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ESPN Sues Verizon Over New Cable Packages that Don’t Include ESPN

Appearances have proven true, with ESPN filing suit against Verizon in New York Supreme Court yesterday. Details of the suit are scarce, as ESPN hasn’t yet filed a complaint, but the summons (shown below via Ars Technica) indicates they will be seeking injunctive relief and damages based on their breach of contract claims.

Without seeing the agreement between ESPN and Verizon or ESPN’s soon-to-be-filed complaint, we can only speculate as to what ESPN’s breach of contract argument will be. What is clear is that ESPN (as well as 21st Century Fox and NBCUniversal) sees Verizon’s new FiOS cable packages that move their programming to optional tiers as a threat to their current business model, which is based on their programming appearing on all basic cable packages, bringing in hefty subscriber fees.

ESPN, in a statement provided to Ars Technica, said, “ESPN is at the forefront of embracing innovative ways to deliver high-quality content and value to consumers on multiple platforms, but that must be done in compliance with our agreements. We simply ask that Verizon abide by the terms of our contracts.”

Deirdre Hart, a spokeswoman for Verizon, responded to ESPN’s statement, saying, “Consumers have spoken loud and clear that they want choice, and the industry should be focused on giving consumers what they want. We are well within our rights under our agreements to offer our customers these choices.”

ESPN’s position in their suit might be that their agreement with Verizon stipulated that their channels would appear on all basic cable packages, thus FiOS’s optional packages are a breach of contract, while Verizon’s defense could  be that Verizon FiOS is a distinct offering featuring new fiber optic technology that isn’t bound by the original agreement.

According to The Washington Post, an ESPN spokesperson added “that the disagreement was not primarily about money, but about sending a message that cable partners can’t ‘unilaterally change deals’ without permission.” Which is of course, nonsense. As Deep Throat said in All The President’s Men, “Follow the money.”

ESPN has over 100 million cable subscribers via the major cable companies who each pay ESPN about $6.10 per subscriber. According to Michael Nathanson of MoffetNathanson Research, if ESPN went fully a la carte, their users would have to pay $36.30 per month. If cable operators are able to shift ESPN to option tiers, their subscriber base would surely fall, hurting their bargaining position when their current agreements expire. In addition, ESPN doesn’t have an opportunity to negotiate higher subscriber fees for these optional tiers, which must have been part of the year long negotiation between ESPN and Dish Network regarding their new streaming service SlingTV.

I would be surprised if this suit went to judgment, as ESPN has already set a precedent with Dish Network for new streaming cable service agreements. It may take a year or so for the lawyers involved in this matter to be satisfied with their billings, but I suspect we’ll see a new agreement between ESPN and Verizon that will account for FiOS and allow ESPN to inflate the sports cable bubble for years to come.


ESPN Feuds with Verizon Over New Cable Bundles That Don’t Include Them

Everyone involved with cable television knows that a la carte programming is coming, but it appears ESPN, the network most responsible for inflating sports cable bubble, isn’t going down without a fight.

Verizon FiOS, a new fiber optic television and internet offering from Verizon, made their cable packages available to the customers yesterday, which included pared down options that makes ESPN’s channels an option, rather than a necessary part of the pay television experience.

Their basic package includes major broadcasters and other basic cable channels like CNN and AMC, but makes ESPN and ESPN 2 part of a separate “sports” tier. The Walt Disney Company, who owns ESPN, made statement last Friday stating:  “Media reports about Verizon’s new contemplated bundles describe packages that would not be authorized by our existing agreements. Among other issues, our contracts clearly provide that neither ESPN nor ESPN2 may be distributed in a separate sports package.”

The reason why Disney is protesting Verizon’s new offering is because ESPN makes $6.5 billion, roughly two-thirds of their revenue, from cable and satellite affiliate fees. If ESPN begins to be relegated to optional tiers by cable companies, those fees would undoubtedly decrease the next time they meet at the negotiating table. This is a position ESPN can ill afford to end up in as they have billions of dollars in rights fees guaranteed to most of the major US pro sports leagues for years to come.

With cord-cutting slowly gaining steam and many Millennials not even buying into cable television at all, cable operators are grudgingly realizing that changing their business model is the only way to retain the next generation of television viewers, hence Dish Networks’s Sling TV and now Verizon FiOS.

However, the deflation of the sports bubble will probably take years to begin deflating, as ESPN has over 100 million subscribers via cable providers and cord-cutting isn’t increasing at the rates initially projected. Most likely, it will come, as Hemingway wrote in The Sun Also Rises, “Two ways, gradually and then suddenly.” Consider these new cable offerings the first shot across the bow.

 

 


How a Baseball Dork Who Won’t Pay for MLB.TV Follows All the Games

It’s Baseball Week at TechGraphs. Our writers are sharing the tools they use to follow along in the season. Michael Tunney’s thoughts are below.

For the average baseball fan, an MLB.TV subscription that costs over $100 per season probably seems like an overpriced luxury. But for baseball fanatics, procuring an MLB.TV subscription is a fait accompli, an annual rite of passage. My reasons for not doing so are twofold: 1. the price point and 2. an intense fear that all of my worldly obligations will be thrown to the wind upon receipt of said subscription.

Instead, I have collected a number of means by which I am able to keep up with all the games without throwing my life away in the pursuit of watching all of the baseball things.

First, I use the MLB At Bat app to keep up with individual games, watch highlights, and subject myself to terrible White Sox broadcasts with Ed Farmer and Darrin Jackson because I hate myself. I’ve made it clear, repeatedly, on TechGraphs that I’m a fan of Bob Bowman’s efforts with MLB Advanced Media, and find this app gives me 80 percent of what I need to follow any particular game.

For $20 you get a whole season’s worth of radio broadcasts for all 30 teams, Pitch f/x, in-game video highlights, and MLB.TV’s Game of the Day. Instead of listening to tunes or podcasts during the season I usually listen to radio broadcasts of whatever game interests me at the moment, whether it’s a good matchup or one of my fantasy pitchers are on the bump.

Second, Twitter. Not just any kind of Twitter, “baseball Twitter.” I use it to follow all the latest news and deals, and  keep up with injury updates and roster moves. I went through all of my follows and made a baseball Twitter list you can follow here. If you have any suggestion please add them in comments! One of my favorites for keeping up with the annual fantasy closer carousel is @closernews. I don’t know who maintains this feed or why, but I am eternally grateful and it’s one of the reasons I always finish near the top of my fantasy league in saves.

I only participate in one longstanding fantasy league because life, so I’m always checking in on Yahoo’s Fantasy Sports site, as well as their Yahoo! Fantasy Sports app, which can be maddening at times (I missed a Drew Hutchison quality start on Opening Day because it didn’t show he was starting when I checked, but also because I’m an idiot).

I also check Rotographs and Razzball on a regular basis, as well as Buster Olney and Keith Law’s blogs via ESPN Insider. Buster gives a daily rundown of everything that happened in baseball the day before, which I scroll through every morning to check for news on my fantasy team and to stay in the loop in general.

All this baseball buffoonery was put to the test this week as I was on the road, pretending to work in a Santa Monica cafe on Opening Day, and I was able to keep up with everything I needed by toggling between the MLB At Bat app, Twitter, and FanGraphs’ live chat throughout the day. If any readers have suggestions for ways to follow baseball without MLB.TV (or an actual TV) please add them in the comments, along with the best baseball Twitter follows!

(Image via Tony)

 

 

 


This Isn’t April Fools, ESPN Launches First Site Redesign Since 2009

Some media companies seemingly redesign their site every year to keep up with the latest technology and best practices in the web content world. But ESPN is an anomaly in this regard, with ESPN’s product SVP Ryan Spoon telling VentureBeat, “Nothing says we need to redesign the site.” ESPN.com is one the highest trafficked websites in the history of the Internet, getting 2.3 million visitors per hour, yet somehow hasn’t redesigned their website for six years!

Again, ESPN.com is a behemoth. The site gets more traffic than CNN, Huffington Post, and BuzzFeed, with 22 million users per day. The staying power of the previous design should be lauded if only for surviving that long, or perhaps it simply shows the power of a media company like ESPN: “You like us so much you’d stare at this ugly site for eternity.”

The roll out of their redesign actually started months ago with the redesign of their mobile app, switching from the curiously named “SportsCenter” to simply “ESPN”. The basic navigation for the website, mobile app and iPad app is about the same now that they are responsively designed.

mobile

All three versions come with your favorite teams’ news on the left column (which you can set when you sign in), a news stream in the center, and an “ESPN Now” column on the right, which is a curated Twitter-like feed showing a mix of news, videos, and and Tweets from ESPN personalities that can be easily shared on social media.

So instead  of having a two different versions of the site, one for mobile and one for the web, every version scales to the size of each device providing a pretty uniform experience.

espnmobile3

Sixty-one percent of ESPN’s 94 million users in the US view ESPN exclusively on mobile devices, with a good percentage of those users viewing the mobile web version. From Spoon’s piece about the redesign on Medium, it seems ESPN is hoping the new responsive design will be pull those mobile web users to their newly redesigned ESPN app.

ESPN seems to be doubling down on mobile content cards, which appear in the ” ESPN Now” column and can be distributed to Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites with one click. This is the latest evolution in mobile content, with creators having less qualms about keeping people on their actual website and instead getting views on whatever platforms are getting eyeballs.

For example, we covered the launch of Snapchat Discover, which ESPN exclusively partnered with to provide content. The partnership has gone better than either side could have imagined, and while neither party would disclose numbers, a recent Winter X Games post logged close to 30 million views. Another new feature with ESPN’s redesign is infinite scroll, with unlimited stories popping up as you scroll down the page — another signal of the shift from the pageview economy mindset.

It is yet to be seen if the new redesign will drive users to ESPN’s new mobile app, but any redesign is welcome at this point, even if it merely draws a “meh” from sports fans. ESPN.com is finally in the 21st century with a responsively designed site, hopefully they won’t wait another six years to update this one.

 

 

 

 

 


Check Out MLBAM’s Ridiculous Launch Schedule for 2015

MLB Advanced Media, or the biggest media company you’ve never heard of, is about to embark on a video streaming expedition the likes of which the internet has never seen, supporting five launches in the next month alone, all while providing video streaming infrastructure for CBS Sports, ESPN, and WWE.

Take a look at this list put together by TechCrunch’s Matthew Panzarino:

  • 3/18 – Sony’s PlayStation Vue
  • 3/18 – March Madness streaming for Turner
  • 3/29 – Wrestlemania
  • 4/6 – MLB Opening Day
  • 4/12 – HBO Now debut with Game of Thrones

That launch calendar would be great if it occurred in a year’s time, but MLBAM is doing it in one month. If they nail it, MLBAM will be in prime position to do what has been speculated for months — spin off into their own digital entertainment company. As our esteemed managing editor, David Temple, noted, “Through some forward thinking, some early investments, and a little bit of luck, a sports league has ended up being a giant in one of the biggest tech industries around.”

As was previously reported by TechGraphs, HBO Now is being launched with an exclusive partnership with Apple TV, which created whispers that Apple is looking to start their own over the top streaming service like Sling.

In his interview with TechCrunch, Bowman responded to a question about the possibility of MLBAM supporting Apple in these efforts by saying, “I have no idea. We’d be honored to be part of anything, really… What people forget is how long they’ve been together, and how well they’ve been running the company. I think everybody would do a lot of things to be partners with Apple, but it’s hard to imagine there’s anything technologically we could bring to Apple.”

Continuing with the Apple theme, Bowman gave an update on the At Bat app launch for the Apple Watch, saying, “We obviously built a whole interface, when it launches in April and people sync their phones, [sic] obviously, the interface is different. Every piece of hardware has to look different… Hopefully, it looks cool and neat and — the watch itself, there’s ways to dig deeper. When you move it, you might just get an update, but when you punch it a couple times, it’ll dig a little deeper.”

Right now MLB.com is 85 percent of MLBAM’s business, but obviously that number is likely to fall given all off the business they’re taking on. When asked pick a competitor for MLBAM, Bowman responed, “I think the biggest competitors that we have are inertia.”

(Image via Ming-Yen Hsu)

 


Mike Tyson Uploads YouTube Clip of Every Knockout for Upcoming Biopic

Earlier this week heavyweight boxing legend Mike Tyson uploaded a YouTube clip to his channel with a caption that read, “Help me pick my 10 best knockouts to feature in the Mike Tyson story starring Jamie Foxx and directed by Martin Scorcese.”

Whether you’re a fan of the big fight knockouts Tyson served on Michael Spinks and Larry Holmes, or his early career beat downs on the lower rungs of professional boxing as an 18-year-old phenom, they are all there in over 57 minutes of punishing fury.

This clip adds more credence to Jamie Foxx’s announcement on the Breakfast Club Power 105.1 radio show last week that he will be starring in a biopic about Tyson, directed by Martin Scorcese and written by Terence Winter, who created  Boardwalk Empire and wrote the screenplay for Wolf of Wall Street. Scorcese’s last boxing film was Raging Bull, for which Robert DeNiro won the Best Actor Oscar in 1980.

Foxx said in the interview, “I just went in with Paramount with Mike Tyson. So I’m going to do the Mike Tyson story. Listen, to be in the same room pitching Mike Tyson to Paramount, Mike Tyson is on one side, I’m on the other side and doing Mike Tyson at the same time. And Martin Scorsese at the helm. This will be the first boxing movie that Martin Scorsese has done since Raging Bull.”

If Tyson is sincere about using the web to crowdsource his best knockouts, YouTube sure is an interesting community to select, as their commenters generally leave a lot to be desired.

However, the video has already eclipsed over one million views in just a few days, which adds support to the viability of the project. A film montage of Tyson knockouts would be one of the best ever, yet entirely unlikely to eclipse the best of all time — Push It To The Limit from Scarface.

(Header Image via Wikpedia)

Crowdfunding Site Raises Donations For NCAA Athletes, Is A Particularly Bad Idea

FanAngel is a site that, in a just world, wouldn’t exist. The crowdfunding site enables fans to become patrons of NCAA athletes, donating money to persuade said athletes to stay in school, with the site holding the money in escrow until the athlete’s eligibility expires.

While it is true that NCAA athletes from power conferences have been getting the shaft for decades by not being compensated properly for their increasingly valuable labor, crowdfunded donations from fans do nothing to alleviate the exploitative labor conditions under which NCAA athletes operate.

In the event that a FanAngel crowdfunding campaign is successful and the athlete’s NCAA eligibility expires, 80 percent of the money would go to the athlete, 10 percent would go to the athlete’s teammates (nice touch!), and 10 percent would go to a scholarship fund or charity. FanAngel makes money by taking 9 percent of the total amount raised (more on this later). Of course, if the athlete doesn’t stay in school the money is refunded.

Shawn Fotjik, founder of FanAngel, said in an interview with ESPN sports business reporter Darren Rovell, “If you wanted Marcus Mariota to stay in school for his senior year, you could give $20.” I applaud Fotjik on getting good PR from Darren Rovell, but Marcus Mariota is either going #1 or #2 overall in the 2015 NFL Draft and there is no amount of money FanAngel could raise that could keep him in school.

Contributing to a crowdfunding campaign for teenagers who are exceptionally good at big time NCAA sports, and also strangers to the donor, is something I’d assume would be creepy to most well-mannered adults. As has been proven time and time again in my life, I am wrong about this assumption.

Fans of Jarrell Martin, a sophomore forward for the LSU Tigers who, according to DraftExpress.com, is projected to be drafted at the end of the 1st round in the upcoming NBA Draft, have raised over $700 on FanAngels for him to return to LSU for his junior and senior senior seasons, completing his NCAA eligibility. Understanding that FanAngel is a new venture and will need time to scale both users and donations, it still strains credulity to see this ever happening.

For a glimpse of what might be in Fotjik’s future, FanPaya crowdfunding site which raises donations as graduation gifts for college athletes, has received over 100 cease-and-desist letters from universities and conferences.

Additionally, FanAngel may want to rethink the 9 percent fee they collect for successful campaigns. Other supposedly altruistic crowdfunding donation sites have been taken to task in the past for collecting high fees. One of the worst offenders is Give Forward, which collects 7.9 percent of every donation plus a $0.50 transaction fee. Nine percent is a laughable amount that puts FanAngels in the same exploitative waters they claim they are trying to drain.

If college sports fans suffering from hero worship want to contribute to an NCAA athlete’s cause, they should skip crowdfunding platforms and donate to the National College Players Association (NCPA), which spearheaded the player union movement at Northwestern. Or do what has been done for time immemorial, put some cash in an envelope and make a handoff.

(Image via FanAngel)

Mystery MLB Team That Purchased $500,000 Supercomputer Remains Unknown

ESPN released their “Great Analytics Rankings” last week, placing the Houston Astros second behind the Philadelphia 76ers as the most analytically-minded pro sports organization. In their profile of the Astros, ESPN speculated that the Astros were the mystery MLB team that purchased a Cray supercomputer last year, but the company responded on their blog this week that the team that bought it won more games than the Astros, declining to what team purchased for confidentiality reasons.

Nick Davis, PR manager for Cray, wrote on their blog, “While I’m not going tell you here who the team is, I can tell you that it’s not the Astros. We think it’s great the Astros are ‘all-in’ on analytics according to ESPN, but unfortunately they are not all in with Cray. At least, not yet. I will say this — we applaud the Astros for their adoption of analytics, but the team with a Cray won more games last year.

According to The Economist, 95 percent of all MLB data has been created in the last five years.  With MLB’s award winning Statcast system projected to be installed at all 30 MLB parks, this kind of computing power may become necessity for analytics departments to process mountains of data quickly.

For any sleuths out there trying to find the mystery team, Pete Ungaro, Cray’s CEO, said that the team who purchased the supercomputer is an organisation that five years ago people would not have guessed would want one.

(Image via clockwerks)

MLBAM wins Alpha Award at Sloan Sports Analytics Conference

The biggest media company you’ve never heard of won an Alpha Award for Best Analytics Innovation/Technology at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference last week for their player tracking system called Statcast.

Statcast was introduced publicly by MLB Advanced Media (MLBAM) during the 2014 season in a limited number of ballparks. At the Sloan Conference, Commissioner Rob Manfred announced that all 30 ballparks will have the Statcast system installed by Opening Day this year.

Statcast uses cameras installed in multiple areas around the park to track player movement throughout the game. As you can see from the videos below, the data Statcast can analyze is staggering, spitting out everything from batted ball and player speed to reaction times and pitcher extension.

Dave Cameron, our esteemed head honcho at FanGraphs, was part of a panel at Sloan this year and also reported on the most interesting parts of the panel Manfred was a part of with MLB Network’s Brian Kenny. In a wide-ranging interview with Kenny, Manfred said that Statcast would provide real time data through the premium version of the MLB At Bat App as well as some data on MLB.com. More importantly, Manfred intimated that the model for Statcast data would eventually resemble the PITCHF/x model, with the data being publicly available instead of hoarded by teams.

With estimated revenues of $800 million on 2014, streaming video deals with WWE and Turner Sports, and Statcast technology available in all 30 ballparks in 2015, MLBAM will soon be a media giant that everyone has heard of.

(Image via Gabriel Argudo Jr)

NHL Announces Partnership with SAP to Redesign Stats Presentation

The NHL is slowly creating a new beat for sports journalists, announcing yet another technology partnership, this time with cloud software provider SAP, who will help the NHL.con introduce advanced statistics and redesign how they are presented.

Coming the heels of releasing 35 new advance statistics to NHL.com and partnerships with Go Pro and Sportsvision, the NHL is quickly storming to the forefront of sports technology.

NHL Chief Operating Officer John Collins said of the partnership, “Hockey is extremely fast-paced with very little stoppage in play, which results in many aspects of the game failing to show up in the box score. In partnering with SAP and using its best-in-class SAP HANA Enterprise Cloud service, we are now able to capture data points like never before and present existing and new statistics in a visually appealing way.”

SAP was already the NHL’s official cloud partner and this new partnership will further cement their relationship. It also helps that the majority owner owner of the San Jose Sharks is SAP co-founder Hasso Plattner.

The full extent of these initiatives will be released in phases, the first of which is the redesign of the NHL.com stats page and the introduction of new advanced statistics. For those looking for a proper introduction to the NHL’s new stats package head over to their enhanced stats introduction here.

 

 


NHL.com to Introduce 35 Advanced Statistics Today

The NHL will be introducing 35 new stats on their website today, ushering in a new era in the ways fans, media, and teams can measure the game. Adding to the puck and player tracking technology the NHL introduced at the 2015 All-Star Weekend, which TechGraphs chronicled, the 2014-2015 season may be remembered as the year the NHL left the analytics ice age and joined U.S. pro sports leagues in adopting advanced sports technology.

NHL COO John Collins said of the additions, “You’re going to see a big change in the way we present our stats, in terms of the depth and the utility of how to do it. And that’s before the puck tracking [system].” He later added, “We need to create a digital record of what happens on the ice. That’s standard across the league, and goes much deeper than the current real-time scoring system.”

The two most common advanced stats are Corsi and Fenwick, both of which estimate puck possession. For a primer on advanced NHL statistics check out this primer from Sports Illustrated, or for a deeper dive, take a look at Lighthouse Hockey’s introduction to hockey analytics.

In addition to being used by media and fans, the NHL will begin allowing teams and player agents to use these advanced statistics in arbitration hearings, which will change the criteria for how arbitration eligible players are compensated.

In fact, Jimmy Hascup of USA TODAY wrote an article today about player agent Allan Walsh, who brought up puck-possession metrics in a discussion about the value of one of his clients in a meeting with a general manager. After Walsh told  the officials they were missing an important part of his clients value, Walsh recounted,  “It was kind of like, ‘(expletive), he knows.’ It really brought discussion to a different level.”

But these new metrics aren’t being met with open arms by everyone associated with the NHL. Much like the scouts vs. quants stat wars chronicled in the Michael Lewis book, Moneyball, many in the NHL establishment have been resistant to these new metrics. Josh Gold-Smith from Awful Announcing covered this conflict recently, showing that one NHL columnist compared “analytics folks” to terrorists:

We’ve seen this story before in baseball and we know how it will end. Regardless of the opinions of stats-truthers, the NHL has already won by embracing advances in sports technology, which will bring dividends to the league and their fans for years to come.

(Image via Wikimedia)

Congressional Republicans Reintroduce Bill To Outlaw Online Gambling

Looking at my Venmo app the past couple weeks one might think that sports gambling in the US was legal. Gambling related debts have shown up frequently in my feed in the aftermath of the Super Bowl on the payments sharing app. But with the reintroduction of a bill to Congress that would make all online gambling illegal, bettors might want to start relabeling their Venmo gambling debts as “groceries.”

With sports gambling legal in only four states, the vast majority of wagers are placed with local bookmakers or offshore gambling sites. Mirroring Prohibition-era legislation and the US war on drugs, American gaming laws are puritanical, archaic, and often counterproductive. Some estimate only one percent of sports wagers are made legally and third-party “runners” often place bets at legal sportsbooks to launder money for criminals.

Which makes it odd that a group of Congressional Republicans would reintroduce a bill titled Restoration of the Wire Act (RAWA), named after the 1961 law criminalizing wagers made over wires. The legislation would outlaw online gaming, save for fantasy sports, which is exempted by the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 (UIGEA). Fantasy sports are classified as a game of skill (poker is somehow not), so it is legal at the federal level, with 40 states having laws on the books that follow suit.

You may have been able to surmise RAWA hasn’t been met with unified Republican support given this isn’t its first trip through Congress. In fact, in an interview earlier this year Senator John McCain said about legalized sports gambling, “We need a debate in Congress. We need to have a talk with the American people, and we need to probably have hearings in Congress on the whole issue (sports gambling) so we can build consensus.”

This coming after Adam Silver, commissioner of the NBA, stepped forward in an op-ed for the New York Times, calling for Congress and other professional sports leagues to explore legalizing sports gambling, writing, “I believe that sports betting should be brought out of the underground and into the sunlight where it can be appropriately monitored and regulated.” Quickly getting past the irony of the fact that the NBA was the last pro sports league to have a point shaving scandal, Silver’s stance is more pragmatic than bold.

It turns out that casinos, who stand to benefit the most from a lack of competition, are the influencers behind the reintroduction of RAWA by Congressional Republicans. As Steven Silver of Above the Law Redline wrote, the ringleader behind the casino industry’s push to pass RAWA is Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino owner. Silver, a former sports reporter and lawyer, noted Adelson, “has openly admitted that he would be willing ‘to spend whatever it takes’ to halt the spread of gambling over the Internet.”

Adelson has been using his deep pockets to influence US gaming legislation as well as to finance the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling, which, as the USA Today notes, “warns of children gambling on their smartphones and tablets.” This last bit is nothing more than laughable moralistic cover and obfuscation for the real issue at hand — protection of Adelson’s business interests.

Alison Siciliano, of the Coalition for Consumer and online protection said in response to the reintroduction of RAWA, “casino magnate Sheldon Adelson has relentlessly twisted the arms of members of Congress to pass an ill-conceived ban on Internet gaming.”

With fantasy sports apps like FanDuel and DraftKings predicted to handle more entry fees than all Las Vegas sports books combined by the end of this year, it’s easy why Adelson sees online gambling as a threat to casino gaming. However, with online gambling’s increasing popularity and power players like John McCain and Adam Silver sticking their necks out for legalization, it’s unlikely Sheldon Adelson will have enough firepower to shut down the entire enterprise.

(Header image via flickr)

Under Armour Acquires MyFitness Pal for $475 Milllion

Under Armour has announced they have acquired  MyFitnessPal, the nutrition and calorie counting app that claims more than 80 million users, for $475 million dollars.

The athletic apparel company has also acquired fitness tracking social app Endomondo, which boasts 20 million users, for $85 million.

Eighty percent of Endomondo’s 20 million users are outside the US, which will help in expanding Under Armour’s presence internationally.

“Under Armour’s demonstrated global leadership in health and fitness innovation is greatly enhanced with the addition of Endomondo and MyFitnessPal, as we continue to redefine and elevate the Connected Fitness experience for millions of people around the world,” said Kevin Plank, Chairman and CEO of Under Armour. “Similar to MapMyFitness, Endomondo and MyFitnessPal have established track records of unmatched equity, expertise and passion in the fitness and nutrition space, and they are ideal partners to enable Under Armour to provide data-driven, proactive solutions to help athletes of all levels lead healthier and more active lifestyles.”

Both companies will continue to operate at their headquarters in San Francisco and Copenhagen, Denmark, respectively.

Under Armour previously acquired MapMyFitness, a leader in the exercise tracking app market, in 2013. This series of acquisitions now allows Under Armour to claim they have “the world’s largest digital health and fitness community” with more than 120 combined users, which is about six times more than the Nike+ fitness community’s 18 million users.

(Image via Wikimedia)

Snapchat Launches Content Platform with ESPN and Bleacher Report

Last week Snapchat announced Snapchat Discover, their new content platform featuring partners like Vice, Comedy Central, and Yahoo! News. For the sports crowd, US users of the ephemeral messaging app will be served content exclusively from ESPN, while international users will get sports content via Snapchat’s partnership with Bleacher Report.

For everyone over the age of 25, what this means is that the Snapchat app, which is primarily used to send pictures to friends that disappear after a set number of seconds, is now a full-fledged media platform.

Regular messages sent on Snapchat disappear after 10 seconds or less. However, stories in Discover will appear for 24 hours before being refreshed with a new batch of content.

The ESPN channel has great visuals and the UX will be familiar to Snapchat users (swipe right for the next story, swipe up for the content of said story). There’s no buffering for video and the content loads immediately—there was never a lag when I was reviewing it. Discover is supported by ads, but you aren’t hit over the head with them. You’re able to swipe them away much like you are the editorial content.

One gripe is there wasn’t any unique content developed for the Snapchat audience, something that may change as content providers become more familiar with the platform. With an estimated 100 million-plus monthly active users, there is great opportunity for providers to attract a young, mobile-friendly audience.

Snapchat insists that this isn’t a social media play, saying in a blog post, “This is not social media. Social media companies tell us what to read based on what’s most recent or most popular. We see it differently. We count on editors and artists, not clicks and shares, to determine what’s important.”

This may be true, but if Snapchat wants to get established in the content game they need to provide a reason to use their app over other native content apps. Right now I can’t see a reason why someone wouldn’t just use the ESPN app.

Additionally, one of the big strengths of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter is curation — the individual has the power to select the content they see based on their network. Curated editorial content that is essentially cherry picked from what you can find on the web doesn’t provide enough differentiation or value to set it apart from social media platforms

Snapchat’s Discover also signals further fragmentation in the mobile content landscape, with content providers developing their own apps and social media apps like Snapchat developing content platforms. But with mobile video’s strong growth (it currently makes up 22 percent of digital video consumption), combined with the fact that young people aged 14 to 24 are now watching a majority of their video on screens other than their TV, a land rush for a slice of the mobile video market is an obviously play for a growing behemoth like Snapchat.


Two Tech Partnerships Unveiled During NHL All-Star Weekend

The NHL has long been perceived as somewhat behind the times with their unique brand of legalized fisticuffs, but their latest partnerships with GoPro and Sportsvision could make the NHL the leader of the big four pro sports in player tracking technology.

First, the NHL announced they will broadcast live GoPro footage of its players during telecasts. Previously, GoPro has been relegated to partnerships with extreme sports. This is is their first foray with a major pro sports league. According to Techcrunch, GoPro will receive additional branding opportunities as part of their deal with the NHL as an “Official Partner.” The live broadcasts were a part of the 2015 NHL All-Star Weekend and you can see a clip of some previously shot footage below.

In another announcement, the NHL revealed they would be using player tracking technology in both the Skills Competition and the All-Star Game. The technology was created by Sportvision, which also provides real-time tracking technology for NASCAR and the NFL. To track the players and the puck in real time, Sportsvision has created a puck that contains a microchip and has infrared light tubes around the outside. As Sportsvision CEO Hank Adams explained to Yahoo Sports, “We have infrared cameras up in the catwalks, 10 of them. They see the flash of the puck, which is a unique frequency, and different than the flash of a player tag. And each player tag has a different frequency. We slip it into a pocket of the jersey, and it shines through brightly.”

The puck was the toughest nut to crack, something that took Sportsvision years to perfect. According to the Washington Post, Sportsvision partnered with the NHL’s puck manufacturer to recreate a puck that would play the same way as current game pucks. Adams says, “When you throw the puck on the ice, and the standard puck, they won’t be able to tell the difference,” Adams said. “It’s not livelier, deader, no extra rebound, heavier, it is basically the same puck from their standpoint.”

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman praised the possibilities of the technology, saying, “This is, if I can coin a phrase, in the embryonic stages of a work in progress, but ultimately we are hoping to deliver the kind of data that will create insights and tell stories that avid and casual hockey fans will enjoy. In short, we are attempting to embark upon a journey that hopefully will enable us to create and then maintain a digital record of everything in our game and compile a complete digital history.”

For NHL fans, the technology will provide real-time times stats during broadcasts, including player speed, shot speed, and player ice time, among other information. Below is some footage of the tracking technology in use during the NHL Skills Competition.

The technology will also be used for viewers using a second screen, where fans can follow the game in real time similar to MLB’s At Bat app. Users will able to track in the puck, player position, and ice time in real-time. Below is the second screen software the NHL showed off during All-Star Weekend.

The are plenty more uses for this technology, including the ability to develop advanced analytics like the MLB and NBA, as well as new ways for fans to watch their favorite teams. For the naysayers who remember the glowing puck experiment by Fox Sports in the 1990s all too well, I can assure you this is not a repeat. On the contrary, these new partnerships could provide the NHL an advantage that it doesn’t have over more popular pro sports leagues for years to come.

(Image via gryphon1911)


MLS Joins NFL and NHL In Adopting Concussion Tracking Technology

Major League Soccer has announced they will begin implementing the concussion tracking device xPatch next season in order to further study the effects of head trauma on their players.

The xPatch was recently used in a rugby match by the London-based Saracens (no relation to Friday Night Lights character Matt Saracen, unfortunately). Some in London have dismissed the patches, calling them gimmicky, but Edward Griffith, the Saracens CEO, responded tersely saying, “It is the furthest thing from a gimmick. This is not something we just thought would be good to try out last weekend. This has been nine months in the planning. We have set aside a budget of £350,000 for it for next season funded by the Drake Foundation because we believe wholly in the significance of the research. I don’t want to be visiting these players in 20 or 25 years time in a hospital where they are suffering from dementia or some other neurological condition.”

The xPatch, made by Seattle-based X2 Biosystems, contains a gyroscope and accelerometer that are encased in plastic. They are 1” by 3” and placed on a bone behind the players ear and taped down for games. The xPatch records all of the head trauma a player experiences and sends the information to trainers via an app.

A device like the xPatch may have been able to better track the head trauma former MLS star Taylor Twellman experienced during his career (he retired after suffering his sixth concussion). Twellman has since committed to donating his brain after his death for concussion reasearch and has his own foundation, Think Taylor, to raise money and awareness for concussion prevention.

Further implementation of the device could also help prevent scenarios like the one that occurred during the NFL playoffs on January 3rd, when the Ravens Courtney Upshaw had a rare clean sack of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who’s helmet bounced off the turf when he went down.

Roethlisberger returned to the game five minutes later after having his neck and shoulders tested and going through the NFL concussion protocol. He looked shaky when he returned to the huddle and proceeded to throw an interception on his first snap, causing some to speculate that he returned to the game too soon.

Dr. Matt Matava of the NFL Physician Society explained to the Guardian previously that X2 Biosystems technology, “has allowed us to accurately diagnose concussions immediately following an injury [about six to eight minutes after a hit]. The software also allows us to compare the players’ injury date to their baseline in order to objectively assess changes in mental status.” All 32 NFL teams currently use X2’s concussion management software.

The hope is that the technology becomes unobtrusive enough for players of all contact sports to use during games to detect in-game head trauma and track the sub-concussive impacts a player experiences over the course of his career. Considering the tragic deaths of former NFL stars Junior Seau and Dave Duerson, and the nightmare that the NFL concussion settlement has become, it’s a breakthrough that can’t come soon enough.

(Image via Bay Area Bias)

Whistle Sports Raises $28 Million From Investors Including Derek Jeter and Peyton Manning

Burgeoning digital sports network Whistle Sports announced they closed their Series B round of funding, raising $28 million led by Emil Capital Partners and featuring prominent athletes like Derek Jeter and Peyton Manning as investors.

The network launched in January 2014 and has experienced tremendous growth in only a year, with close to 13 million YouTube subscribers, while gaining 10 million new social followers across their platforms each month. The next closest sports YouTube channel is the NBA at close to six million subscribers.

Their most popular YouTube channel partner is Dude Perfect, the group of Texas A&M alums who got their start making ridiculous basketball trick shots. They have also begun forming content partnerships with professional athletes like Jeremy Lin.

The network’s revenue has been more than doubling each quarter and their videos have been viewed over two billion times. This can be attributed in part to the network’s popularity with the much sought after demographic for advertisers—young males (78 percent of their viewers are male).

Along with pro athlete content partnerships, Whistle Sports has partnered with nearly all major pro sports franchises, including the NFL, MLB, PGA Tour, and NASCAR. In an interview with Forbes, John West, the CEO of Whistle Sports, described the companies relationship with sports leagues, saying, “Each is a true partnership, in which they give us access to their libraries that we use to co-create content, and then we distribute that content on our platforms as well as theirs. Why did they all choose to partner with us? They’re losing young viewers and they have to adapt and evolve—we’re the vehicle to make that happen.”

With nearly 40 percent of their viewers from outside the US, the company has recently opened an office in London and is planning opening another in Latin America this year.

Given their amazing growth and plans to go international, Whistle Sports is now a giant in the digital media space, building in one year what took others like VICE years to do.

(Photo by George Bush Presidential Library and Museum via Flickr)

 


Researchers Create Computer Program You’ll Never Beat At Poker

David Olson took home $303,909 for winning the 2014 World Series of Poker limit hold’em championship, a feat that simply wouldn’t have happened if a computer program named Cepheus had a say in the matter when it came down to heads-up play.

Researchers from the University of Alberta published a study in Science last Friday claiming to have created a computer program that is essentially unbeatable in heads-up limit hold’em.

Named after the King of Aetheiopia in Greek mythology who left Andromeda chained to a rock to be devoured, Cepheus was trained for 70 days playing matches against itself while considering 6 billion hands per second.

The program started out playing randomly and learned from every loss it suffered, called a “regret value.” The computer would store that regret value for subsequent hands and as matches added up the computer updated its strategy until it approached perfection.

Michael Bowling, the co-author of the study, said, “We’re not quite perfect, but we’re so close that even after a lifetime of playing against it, you wouldn’t know it wasn’t perfect.”

While epic matches in games like checkers and chess have been waged in the past between computers and humans, they differ from poker because it is a game with imperfect information—you only know your own hand and the cards on the table. When IBM’s Deep Blue beat Gary Kasparov in a chess rematch in 1997, the programmers had the advantage of having all of the game’s information displayed on the board.

In the process of programming Cepheus, Bowling and his colleagues were able to confirm some commonly held best practices for heads-up play. For example, the dealer in any given hand has an advantage of .088 big blinds per hand. They also confirmed it’s prudent to raise rather than call in the first move in the vast majority of hands.

Poker geeks can try their hand against Cepheus online. Freelance poker writer Christopher Hall did, and he claims to have come out slightly ahead against the program after 400 hands. While that’s a nice feat for Hall, a creation like Cepheus calls for an epic game against a pro like Phil Hellmuth to show that these researchers have truly solved the game.

(Header image via flickr)

 


Kentucky Hired an Analytics Director, But Not For The Reason You Think

This offseason, Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari told those who approach basketball from a purely analytical standpoint and have never played the game to “beat it.” So it was mildly surprising when the program announced the hiring of Joel Justus as their Director of Analytics this past September.

In a recent profile of Justus by Ben Herald of the Lexington Herald-Leader, Justus said of getting hired, “[Calipari] wanted someone who would be able to talk ball with him. And I think that’s a little bit of the criticism when you talk to folks in the NBA: ‘All right, you’re giving me all of this stuff, but what does it mean?’”

Basketball analytics hirings aren’t new for the NBA, but the coming out party for analytics positions in the college ranks occurred just over a year ago when Drew Cannon emerged as a driving force behind Brad Stevens’ success at Butler. Cannon has since followed Stevens to the Boston Celtics. With the currently undefeated Wildcats hiring Justus, it’s a trend that is sure to continue.

Basketball analysts can provide all sorts of insight to improve team performance, like optimal lineups, tempo-free stats, and video analysis. But this wasn’t why Calipari hired Justus. Ever the salesman, Calipari hired Justus in order to market his players to NBA scouts. This is because Kentucky is so loaded this year that Calipari is playing two platoons of five players, switching them out like hockey lines.

Calipari revealed his motivations for hiring Justus at a pre-season luncheon. “If you’re playing 20 minutes, what will your NCAA stats look like? Terrible for NCAA stats, so we’re going to have big data stats, per-minute and efficiency stats that we can send to NBA teams.” Calipari later said that he’s never coach a team this way and his change in mindset was to make sure “every one of these kids eats.”

It’s unlikely that the platoon system will become a permanent fixture of the Kentucky program, and Justus certainly seems to understand this. As he told the Herald-Leader, “I’ve got to make sure that [Calipari] sees that I’m valuable. So I have to make sure that what I’m giving him is good.”

As the premier huckster in college basketball (NBA players he has coached have made a combined $820 million in salaries), Calipari has made another canny move for his program, ensuring his players will have a seat at the NBA table for years to come.

(Header image via Tennessee Journalist)

Cable Bills Are Going Up In 2015 Due To Sports Programming

With the seemingly inexorable rise in the price of sports programming, it seemed inevitable that cable operators would have to charge subscribers for the privilege of watching American sports. According to Multichannel News, that time has already come with Time Warner Cable, as they have announced that they will be adding a $2.75 sports surcharge to subscribers’ bills starting in January 2015.

In the announcement, Time Warner cable claimed that the cost of cable sports programming has risen 91% since 2008, and according to Patrick Hruby of Sports on Earth, the average cost of a regional sports network has has risen 52 percent over the past five years. This is certainly conceivable with the types of TV deals being reached in the past few years, like the 9-year $24 billion NBA-ESPN deal in October of this year.

In Forbes, Maury Brown noted the irony of Time Warner’s announcement after their struggle to get distribution for SportsNet LA, the regional sports network they manage. The costs of carrying the channel jumped after they made a 25-year deal worth over $8.35 billion  to broadcast Los Angeles Dodgers games. This led to a standoff between TWC and other cable operators like DirecTV for distribution rights, leading nearly 70% of Los Angeles area residents unable to watch Dodgers broadcasts this past season.

After the Supreme Court’s ruling against cable disruptor Aereo, and with John McCain’s Television Consumer Freedom Act having little hope of passage in Congress, there doesn’t seem to be much hope for governmental intervention in the cable arena. Regardless, speculation of an approaching sports cable bubble persists. However, it will likely take years for this bubble to burst, requiring an increasing rate of cord-cutting and rising prices for cable subscribers.

(Header photo via NewYorkTrendNYC)