories since the release of the last AND1 Mixtape. The modern twist on this saga was that the public largely was able to follow the developing story in real time thanks to an emoji battle on Twitter set off by Dallas’ Chandler Parsons. Now comes news that the whole thing was an accident, and that Parsons’ opening salvo actually had nothing to do with Jordan at all. Whatever you think about emojis, or even if you just read that word for the first time in your life, this story clearly illustrates the relative practical merit of New Criticism over traditional authorial intent.

In the least surprising news of the week, the NFL’s got drones now. This letter from the FAA proves it.

Yesterday, we told you that daily fantasy sports site DraftKings has expanded its offerings to include esports (i.e., competitive video game playing). Not to be left in the e-dust, DraftKings rival FanDuel responded simply by buying another site, AlphaDraft, that already offered daily fantasy contests for esports, for an undisclosed amount under $25 million. I’m as tired of the DraftKings and FanDuel advertisements as everyone else, though, so my request to the two competitors is that they not bother me until I can play daily fantasy sports daily fantasy contests. If I can bet on people playing a video game like League of Legends, I should be able to bet on somebody playing DraftKings or FanDuel.

On that metanote, we bid you a good weekend and respectfully request that you be excellent to each other.


TechGraphs News Roundup: 9/11/2015

After a laborious break, the News Roundup is back with the football sports-tech stories we found interesting this week.

Tennis may be slower to embrace technology than other sports, but if the All England Club can get web-savvy, you know the game is catching up to the curve. For recent evidence of that, we look to Damien Saunder and mapping software company ESRI. Saunder has been using data from Hawk-Eye, the camera system in place for the purpose of line-call challenges, and other sources to develop data visualizations of entire tennis matches. With counting stats (e.g., “How many aces did Serena hit in her last match?”) still dominating the tennis analysis conversation, Saunder believes his visualizations, and the practical information derived from them, can provide qualitative context to the whens and wheres of events that drive results in a sport in which timing and location matter. (And speaking of Hawk-Eye, this new Wall Street Journal interactive site lets you go eye-to-eye in a line-call test with the Hawk itself.)

With the NFL regular season kicking off last night, a lot of us have had football on the brain. We’ve recently covered concussions, NFL Sunday Ticket alternatives, and television streaming devices. Now comes news that Fox will be streaming live NFL games this season through its Fox Sports Go app and online at FoxSportsGo.com. Although this is a good step for fans of NFC teams, it’s a small step for the network. Access still requires a paid television-provider subscription (Dish Network users currently don’t have access), and while this does permit mobile viewing on a tablet, smartphone viewing is not supported. Finally, coverage is restricted to the game your local Fox affiliate is carrying, so if you’re an NFC North fan living in the NFC South, you’re going to need a longer Ethernet cable.

Meanwhile, Comcast is trying to improve the television viewing experience– and maybe keep your eyes off some other, non-Comcast-connected device– with a new, on-screen football app that provides interactive statistical data about players and teams in action. Use of this app requires a Comcast X1 subscription.

CBS and ESPN have been testing “Pylon Cam,” which is what it sounds like, and probably very expensive, so stop using the pylons as golf clubs. (Also from that story, New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin expresses skepticism about the utility of using drones at training camp, and all players’ shoulder pads will contain RFID tags for on-field movement tracking.)

Not to be left out, the NFL itself is expanding its digital offerings. For example, the league’s new video network, NFL Now, will be available on its redesigned mobile app, creatively dubbed NFL Mobile, as well as online and on a number of other popular platforms, all without a subscription. Additionally, all Verizon users can stream Thursday, Monday, and in-market Sunday afternoon games on connected Android and iOS smartphones, but not tablets, at no additional cost. (Sorry, BlackBerry PlayBook users.) Sure, the NFL may be turning into a mind-melting mixture of golden-age prizefighting and professional wrestling, but at least we have little excuse for missing a second of it.

It’s looking like there will be some fresh faces in the 2015 MLB playoffs, and with less than a month to go in the regular season, the race for those final postseason spots is hot. Also hot: all that internal data the Cardinals nabbed from the Astros. Remember that? Baseball is big business, and as big data becomes an increasingly important part of that big business, data industry actors are counseling baseball teams to behave more like sophisticated corporations with intellectual property worth stealing and protect themselves accordingly.

Finally, included in Apple’s live-action data dump community theater show Wednesday was news about a new MLB At Bat app for Apple TV. The app offers plenty of features, including split-screen viewing of two live games and on-screen statistics. An NHL app also is reported to be coming to Apple TV in 2016.

That’s all for this week. While you’re streaming football straight into your domes this weekend, don’t forget to be excellent to each other.


MLB Fan Lawsuit Seeks Technological Remedy

Last month, Oakland A’s fan Gail Payne filed a class-action lawsuit against Major League Baseball in an effort to compel the league to provide more protective netting at all ballparks, including minor-league parks:

The Plaintiff and the Class are entitled to injunctive relief requiring Defendants, among other things, to adopt corrective measures regarding the implementation of: (1) a rule requiring all existing major league and minor league indoor and outdoor ballparks to be retrofitted to extend protective netting from foul pole to foul pole by the beginning of the 2016-2017 MLB season; (2) a rule requiring any newly constructed ballpark intended to house major or minor league baseball games, to include at a minimum this amount of netting; and (3) a program to study injuries and the rates of injuries amongst spectators, including the type and manner of injury and at what locations in ballparks they occur, in an effort to continually reevaluate whether additional measures should be taken, so that precautionary measures can continue to evolve as the sport continues to evolve.

As Nathaniel Grow wrote for FanGraphs, Payne’s lawsuit has a relatively low likelihood for success, due to the “several strong legal defenses” available to MLB and the possible applicability of “the so-called ‘Baseball Rule,’ a doctrine historically shielding MLB teams from legal liability for injuries incurred by fans from foul balls or broken bats.” (Payne attached to her complaint a “sample list of injuries suffered to spectators located in the unprotected areas along first and third base between the foul poles, during official play” that identifies about eighty-five such injuries since the early 1900s.)

If the case does go forward, though, it could present a few interesting questions. One is whether the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, where Payne’s case is pending, will apply the Baseball Rule. Last summer, the Georgia Court of Appeals refused to do so, affirming a trial judge’s rejection of a request by the Atlanta Braves (joined by the office of then-MLB Commissioner Bud Selig) to apply the rule and dismiss a lawsuit brought on behalf of a child whose skull was shattered by a foul ball at a Braves game.

A second question arises out of the procedural nature of Payne’s complaint, which seeks class-action treatment, and involves the means available to dissenters in the proposed class for challenging Payne’s position. Unlike the more popularly familiar “opt-out” class-action lawsuits, for which you may have received a coupon because you purchased overpriced energy drinks or music CDs, Payne’s proposed class action will proceed, if at all, under a different rule as a “mandatory” class action. Practically, this means that, if the court certifies Payne’s case as a class action, the final result of the case will bind every member of the class, which Payne broadly defines as all MLB season-ticket holders with seats “in any unnetted/uncovered area between home plate and the foul plates [sic] located at the end of the right and left field lines . . . .” As Grow suggested in his FanGraphs post, if the court grants her request for class certification, Payne could find herself with some unhappy fellow class members, as it seems likely that many MLB season-ticket holders with seats in what Payne’s complaint dubs “the Danger Zone” prefer their completely unobstructed views of the action and do not agree with Payne that the league should extend netting all the way to each foul pole. Because the proposed class is of the mandatory variety, though, dissenting class members could not simply opt out and control their own legal destinies. While yet another rule may allow those season-ticket holders who don’t want additional netting requested to intervene in the case and make their objections known, they must take affirmative steps to do so, and they must act in a timely fashion. A possible alternative, which Grow mentioned, is that MLB itself may point to this probable intra-class division in the course of its anticipated argument that the court should not allow the class action to proceed, thus relieving the dissenting class members from the need to do so. (On this point note that, on Monday, MLB filed a routine Disclosure of Interested Entities, which listed only the league’s thirty teams and their owners as among those entities having “a financial interest in the subject matter in controversy [or] having a non-financial interest in that subject matter . . . that could be substantially affected by the outcome of this proceeding.”) MLB’s answer to Payne’s complaint is due on October 2, 2015.

Third, and the reason for taking a look at this case over here at TechGraphs, Payne’s complaint raises a question of practical technology: How can we keep baseball fans safe while affording them the best available opportunity to enjoy baseball games? While the response from Payne’s legal and ideological opponents is that the fans themselves (and alone) bear the burden of ensuring their safety, an increase in fan-protection measures of some sort seems likely. MLB teams, including the aforementioned Braves, already employ extended netting during pregame activities, and further severe fan injuries could mobilize popular sentiment and personal injury lawyers to target MLB’s pockets, rather than merely its conscience.

To some, the pushback against increased safety netting should sound as a cry for technological innovation. As attitudes about netting change, a manufacturer who could produce stadium nets with reduced visual obtrusiveness seemingly would find himself or herself well-positioned to enter the market. (I contacted representatives for multiple MLB teams and netting manufacturers in connection with this story. None offered substantive comment, although one, Tex-Net, Inc. owner John Scarperia, indicated that he thought that the nets in use today already were as unobtrusive as possible while still providing the requisite degree of protection.)

And attitudes are likely to change. In 2002, thirteen-year-old Brittanie Cecil died as a result of injuries sustained when a deflected hockey puck struck her in the head during the course of an NHL game between the Calgary Flames and Columbus Blue Jackets. Three months later, the league, having completed a study of the issue, decided to significantly expand fan safety measures in its arenas by installing large safety nets at each end of the ice.

Image via Wikipedia

Image via Wikipedia

As Yahoo! hockey blogger Greg Wyshynski recalled in a post marking the tenth anniversary of Cecil’s death, negative fan reaction to the netting in 2002 was substantial and precisely in line with the remarks from 2015’s opponents to increased baseball netting. From the article announcing the new nets: “Some Blackhawks season ticket-holders said during the season that they would oppose having netting installed because it would interfere with their view of the game.” From a (oddly illuminated) contemporary editorial:

If spectators paid attention to the game, safety wouldn’t be a concern.

At the MCI Center in Washington, D.C., 122 fans were injured in 127 games, most of them weren’t serious, according to a report by two emergency room doctors. Meaning spectators were trying to be heroes by catching the puck and cutting their hand or something minor.

Don’t try to be heroes when the puck is traveling at 100 miles per hour; just duck.

The nets are good news to some people, such as the architects that build new arenas and stadiums. Now, with the nets, spectators will be able to see ice rinks where there are only 15-20 rows of seats behind the end zones and the rest near center ice. Taller and wider stadiums will be built as soon as the word gets out that no one can see through the nets.

Even Doug MacLean, then the general manager for– of all teams, the Blue Jackets– received angry mail: “It was shocking to me. When we put the nets up in Columbus [where Cecil was killed], I had some unbelievably nasty letters from season ticket-holders asking me how I could do that to their sight-lines.”

Wyshynski, who admitted he too was an early opponent of the netting, revisited the story ten years later not so much to chide or mock those early opponents but to observe just how much of an afterthought the netting had become since the initial outcry over its installation: “The purists bristled at the end of a tradition. Debates raged … and then a decade later, yesterday’s hot-button debate is today’s societal norm.” Should MLB ultimately follow the NHL in mandating new safety netting, it isn’t too difficult to imagine that, ten years down the road, your favorite baseball writer on whatever future version of TechGraphs exists at that time will have something similar to note.

(Header image via Rob Bixby)

TechGraphs News Roundup: 7/17/2015

A “day without sports” does not a week without sports-technology news make, so here are the sports-tech stories we found interesting this week.

Scientists in Switzerland announced the inaugural Cybathon, an international competition for bionic athletes. Unlike the Paralympics, the overriding emphasis of Cybathon is less on athletic achievement and more on encouraging the development of new robotic technologies that will aid those with physical limitations in their daily lives. The first Cybathon will take place in Zurich in the fall of 2016.

Audience streams for gaming tournaments have by and large been only in the first-person view. But a new company called Super League Gaming is hoping to bring a bigger, world view to their tournaments. They are partnering with major movie theater chains to display a broader view of the game’s environment on the big screen.

In case you had any doubts about the health of the daily fantasy industry, popular DFS site FanDuel just raised another $275 million, and is now valuated at a cool billion.

NHL 15, while still really fun to play, was a bit of a letdown in many areas. EA is making a push to improve the experience with their next offering, and offered a video showing some of the improvements coming to the game. It’s slated to drop on September 15.

We cover plenty in the way of wearable athletic technology in this space, but when it comes to golf, you probably already have an effective one in your pocket. Well-known golf instructor and former Tiger Woods coach Hank Haney has an active Twitter account, and all you need to do to receive expert analysis of your game is tweet Haney a video of that Tasmanian-Devil mess you call a golf swing and wait for him to respond with some advice, which he dishes out in his spare time.

Football season looms ever closer, and with it the danger of traumatic brain injuries. Doctors at the University of Miami, together with software company Neuro Kinetics and involvement from the U.S. Department of Defense, have developed concussion-detecting goggles, which they are testing on Hurricane athletes this summer. One of the practical advantages of the goggles is that they are portable: the apparatus fits in a backpack, meaning it’s easy to bring them to away games too. The university was one of the winners of the NFL’s second Head Health Challenge, an incentive program to support the development of brain-protection technology, and the $500,000 award has provided the bulk of funding to date for the development of the goggles.

Hawk-Eye for the masses? While nobody’s proposing a populist archery revival (to our knowledge), a French company is developing Mojjo, a camera-based tennis analysis system designed to be used by amateur players. While a relatively inexpensive, single-camera system like Mojjo won’t compete with the most advanced, multi-camera systems the pros use, it still appears capable of providing amateur players with plenty of insightful feedback.

And finally, to put this one on ice, rumor has it that some NHL teams have begun to use the player-tracking system the league debuted at the All-Star Game earlier this year. Unlike the NBA’s SportsVU system, which requires the installation of an array of cameras in each arena, the NHL’s Sportsvision program works by tracking specialized equipment each player wears under his uniform, which also can transmit biometric data like heart rate.

Like your work week, this News Roundup is ending. Have a good weekend, and be excellent to each other.


Jason Pierre-Paul Didn’t Start the Fire: How Athletes Could Lose Control Over Their Health Data

Like many of us, NFL defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul spent last weekend launching fireworks in the course of celebrating America’s birthday. Unlike most of us, hopefully, Pierre-Paul injured himself in the course of his combustible activities. While the extent of his injury, reported to be to one of his hands, initially was unknown, that quickly changed on Wednesday afternoon, when ESPN’s Adam Schefter posted a photograph purporting to be of a Pierre-Paul medical record, which indicated, among other things, that doctors had amputated one of the football player’s fingers.

The news of Pierre-Paul’s digital truncation would have come out before long– it’s difficult for linemen to hide severe hand injuries– even if Schefter’s source didn’t leak it, but in an era of ostensible medical privacy, Schefter’s tweet still was a bit stunning to see. Though laws such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act do not apply to journalists, Schefter’s actions still cross a line of decency and ethics.

One of the central concepts here is authorization, and as we move away from a time in which the bulk of athlete health information exists in conventional medical records and into a reality in which people, including those involved with sports teams, are embracing wearable athletic technology with the capability of pervasively gathering vast amounts of biometric data, authorization may become a moot issue for the monitored athletes. Seeing Pierre-Paul’s records pop up on Twitter struck some as “creepy” and “invasive,” but we may not be far from a situation in which athletes are indirectly pressured or directly asked to authorize broad disclosure of their health information.

In examining the “explosion of data and data collection” in the NBA for an ESPN The Magazine last fall, Pablo S. Torre and Tom Haberstroh wrote that

The boom officially began during work hours. Before last season, all 30 arenas installed sets of six military-grade cameras, built by a firm called SportVU, to record the x- and y-coordinates of every person on the court at a rate of 25 times a second . . . .

But to follow this logic to its conclusion is to understand why the scope of this monitoring is expanding, and faster than the public knows. Teams have always intuited that on-court productivity could be undermined by off-court choices — how a player exhausts himself after hours, for instance, or what he eats and drinks. Now the race is on to comprehensively surveil and quantify that behavior. NBA executives have discovered how to leverage new, ever-shrinking technologies to supervise a player’s sleeping habits, record his physical movements, appraise his diet and test his blood. . . .

“We need to be able to have impact on these players in their private time,” says Kings general manager Pete D’Alessandro. “It doesn’t have to be us vs. you. It can be a partnership.”

A lovely sentiment, at least in theory. But how long will it be until biometric details impact contract negotiations? How long until graphs of off-court behavior are leaked to other teams or the press? How long until employment hinges on embracing technology that some find invasive?

Baseball fans benefit from the deepening analysis of the sport by writers at places like FanGraphs, who can easily query in-game data troves like PITCH/fx and Statcast to support their work, and recent work on this site highlights the leading edge of wearable technology designed for baseball applications. Will data from players’ heart-rate monitors and FitBits ever be publicly searchable on BaseballSavant? Probably not. Will they be leaked when the player is in the midst of contract negotiations, as Pierre-Paul is, like drug test results and Wonderlic scores already are? The mere existence of the data certainly allows for that possibility.

Reports indicate that Pierre-Paul still plans to play football this season, although it’s unclear whether he will do so as a New York Giant. Even a strong season, wherever he winds up playing, is unlikely to make him the most accomplished nine-fingered performer in recent memory. As we sit on the cusp of the “explosion of data and data collection” in sports, though, we nevertheless may remember the leak of Pierre-Paul’s medical records as marking an important transition point on the path toward the more all-encompassing biometric-data-gathering world. And also the part about blowing off his finger with fireworks.

(Header image via maf04)

All England Club Dot Net: Wimbledon in the Royal Age of Technology

Generally regarded as the most formal of tennis’ Grand Slam tournaments, Wimbledon– pardon, The Championships, Wimbledon– famously features players tarnishing the courts’ grass surfaces in mandated all-white apparel and an only recently lifted requirement that the participants bow or curtsy in deferential acknowledgment of attending members of British royalty.

The 2015 tournament is underway, and so too is the eldest Slam’s grappling with technological developments. Perhaps most visible is the tournament’s improved website. The homepage, Wimbledon.com links to a live blog, which consists of a stream of updates including summarized match results, video and images from social media, and player comments. Live video and radio streams are available directly through the site, as is a video archive, and current weather, time, and ticket queue information appear on the face of the landing page. (Live video streaming also is available to cable subscribers from ESPN3/WatchESPN.)

wimb

Behind the scenes, longtime tournament partner IBM has driven these updates to Wimbledon.com and informational mobile apps (for iOS and Android users), which will have an offline mode to permit ongoing operation where wireless service is unavailable. IBM also is leveraging its Watson computing technology in an effort to deliver analytical information to fans with greater speed.

While official digital coverage of Wimbledon appears to be at an all-time high, fan-generated content is a different matter. Wimbledon’s tournament directors, including Alexandra Willis, Head of Digital and Content, have taken a more actively-hostile stance toward the use of mobile streaming services like Periscope, although Willis admitted that her team would be experimenting with the technology. Willis’ focus is less on the technology’s ability to sidestep conventional broadcast channels– like others, she does not view it as a viable threat in that regard– and more on protecting the live experience for attending fans and players. The prohibition on video streaming is a natural extension of the preexisting rule against mobile telephone use during matches, which, in case anyone thought this somehow would fly, includes selfie sticks too. And speaking of flying, drones aren’t allowed either. Police already have seized one and released a statement explaining the legal basis for their action.

What effect will these mobile technology restrictions have on spectators? Automotive manufacturer Jaguar may be able to deliver at least a partial answer. By equipping some fans with wearable biometric monitors (focused on heart-rate variability), installing atmospheric sensors around the courts, and tracking social media activity, their hope is to be able to measure emotion, excitement, mood, and energy. The results are charted in real time to an interactive graph on Wimbledon.com. What value, if any, this meta-analysis provides remains unknown, of course, but it is nice to see one of sports’ most buttoned-up events stride into the digital realm without infringing upon the simple elegance that makes Wimbledon a perennial classic.

(Header image via scohoust)

TechGraphs News Roundup: 6/26/2015

Here comes the News Roundup, back with a fresh batch of sports-tech stories we found interesting this week.

The Women’s World Cup is well-underway across Canada, where the quarterfinals begin today. While Americans generally haven’t been on fire for their successful team to this point, in contrast to their comparatively middling men’s squad, the playing surface sure feels like it has. The widely panned artificial turf distributes rubber pellets to the players faster than the referees can issue yellow cards, and there is some limited evidence suggesting that these pellets, which might remain embedded in the players’ clothing and bodies for longer than some teams’ tournament runs, present health risks to the players. When still a part of the turf, the pellets’ capacity for heat-absorption can render the playing surface extremely hot. (Female footballers’ male counterparts, meanwhile, play on natural grass.)

Lexus claims to be making substantial progress toward a “real, rideable” hoverboard. Prototype testing remains ongoing, which is okay for now; the automobile manufacturer still has a few months to prepare the world for Marty McFly’s arrival.

With the Sprint Cup series in Sonoma, California this week, Microsoft announced a multi-level partnership with NASCAR. One of the most immediately visible aspects of this partnership will be Microsoft’s primary sponsorship of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s ride at this Sunday’s race. The timing is coordinated with the release of Windows 10, which will become the official operating system of both NASCAR and Hendrick Motorsports, the race team for which Earnhardt drives. Last year, Microsoft developed a mobile inspection app for NASCAR officials, the use of which led to significant decreases in time spent inspecting vehicles prior to races.

Before NBA arenas were outfitted with arrays of motion-tracking cameras and smart analysts spoke in terms of player efficiency ratings and usage rates, there was Harvey Pollack. Pollack, who died this week at the age of ninety-three, began working in the NBA in 1946, the league’s inaugural year. As the director of statistical information for the Philadelphia 76ers, he played a leading role in developing the sport’s statistical foundation on a granular level, eventually providing the basis for today’s tech-driven approach to player evaluation. Along the way, he reportedly coined the term “triple-double,” and he employed a rudimentary piece of technology to help create one of the sport’s most memorable images.

Daily fantasy sports site DraftKings had an up-and-down week. While the site scored a victory in striking an exclusive agreement with ESPN to become the official daily fantasy sports provider for all of the Worldwide Leader’s platforms, it missed out on a potential $250 million investment from Disney, the sports network’s parent company. Daily fantasy rival FanDuel, meanwhile, has been busy snapping up exclusive partnerships with NBA franchises.

The week is almost done, and so is this News Roundup. Enjoy the weekend, and, in the readily typeable words of our Managing Editor, David G. Temple, be excellent to each other.