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TechGraphs News Roundup: 4/8/2016

Greetings, fair TechGraphs readers. It’s a good weekend for sports fans — what with the beginning of the baseball season, the winding down of the NHL regular season, and yet another edition of The Masters. In case you were too busy getting your DFS lineups ready (void where prohibited), here are the news stories that we found interesting this week.

Speaking of The Masters; they released a new app for iOS that will let you stream the whole tournament. The streaming capability is obviously cool, but the whole app itself looks like a really well done production.

If audio is more of your thing, you can catch full Masters coverage courtesy of TuneIn. Golf of the radio?! How will we contain our excitement?! What a time to be alive.

If you’re anything like me, VR makes you a bit motion sick. However, it might be willing to stomach it (pun 94% intended) if it means I can use StubHub’s new tech to see the exact view from my perspective seat.

If VR doesn’t make you queasy (and you play professional baseball), you can now use VR for batting practice.

Wrestlemania was this past Sunday, and it appears that some WiFi outages at AT&T Stadium had some wouldbe attendees stuck at the entrance gates.

Apple and MLB have always been pretty tight when it comes to product integration, and now it seems that Apple is turning Siri into some kind of baseball trivia guru. Full disclosure: I asked her/it a bunch of questions and she did not perform well. She didn’t even know the Astros record in 2005!

The NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament is over now, so you can stop checking your brackets online. Many articles have been written about how much companies lose due to people making/checking brackets at work. However, Techcrunch has an interesting look at the possible security implications of all those people visiting sports web sites on their work machines.

We already covered it here, but in case you missed it, you’ll be able to watch some NFL games on Twitter this season. That still feels weird to type.

We’ll have more on this in the future, but it’s a pretty big deal that MLB is now allowing (some) wearable tech on the field this season.

This could be big news for Zepp’s new, very cool bat sensors, though they haven’t been approved as of yet.

ESPN Radio (along with some more music services) can now be streamed on your T-Mobile phone without hits to your data cap, thanks to their Bing On plan.

That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend, and be excellent to each other.


With Twitter/NFL Deal, It’s All About Execution

It was recently announced that Twitter will begin streaming NFL games on Thursday nights. In yet another attempt to bring more users into the fold, Twitter has made a sizable investment in bringing the country’s biggest sport to its platform. The details are fuzzy at this point, so we don’t know the exact way this thing is going to shake out. But the devil is in the details, in this case. What this whole thing will actually look like will have a great deal to do with its success. To ride the rails of a fairly-tired cliche; We know the who, what, where, when, and (mostly) why. The biggest question mark revolves around how.

A while back, I heard Ben Thompson — tech analyst and host of the Exponent podcast — describe Twitter and its problems in a way that stuck with me. I’m paraphrasing, but he essentially said that issue is that Twitter is that its dealing with two groups of people — people who tried their platform and didn’t like it, and people who love it and never want it to change. Somehow, they have to placate both crowds. They have the tech. They certainly have the brand recognition. They just need more people. With the NFL deal, they’re going after new audiences. But trying to solve the problem of gaining new users might run them headfirst into their second problem — those who don’t want it to change.

For people (especially sports fans) who use the platform, Twitter makes and excellent companion to watching something on TV. You hear about companies looking to expand the “second screen experience.” That all started with Twitter. It was a way to share and interact around a centralized event — the Super Bowl, the Oscars, a big news story. You watch on your TV, and you follow along with others’ views (and share your own) on your phone. But Twitter is trying to make your second screen your first screen in this case. Which is all fine and good, but it opens the situation up to a paradox. How can one share their feelings about an event on social media when the social media platform is how they’re watching said event?

Twitter is a large company that employs a whole lot of people smarter than I, so I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt at this point. But if they want to keep the people they’re bringing in with the NFL offering and avoid ridicule from their current user base, they’re going to have to tread lightly. The experience is almost certainly going to have two elements. There will be the actual video stream, of course, and there will need to be a way for people to still read and share on the Twitter service. UI is key here. There are a lot of options for something like a laptop screen.

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But how does this work on phones and smaller tablets? Will there be enough real estate for everything?

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Let us not forget the fact that seemingly every time Twitter makes a change, people lose their minds. Most recently it was (probably rightfully so) algorithmic feeds, but there are countless other UI changes and other tweaks that drive the Twitter faithful crazy. Twitter is no doubt going to use its product to advertise the crap out of their NFL offering when the time comes. If that experience is lackluster, there will be noise about it.

If Twitter doesn’t nail this, NFL fans are going to happily return to watching on TV. CBS itself is even offering a stream of the games on their own platform, so it’s not as if Twitter has a monopoly here. There are other avenues fans can travel. Twitter is making a push — taking chances and working hard to bring their product to forefront of social media while trying desperately to take a bite out of Facebook’s current dominance. You can’t fault them for trying. But if history is any indication, they’re really going to need to nail this. They need to impress new customers while trying not to piss off the current ones. It’s an unenviable position. But a ten-year-old company that is still struggling to post profits needs to put themselves in that kind of position every now and again. They’re partnering with a very recognizable brand. If I were a lesser man, I would advise them not to fumble the opportunity.


This is the Way Daily Fantasy Ends — Not With a Bang, but With a Whimper

This is the Way Daily Fantasy Ends — Not With a Bang, but With a Whimper

Last night, I was at a fantasy draft party (12-team auction, for those who care). The television was on in the background as people were preparing their spreadsheets and whatnot, when an ad for a daily fantasy sight came on. I’m not being coy be neglecting to mention which one, I honestly don’t remember. Those ads are so ubiquitous, that they rarely seem to grab anyone’s attention, but when it came on the TV at the party, a guest looked up and said “do people still do that?” He was being a bit facetious, of course, as people certainly still do, but we might be honestly getting to the point where scandal and legal hassles the constant state of flux of the industry might be enough to lay daily fantasy — or at least the behemoth it has shown to be not terribly long ago — to rest.

The most recent cut-down of daily fantasy comes in the form of an announcement that DraftKings and FanDuel will cease offering contests that include NCAA games. Reading between the lines, it appears as if the NCAA was giving DraftKings and FanDuel the business, and since college sports were a minor part of the business and the two companies already have enough legal stuff to deal with, they threw in the towel.

It’s those legal troubles that would most likely spell doom for the two companies, should that come to pass. The bottom line is that many states are now looking into whether daily fantasy should be considered gambling. If it is, then it can’t be allowed to occur on the Internet thanks to the Federal Wire Act that, although its reach has been questioned, states that bets cannot be placed over communication channels like phone or Internet lines. As of this writing the commonwealth of Virginia has allowed daily fantasy to take place on its soil, so long as certain restrictions and regulations are in place. New York State originally filed an injunction to stop daily fantasy operations, then was overruled, but in the end FanDuel and Draftkings stood down on the issue, hoping that legislation will be passed allowing their sites to continue operating in the state. Yahoo! Daily Fantasy volunteered to do so as well, seemingly to remind the general public that they exist.

The legal back and forth will be a very interesting one to watch, with many ramifications involved. The things is, if litigation and appeals and everything else involved in the process goes on as long as it looks like they will, none of this might even matter. If daily fantasy doesn’t burn out, it might just fade away.

FanDuel and DraftKings will always have their loyal customers — those who spend lots of time and money on these sites and who will be watching in earnest as the rulings and laws come down state by state. These people aren’t who daily fantasy sites should worry about. They need to worry about the casual player, the person who gets the wild idea to drop $10 or $20 or $50 on a random contest one Sunday to try their luck. The common person. The square. This is who these sites need.

Remember, none of these sites actually care about how any one player does. They don’t lose money if Andrew McCutchen has a better night than Mike Trout. They just let the players duke it out while they take their 10% off the top. The model is pretty much the same for sports betting at casinos. The casinos want an even amount of bets on either side. The losers pay the winners and the house gets the juice. DraftKings and FanDuel acutally have a better model. The casino can still get hosed on a one-in-million bet cashing in. Daily fantasy doesn’t give a crap. It just needs players. It needs bodies that are willing to pay a fee (and forget that the odds are stacked against them) so that it can take its share. But without Joe Sixpack kicking in his money, there is less of a pot to skim from.

The big hitters and the sharps will still have their high-stakes games. If they live in a state where the contests are banned, they’ll find shady workarounds to keep playing. But your coworker or next-door neighbor won’t. If they can’t play, they’ll … just stop playing. And even if the laws are changed or massaged enough where they could theoretically start again, most won’t, or at least not as much. The thrill will be gone. Daily fantasy’s biggest enemy isn’t the law, it’s attrition.

FanDuel and DraftKings aren’t just interested in a positive decision, they need a fast positive decision. Time is of the essence here, as they need to both counter rulings and legislation against them in some states while regaining the right to do business in other states all in a timely enough fashion that the public doesn’t forget about them. So far, it’s not looking good. Layoffs are happening. Funding and partnerships are being pulled. All this effort may end up being just some rearranging of deck chairs.

This is not to say that these companies can’t make a comeback. If they laws fall in their favor, and cloud of doubt is blown away from the industry, the investment money and partnership deals will come rolling in right quick — no hard feelings, right? And maybe they can gain a second wind and intice people into coming back (now 100% legal!) And we may once again be carpet bombed with ad after ad regaling us with stories of average people becoming millionaires overnight. But some serious legal kung fu has to happen first. Luckily for these companies, they have the scratch to spend on top-notch lawyers.


Building a Retrosheet Database for the 2016 Season, Part 2

Hi, folks. Below you will find Part 2 of our video series involving building a Retrosheet database. If you haven’t, make sure to check out Part 1 before digging into this.

*The video explains this, but you’ll need to re-download the files from our GitHub page. I found a couple of small errors there. No harm done, just make sure you have the updated files before continuing. The video explains how to do this.

Enjoy! Let me know in the comments or on Twitter if you have any questions or problems.


ALERT: T-Mobile Customers Can Get MLB.tv for Free This Season

T-Mobile is still pushing hard on its “Un-carrier” campaign, and their newest venture is a huge boon to baseball fans. T-Mobile and MLB have extended their partnership another three years. This means a lot of T-Mobile branding will be seen on various MLB properties — including things like the All Star Game — but the “celebration” of the partnership brings some big-time savings.

Any T-Mobile customer on the Simple Choice plan will have the opportunity to sign up for a free year of MLB.tv. And from what I’m reading, that doesn’t really include a lot of red tape or hoops to jump through. There is one slight catch, however. The deal isn’t available until April 3rd. This is all well and good for the start of the season, but not so much if one is interested in streaming Spring Training games. To counteract that slight bummer, T-Mobile and MLB are sweetening the pot a little.

The free subscription also comes with complimentary access to the MLB At Bat Premium so that users can get all the additional features of At Bat on their smartphones and tablets. The inclusion of the app usually comes with MLB.tv regardless, but it’s nice to know that there won’t be any sneaky gotchas after signing up.

Also, MLB.tv qualifies for T-Mobile’s (somewhat controversial) Bing On program, wherein customers can stream MLB.tv (along with many other video services) via their cellular connections without it counting toward their plan’s data allotment. T-Mobile customers are free to watch games on the bus, in church, during work, or anywhere else they don’t have access to WiFi without worry of data overages.

The kicker to the deal is that a user’s MLB.tv subscription will be valid for any device, not just their T-Mobile phone. This means fans can still watch on their smart TVs, gaming consoles, or other connected devices using their MLB account. This is a nice pivot from other offerings like Verizon’s NFL package, which allows fans to watch certain NFL content (mainly Red Zone) for free, but only via their Verizon device. T-Mobile’s deal will let people watch via their PlayStation or Roku with no extra strings and, theoretically, they’ll never have to even watch on their phones if they don’t want to.

MLB has seen some big changes recently in terms of their MLB.tv offering. It’s hard to say whether this T-Mobile partnership is an extension of that or not, but it’s certainly a nice added bonus. There are some lingering questions, however. If I purchased MLB.tv already, can I cancel and sign on via T-Mobile? If I cancel my T-Mobile account, does my MLB.tv go away? Details on this are fuzzy right now, so it might be best to stop into a store or call T-Mobile yourself to get the best answers.

Wireless providers are pulling out all the stops these days to convince customers to switch, and if a baseball fan were shopping around for a new carrier, this might be the very thing that puts them over. I doubt the offer will be good next year, but for current T-Mobile customers or people who were already looking to switch, saving over $100 is always a good way to start the season.


Building a Retrosheet Database for the 2016 Season, Part 1

Baseball season is almost upon us. Soon, people will flood to ballparks in cities all over our great nation in search of entertainment and meaning, while baseball bloggers will continue their search for relevance and the mysterious Full Time Gig. If you fall into the latter camp (or if you just like having this kind of data handy), then it’s time to get your Retrosheet database installed/updated.

For those not in the know, Retrosheet is a magnificent project that essentially looks to turn box scores into computer records. And they’ve done a great job of it. They have all box scores from games since 1914, and play-by-play data since around 1940. What we’ll want to do is convert their records into an easily-searchable database that we can query for fun and profit.

Below is a video walking you through how to get your machine set up. We won’t actually be loading the data yet — that will come in Part 2 — but we’ll make sure your computer is prepped and has all the files and utilities is needs.

If you already installed a Retrosheet database using our instructions from last year, most of this won’t apply to you, but feel free to follow along. You’ll certainly need the links to the new packages that are now up on our GitHub page, but most of what you’ll need is in Part 2.

(Mac people: as I mentioned in the video, your instructions are coming)

Links mentioned in the video:

TechGraphs GitHub: https://github.com/techgraphs/2016Ret…

MySQL Server: https://dev.mysql.com/downloads/mysql/

Wget: http://gnuwin32.sourceforge.net/packa…

7-Zip: http://www.7-zip.org/

SQLyog: https://github.com/webyog/sqlyog-comm…


How to Quickly Search Your Favorite Baseball (and Other Sports) Sites with Launchy

If one were brave enough to scour the Internet, one could find a myriad of articles explaining how to optimize their workflow. Our workflow is super screwed up, it seems, and only optimization will help us become the well-oiled, hyper-productive sacks of meat we were always meant to be. You can eat better, you can spend your money more wisely, you can take a more efficient way to work, and you can certainly manage your time better — again, according to the Internet. My friends and loved ones point out my shortcoming often enough that I don’t worry myself too much with my workflow. I have, however, found a few tips and/or tricks which make the act of sitting at the computer a little less terrible. One such tip is using the application Launchy to help me perform searches faster. And by tweaking the program a little bit, you can make Launchy get you your desired content from your favorite sports sites without using your mouse to dig around for those little search boxes.

Launchy can actually do a whole lot more than what I’m going to explain here. It markets itself as a “keystroke launcher,” which basically means it’s a little applet that helps you perform tasks with just a few keystrokes. You can open other programs, search for files, or play music through Launchy without ever having to touch your mouse. If you’re a Mac user, you’ve probably heard of a similar program called Alfred. Alfred has plenty of its own perks, but we’ll be focusing on Launchy since it does what we need, is free, and is cross-platform (Windows, Mac, Linux).

Download and install Launchy. By default, it should open by itself. If it doesn’t hold down the Alt key and press the Space bar.

Now that Launchy is open, let’s test some things out. Type in Google and hit tab. Then type techgraphs and hit enter. A new browser tab should open with a Google search. Now open Launchy again (Alt+Space) and simply type techgraphs.com and hit enter. It should bring you right to our home page. You can even do math in Launchy. Open it and type 4+2 and hit Enter. You should get a result. This is just a sliver of what Launchy can do, but now you know the general mechanics of the program. Now that we have that, we can start customizing.

The first thing you will want to look at is the keyboard shortcut for displaying Launchy. If you click the little gear icon you’ll be presented with the Launchy settings page. On the left-hand side, you’ll see a section to select the hotkey for Launchy. By default (as we’ve seen), it’s set to Alt+Space (on Windows), but you may want to change it to something that feels better to your fingers. It’s not necessary, but if you do feel like changing it, now you know where to do that.

(Apologies for the slightly-off screenshots. I can’t get my screen-cap software to pick up the Launch pop-up window.)

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That same settings window is where we’re going to add our custom sports searches. At the top of the window, click Plugins, then click Weby from the list of plugins on the left.

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In this list you’ll see all the sites that Launchy can help you search, including some of the ones we tested earlier. These are very handy to have, but we want to add our own sites, which Launchy allows us to do. But first, we need the proper syntax. Launchy needs to know the search URL that we want in order to work properly. Let’s track one down together, like old friends. Click Cancel for now and close out of Launchy by pressing ESC.

Let’s start with FanGraphs, which my boss tells me is a fantastic baseball site. We’ll want to use Launchy to quickly search on a player, so we’ll need to start with the proper search URL. Go to FanGraphs and do a search for “Stanton.” Don’t click anything, just type “Stanton” in the search box and press Enter. In the next page, note the URL in the address bar. It should say http://www.fangraphs.com/players.aspx?lastname=stanton. Notice the last bit. The string “stanton” is passed along with the search URL. The address up to the equal sign is what we want: http://www.fangraphs.com/players.aspx?lastname=. Copy that and go back to your Launchy settings.

Back in the Weby plugin window, we’ll want to click the + sign. This will create a new entry. The name field is up to you, make it something you can remember. I use the boring but explanitory “fangraphs” (no quotes). In the address field, paste the URL you copied, and add %1 to the end (the %1 just means that we want Launchy to ask for a variable). The whole thing should look like http://www.fangraphs.com/players.aspx?lastname=%1. Press the + button again to save. Now press the OK button, which should bring you back to the main Launchy window.

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Let’s test. In the Launchy box, type fangraphs (or the name you chose) and hit Tab. You should see the name, followed by a right-facing arrow. Now type Stanton and hit Enter. A new web browser tab should open up and bring you to the same page we saw when we grabbed the search URL. Pretty cool, right? Now, open Launchy again. Type fangraphs and hit Tab, but this time enter Giancarlo Stanton after the arrow and hit Enter. Boom, you’re brought right to the corresponding page. Pretty cool, yeah?

This only works with unique names, so searching for Alex Gonzalez by full name will still bring you to a search page where you’ll have to choose the right person.

This will work for all kinds of sites, so long as you know the search URL. Here are a few examples:

  • Baseball-Reference: http://www.baseball-reference.com/search/search.fcgi?results=&search=%1 (You can also search for specfic teams by using syntax like 2015 Royals)
  • Baseball Prospectus: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/player_search.php?search_name=%1
  • Pro-Football-Reference: http://www.pro-football-reference.com/search/search.fcgi?search=%1
  • ESPN: http://espn.go.com/search/results?q=%1

You can plug all of those into Launchy to create your own custom searches. Of course, feel free to search out your own. Just search for something on your favorite site and pay attention to the URL of the corresponding page. Copy out everything that isn’t your search term, and you should be able to plop that right into Launchy.

This is a great tool for writers, fans, or even fantasy owners during a draft. It might not save you hours off your workflow, but it will at least limit the amount of time you need to spend at your computer — an exercise that is probably killing you. Happy searching!

(Header image via Leo Leung)

TechGraphs News Roundup: 2/12/2016

Salutations, dear TechGraphs readers. Those “X Days Until Pitchers and Catchers Report” tweets are actually starting to get relevant again, as baseball season is actually on the horizon. Stay tuned to TechGraphs for additions to our Retrosheet series, plus some other fun things. In the meantime, here are the news stories we found interesting this week.

If you haven’t heard already, MLB.tv is cutting its price by $20. It’s all part of a class-action lawsuit regarding blackout restrictions that was settled earlier this year. Click the link to learn more about how to watch your favorite out-of-market team even when they are in your neck of the woods (spoiler: it will still cost more money).

Speaking of; now that MLBAM has purchased the rights to stream NHL games, the folks at Puck Daddy wonder if the same restrictions will be enforced.

We’ll have more about the daily fantasy landscape next week, but between divisions being shut down, partnerships being dissolved, and investments getting devalued, it’s not been a great few weeks for the big hitters in the market.

The Super Bowl was streamed live, and CBS claims that the venture broke a bunch of records. That doesn’t mean the rollout went flawlessly, however.

How much data does a stadium in an already-tech-savvy town offer up to fans during the Super Bowl? Somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 TB.

The Raptors are teaming up with IBM’s Watson platform for a computational approach to talent analysis, and presumably to get better at Jeopardy!

A bionic knee brace is being brought to market and holy crap does it look equal parts awesome and terrifying.

Helmet company Riddell is in hot water after claims that their equipment help prevent concussions turned out to be false.

Jealous of the fact that your iOS-using friends were the only ones who could design and buy Nikes on their phones? Well, fear not, Android user, your wishes have been granted.

That’s all for this week. Have a great weekend, and be excellent to each other.


A Case for Open Source Concussion Research

The Case for Open Source Concussion Research

Not so long ago, the divide between hardware and software was fairly distinct. Certain companies made hardware and others made software. Or, to be more precise, companies made software and others scrambled like hell to make hardware that would run it. This was the time of the 80s and 90s PC market — Microsoft was king and others fought each other to build the machines that would run Microsoft’s software. But as time went by and the silicon got smaller and more diverse, it made sense for the manufacturers to also implement their own software. They knew how the hardware was supposed to function, after all. We see this now with smartphones and tablets. Apple makes their own hardware and software. Samsung makes the phones and and the heavily-modded Android OS that run them. And, of course, we see it with the wearable market. If you want to see the data from your FitBit, you need the FitBit app. The same goes for Misfit and Jawbone and the Microsoft Band. Truth be told, this is usually a perfectly workable system. But the boom of the wearable market has brought with it the proliferation of devices that do more than just track steps. Multiple companies now produce products that measure force and damage done to the head in efforts to try and reduce or at least understand concussions — a now-important issue in sports that we should have paid attention to years ago. But if individual companies are making their own hardware and software to collect this data, the collaboration disappears. Important sharing of knowledge goes by the wayside. Everything gets segmented and compartmentalized. With the threat of head injuries looming so large, should we not strive to pool our collective research? Can we not create products for both good and profit?

The term “open source” brings with it some confusion. Open source was spawned out of the Free Software movement, and in the name lies the first problem. When many people read the term “free software,” they think of those handy programs one can download for free off of SourceForge. It is true that many developers offer their products free of charge, but that’s not what free software or open source is about.

In the 1990s, Linus Torvalds — in either one of the most important acts in the history of computer science or one of the stupidest moves in the world of business, depending on who you ask — created his own variation on the Unix operating system and released it, for free, to anyone who wanted to try it out. It was released under the GNU Public License. The GPL basically* states that anything released under said license is free to be tested, used, and modified. Those who make modifications are even free to sell their product for profit, so long as they pay the GPL forward and release their code for the same testing and modification.

*I know I’m giving a very high overview of this. My apologies to the hardcore free software people out there.

Torvalds’ flavor of Unix was named Linux, and if you haven’t heard of it, your nerdiest friends sure have. It runs almost every web server, ATM, smart tv, and super computer, and can be found on around 50% of the world’s smartphones. This article is being written on a laptop running Linux. Company after company took Torvalds’ work and improved upon it, personalized it, and commoditized it. All they had to do was show their work.

This is how open source works. Google doesn’t technically make money off of Android, which is based on Linux. They do make money off the Android Store and the data the OS collects about users’ habits. Companies like Ubuntu and Red Hat make a killing selling their special flavor of Linux for servers, and/or by selling support for that software. Sure, some organizations do it just to do it — to work toward a common goal of creating something great and exciting — and for the mere challenge of it. But do not be fooled, there’s big money to be found in open source, in one way or another. Device manufacturers need not be afraid, especially when their work goes toward the greater good.

Imagine a company that makes sensors for football helmets. We have covered quite of few of them at this site. The sensors are meant to measure impacts and forces that could lead to brain injuries. The company packages their devices with their special software and sells it to professional, collegiate, and even high school teams. Meanwhile, another company is doing the exact same thing and selling their wares to other such teams. Who’s right? Who has the best data? Each system is self-contained so there’s no opportunity for this type of data to be compared, contrasted, and improved upon.

This is where innovation and collaboration stops. Sure, each company gets their share of the pie, but they’re not necessarily making athletes safer. This data is somewhat useful in the hands of coaches and parents, but imagine if it were open to research groups — if doctors and scientists could pick apart the code to find exactly what was being measured and submit improvements to the software. We might actually have a chance at learning something.

In a recent article about CTE, Deadspin‘s Barry Petchesky wrote:

We don’t know a lot. We don’t know the rate at which CTE develops, or the mechanism. We don’t know the correlation with playing football as compared to other contact sports. We don’t know if some people are predisposed to developing it. We don’t know how its symptoms manifest in the living. (We don’t know if it has symptoms—correlation is not causation.) We don’t know if there’s treatment. Each announcement of another CTE-riddled NFL brain amounts to, basically, cataloguing.

Petchesky is exactly right. We’re at a stalemate with this issue. If a company were truly passionate about this, they would release their software under the GPL. They could still make and sell their hardware, but others would be able to sift through the mechanisms for measuring head injuries and submit advancements to make it better. Other companies could edit and enhance this code and implement it into their own sensors. Another company could come along and do the same. Meanwhile, everyone competing in this space would constantly be working to make better systems for tracking these types of things. Researchers, now armed with the code that powers these systems, could implement it into their own experiments and research. The conversation might still take a while, but at least everyone would be speaking the same language.

I understand that the point of all these systems is to make money. They give coaches and parents peace of mind knowing that steps are being taken to protect player safety. But there’s an untapped market here of contributing to the greater good. There’s still money to be made, it just comes with a little extra peace of mind that when a company uses this hypothetical open source system, they are putting their work out there for all to see. They are daring others to create a better system. These dares only lead to other dares, and sooner or later, people might actually learn something definitive about this subject. Players get better and companies still make money — imagine that.


TechGraphs News Roundup: 1/29/2016

Hello, fair TechGraphs readers. I tried to come up with something witty for the intro, but this is already a little bit late, so I’ll cut right to the news stories from the sports-tech world that we found interesting this week.

A late-comer, but probably the biggest news of the week: the payment processor for DraftKings and FanDuel is cutting ties at the end of February. If you’re a halfway-decent coder with some experience in API work, it might not be a bad idea to float them your resume.

The Super Bowl is a little more than a week away, and Wired has a nice look at all the crazy cameras we’ll be experiencing on TV.

If you are going to see the big game in person, check out this primer on the wireless tech employed by Levi’s Stadium.

Also in time for the Super Bowl, EA is releasing Madden 16 for free on EA Access on February 2nd.

On the subject of Madden, Polygon looks at how the game deals with teams changing cities.

My friend and former FanGraphs contributor Jack Moore looks at how how the MLB media streaming landscape might change (or not) in upcoming years.

They’re going to put esports on real, actual television this year, and David Wiers is ecstatic about it.

In the vain of Periscope and Meerkat, Facebook is giving live-streaming access to everyone (with and iPhone). Now, when you can’t make it to a game, just make sure to befriend someone who can. Watching from the stands on your cellphone is just as good, right?

Periscope countered this news with an announcement that you’ll be able to stream on its service using a GoPro.

I don’t think I’ll ever get too deep into esports, but I can very much see myself plopping down on the couch to watch some drone racing.

Apparently the whole snafu with Surface tablets at the AFC championship game is being blamed on some bad cabling.

And finally, details are starting to come out about MLB The Show 16. I’m going to buy it either way, but the improvements mentioned are certainly welcome.

That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend. Be excellent to each other.


MLB and Match.com Team Up

Listen, I am not — even for a minute — saying that I possess even a modicum of business acumen. In fact, I think it would be safe to say that pretty much everything I know about business comes from 30 Rock‘s Jack Donaghy. I do not possess an MBA, and I have a fairly weak handshake. With that all said, the announced partnership between MLB and Match.com could make a lot of sense. However, this does not negate the fact that it all seems very silly.

People give the dating app Tinder a good deal of guff due to the perception that it is a platform merely for people looking to rub against each other in some sort of way. And while that facet of the service certainly exists, Tinder leverages an easily-trackable and simple trait for every user — proximity. When you match up with someone, you know, for a fact, that you already have something in common. This may seem oversimplified — and maybe it is — but it’s part of Tinder’s core appeal.*

*–yes, there are also photos involved, but that is included in nearly all dating services.

Services like Match and OKCupid also leverage common interests, no doubt, but they are not as instantaneous. Match is now looking to tap into that instant-match process by using baseball fandom as a variable. Using the new “Singles” (can you hear my eye rolls through the Internet?) platform, fans can combine their Match.com profiles with their team allegiances. People can search Match for others who have also designated a favorite MLB team, and, 29 team-specific portals will also be available for people to match themselves with others who also root for the same team. I really want to know which MLB team was the holdout.

Is this platform totally pointless? Probably not. Will it make these businesses money? I have no idea — see paragraph one. However, it points to a continuing trend from MLB that shows a disconnect between what MLB thinks women want and, well, reality. Hey guys! Tired of meeting women who *gasp* don’t like baseball?! Do we have the site for you! Ladies! Wanna show all the dudes out there that you are totally down to hang in a ballpark and might even eat a hot dog? Sign up below! From Match’s web site:

With over a quarter of Match members identifying as baseball fans, now’s the time to make a connection with another single fan online. Connecting over a shared passion like America’s favorite pastime is the best way to break the ice, so visit www.match.com/mlb to start your search today!

In the interest of fairness, I haven’t dated in a while. And based on what I hear from single friends, it can indeed be rough out there. But predicating a relationship based on the fact that two people like the same baseball team seems shaky at best. Plus (and I hate writing this as much as you hat reading it), sports are different. There are varying degrees of fandom, to put it lightly. A guy can check a box because he likes going to a game every now and then, where a woman who watches every game and can recite the rosters of every historic team might check that same box. There’s no sliding scale here, it’s a binary response. This can happen with other subjects as well, certainly, but there are no Match.com portals for fans of Hemingway or the movie Top Gun. Match and MLB are trying to pair people together with the help of one variable that can fluctuate immensely. It probably isn’t a recipe for disaster, but it most likely isn’t one for success either.

Who knows? Maybe this will lead to some deep and meaningful relationships. Who am I to tell people how they should look for love? But on the surface, the whole situation seems pretty phony. I mostly am worried about St. Louis fans living in Chicago and vice versa. I don’t see a whole lot of room for romance there, but it might give @BestFansStLouis some good fodder.


TechGraphs News Roundup: 1/22/2016

Greetings, fair readers. The NFL has it’s championship Sunday this weekend, the NHL All Star Game (love it or hate it) is right around the corner, and we’re still waiting for a couple big signings in Major League Baseball. It’s an exciting time for sports fans, though the sports-tech world had a bit of a quiet week. It’s a post-CES lull for sure, but nevertheless, here are the stories that we found interesting from this week.

The biggest news this week came from Facebook, which has launched a new platform for engaging with a sporting event and other fans. Titled Facebook Sports Stadium, it’s a little mix of Twitter, an ESPN mobile app, and an engagement-measuring tool. Knowing Facebook, it’ll certainly get a couple face lifts along the way, but it’s an interesting tool for non-Twitter people out there that still want to discuss the sport they are watching on TV.

Another big story comes from MLB which settled a lawsuit concerning their blackout policies. As of this writing, all the details are still a little fuzzy, but it looks like the price of the overall MLB.tv package will be lower (yay!), and there will be an option built in for fans of out-of-town teams when said team comes to play in said fan’s town. It’s a developing story, and we’ll keep an eye on it.

Just today, UEFA announced that it will be instituting goal line technology in upcoming tournaments. David Weirs tells me this is a good thing.

Samsung is rumored to working on a smartwatch/shirt sensor combo. It’s an interesting idea. A smartwatch for the every day activities that can be paired up with a body sensor to collect more granular data during workouts.

Kirk Herbstreit, a wealthy sports announcer, got butt-hurt about a non-wealthy basketball player trying to get paid for his likeness and causing a cancellation of a video game series that cost Herbstriet a job.

Hoverboards are dumb and dangerous, and probably more dangerous when 200 lb. testosterone machines are riding them. That’s why the Carolina Panthers banned players from using them.

Wired has a nice story on the overall influx of technology in football.

Video-streaming service Ustream has been acquired by IBM. Ustream hasn’t dabbled too much in sports as of yet, but if their partnership can bring forth a series product (and given IBM’s history of corporate partnerships), we could see that technology being utilized by leagues in the not-so-distant future.

That’s all for this week. If you’re on the east coast, good luck with your shoveling. Be excellent to each other.


The Astros Hack Won’t Be the Last in Sports

Criminal charges have finally come down in the case regarding an employee of the St. Louis Cardinals illegally accessing computers belonging to the Houston Astros. Chris Correa has plead guilty and could face up to 25 years in prison for his involvement in hacking the Astros’ database. It’s a move that will hopefully deter professional sports teams from participating in this kind of behavior in the future, but one that certainly won’t guarantee it. On the contrary, these kinds of security breaches are now commonplace among corporations, and there doesn’t seem to be any discernible light at the end of the tunnel. Provisions can be made, certainly, but there’s no guaranteeing that any professional sports teams’ internal documents and information will be safe from hackers looking to make a name for themselves, or even from rival teams.

In his (Insider) piece for ESPN, Jim Bowden opines on some possible punishments for the Cardinals in the wake of the scandal. His last idea has good intentions, though the implementation is basically impossible:

New computer requirements: Manfred should put together a task force that would make sure all 30 teams have sufficient security for their baseball operations systems so that hacking is nearly impossible. These systems can either be checked on a regular basis or be monitored from a central location (i.e. the commissioner’s office).

I won’t berate Mr. Bowden on his nativity here. An understanding of cybersecurity doesn’t really fall under his job description. But this suggestion is both impossible and unfruitful. There simply is no way for an organization to absolutely protect itself against network attacks. We’ve seen hacks against the Office of Personnel Management, Patreon, T-Mobile, Ashley Madison, Hilton, and many other companies in 2015 alone. The attack vectors grow bigger and the number of threats gain in numbers every day. Most of what is considered cybersecurity these days is simply addressing known exploits. There are a varying degree of measures that can be taken against unknown exploits, but they are all difficult and the best require big-time money. A league-mandated policy on cybersecurity won’t help that. In fact, if teams are looking to protect themselves against corporate espionage, mandates are the last thing they want.

Let’s play this out a little. Say Team A wants to find out who Team B is planning on drafting. Team B has taken every (hypothetical) precaution laid out for them by the league. The problem is, Team A already knows all of these procedures. They know exactly which exploit methods to avoid and which are still left open. The road map is already drawn up. All they need to do is follow it.

It’s true that something like what Mr. Bowden is suggesting would hopefully ensure that teams act a little smarter. In fact, the exploit used against Houston was a very low-level attack. Correa essentially guessed an Astros employees’ password based on what that employee used as a password when he was previously with St. Louis. This really isn’t hacking, and it’s barely social engineering. Some guidelines from the league (who will hopefully consult with some professional security experts) could help prevent against these kinds of mishaps in the future. But if a team really wanted to get their hands on some classified information (and were willing to take the risk), it wouldn’t be all that difficult.

The FBI charges will most likely ensure that teams won’t try any shenanigans themselves, and certainly not from company computers on company networks. This does not mean, however, that rival teams or any other ne’er-do-wells couldn’t use outside sources to try and dig up secrets.

I don’t want to get too far into the nitty gritty of how the hacking community works, but suffice it to say that there are communities out there that are certainly willing to perform this type of work for a fee. Potential recruits can be found on certain IRC channels or Tor (a pseudo-anonymous network where web traffic is masked) sites and paid in Bitcoin — a cryptographic digital currency that makes transactions hard to trace. There are hackers out there for hire, to be certain, which means that teams wouldn’t even have to get their hands dirty.

And even if teams were to take measures into securing their servers and networks, there are certainly other ways security breaches can happen. An attacker could find an exploit in an employee’s home router and monitor their traffic from a car parked near their house. Man-in-the-middle attacks could be employed from a coffee shop a scout or executive visits.

And let us not forget social engineering, perhaps the most common way breaches happen nowadays. An attacker can call people around the front office posing as Todd from IT, telling people that the mail server failed and that they need their password to recreate their profile. People are still all-too willing to provide passwords and other sensitive data over the phone. Spoofing emails can be sent out with links to legit-looking websites. It usually only takes one person to give up their login information or click a link for an attacker to gain access to a network. People rarely change their passwords — and if they do, it’s often in predictable ways.

These are threats that all corporations face, not just sports teams. But it goes to show that no team is 100% safe, no matter what their respective league does or doesn’t do. In our age of prediction models and player evaluations and biometric sensors that track performance data, there is certainly a lot of juicy information that teams hold dear, and wouldn’t want other teams to see. The problem is that this information is stored on computers, and most computers are on networks that face the public in one way or another.

Is it a little scary? Certainly. Is it avoidable? Not entirely, though a hefty dose of firewall provisions, complex-password requirements, and employee training can go a long way to help prevent most attacks. But there’s no silver bullet that the league or anyone else can provide to ensure that what happened to the Astros won’t happen to anyone else. It’s part of the cost of doing business in our connected world, and probably will be forever.

(Image via Christian Colen)

TechGraphs News Roundup: 1/8/2016

Greetings, fair TechGraphs readers. Here’s hoping you all had adequate holidays. Let’s ring in the new year with all the sports-tech stories we found interesting this week.

The ringing in of the new year also means the coming of the Great Silicon Gathering known as the Consumer Electronics Show, or CES. Wearables and fitness trackers were a big theme at CES last year, and that theme appears to have carried over to the newly-christened 2016. We’ve done our best to keep tabs on all the announcements. We probably missed a couple, but here’s the general low-down on what’s coming:

Misfit is bringing a fitness tracker that actually kind of looks nice. They are also developing earbuds — yes, earbuds — that will help track your activity. Fitbit is branching out to the smartwatch market. So is Casio. And PC maker Razer. HTC is going to sell an all-in-one package that includes a scale, a fitness tracker, and a heart rate monitor. Garmin is looking to release a Google Glass/HUD device specifically designed for cyclists. They’re also coming out with a GPS watch with its own heart rate monitor. Vert is coming out with an update to their already-interesting jump tracker. A French company called In & Motion has developed a vest for skiers that will work like an airbag to to prevent injuries. Oakley is working on a pair of sunglasses with a Siri-like fitness coach built right in. And Under Armor is pairing up with IBM’s Watson super computer to develop new kinds of health and fitness tracking.

Meanwhile, a few non-CES stories came across our desk as well.

Activision has bought Major League Gaming. Fans of esports can expect to see more tournaments that should include more styles of games.

The UFC 2 video game will be coming out in March. Those interested in virtually beating the crap out of each other should mark their calendars.

Because the job of a golf club R&D team is never done, Callaway is getting into bed with Boeing to make faster drivers. No word yet on whether the 2017 model will come with optional jet engine attachments.

That’s it for this week. Have a nice weekend, and be excellent to each other.


On the End of the Tyranny of the Local Sports Market

FanGraphs’ Nathaniel Grow recently unearthed an interesting tidbit buried deep in a court filing involving Major League Baseball. Per Grow’s findings, it appears as if MLB is planning on changing up its MLB.tv service.

“beginning next season MLB will make single-team, out-of-market streams available for purchase (alongside the out-of-market package) on MLB.TV.”

It’s a feature that both the NHL and the NBA offer already, but it seems to be a harbinger of a sea change in the world of sports fandom — it’s now easier and cheaper for fans to be region-agnostic when it comes to picking their favorite sports teams.

Not so long ago, and for a very long time, if one found an affinity for a certain sport, their best bet — by far — was to follow the local team. That is, they were best served following the team that held rights to the local TV and radio markets. Those were the teams that kids could watch, listen to, and follow in the local papers (insert “you see, newspapers were these things…” joke here).

Now, fans have a choice, if they want it. It’s probably true that the ensconced fan — those that have been loyal to a team for most of their lives — aren’t budging on this one. But for young fans, or fans of any age that are looking to get into a new sport, it’s a liberating proposition.

The idea behind MLB.tv and NBA League Pass seemed always to revolve around the idea of the misplaced fan — the Cleveland native who was forced to move because of work/love or the offspring of the Yankees fan who moved to the South way back. It was, and certainly still is, a way for one to follow thier favorite team from afar. And these services are great tools for that. But they are also great tools for those looking to play the field — no pun intended. These are also built for the kid in Chicago who loves Giancarlo Stanton or the L.A. native who is a big fan of P.K. Subban. We are no longer tied to our local media markets. We can be free agents.

Again, not too long ago, if people were fans of out-of-market teams, those teams tended to be what’s known in the gambling realm as “public teams.” Think the St. Louis Cardinals or Dallas Cowboys or Chicago Bulls or Boston Bruins. These were the teams that got the most air time of their league’s respective Games of the Week that played on network (and later cable) television. If you didn’t want to follow the local team, your best bet was to latch onto a team that was on TV a lot. No more. Want to follow the Flames in Okalahoma? How about the Padres in upstate New York? No problem. Even college sports are adapting a bit, though only through conference-specific packages.

I won’t get into the specifics, because I already have, but a few years ago I was interested in finding myself a new baseball team. Ten years ago, this wouldn’t really be possible. I would have been stuck with whatever team was playing in my market (i.e. the Twins). But technology allowed me to shake off the shackles of the default.

It’s a microcosm of what technology did to commerce in general. I do believe that the rise of online retailers has been a hindrance to local businesses when it comes to the subjects of scale and wholesale-buying power, but it’s also done wonders for some. I love building PCs, but I could not imagine what I would do if Best Buy were my only option for buying PC parts. I’m lucky enough to have a Microcenter in my town, but if I didn’t I could always turn to Newegg or Tiger Direct to fill my needs. I could shop around.

The same now goes for sports fans. Think your team is dumb for supporting a domestic abuser? Sick of the local baseball team’s refusal to adopt even a modicum of advanced statistics in their daily operations? Go somewhere else. Find a better option.

In the grand scheme of things, we still have little power. TV money rules the kingdom, and blackout rules and other nonsense will still burden us peasants for some time, but there’s some light shining through. Yes, it will cost us money. Yes, the delivery methods aren’t perfect. But we are slowly being allowed to make our own decisions in the realm of fandom. We aren’t tethered to the local club. We might want to be. It’s usually easier and makes for accessible small talk with other locals. But we don’t have to.

My name is David Temple. I live in Minneapolis and I watch the Houston Astros during baseball season and the Edmonton Oilers during hockey season. I am the new face of the sports fan. It’s breaking my bank, but it’s lifting my spirits. Long live team-specific streaming packages.

(Image via Bernard Spragg)

How Playing Hockey Video Games Actually Taught Me How Hockey Works

It’s a bit of an odd dichotomy to be a sports fan living in Minnesota and not know anything about hockey. My excuse is that I grew up in Wisconsin, where football is king, and never even had a chance to play hockey in school. But I moved to Minnesota over 10 years ago. They air high school hockey games on the regional sports network here. I should have learned a little by osmosis at least.

I was too busy going to baseball games in the summer and pretending to care about the NFL in the winter to ever give hockey a try. It’s a shame really, because I found that the more of the sport I caught, the more I enjoyed it. So last year, when the NFL finally pulled enough BS to make me quit it pretty much entirely, I thought I’d give hockey a try. The only problem with that plan revolved around that fact that I didn’t really know anything about hockey. I’m not talking about not remembering what player played on what team. I barely knew the rules. So, like any enterprising 30-something with disposable income would do, I tried to solve my problems with video games.

Let’s preface this by saying, with the exception of simply knowing the name of some of the game’s biggest stars (Ovechkin, Crosby, Kane, etc.) essentially everything I knew about hockey came from whatever I ingested by watching The Mighty Ducks 50 times as a child. As it turns out, regular hockey is WAY LESS exciting than movie hockey, and movie hockey isn’t very good at explaining rules, strategy, or really even giving a general sense of the flow of the game. Needless to say, when I fired up NHL 15 last year, I had a steep hill to climb.

NHL 15 had its flaws, certainly, but the gameplay was always spot on for me. The graphics were great, the controls were responsive, and I had the ability to tailor the game in a myriad of ways. I could make my games easy or hard, fast or slow, and even get granular with how I wanted things like puck handling and passing accuracy to behave. I didn’t play much with these in the beginning, however, because I was too busy getting my butt handed to me.

Playing a video game based on sport you know nothing about is like driving a car in a country where the traffic laws are totally foreign. You have a good understanding of the mechanics of the whole thing, but not quite sure how to put it all together. Here’s how those first few days went:

1. Start game
2. Immediately get scored on
3. Check replay to see why
4. Glean nothing from replay
5. Get back into game
6. Get called for a penalty/violation
7. Pause game
8. Google said penalty/violation on my phone
9. Return to step 2.

I didn’t know what the blue lines were for. I didn’t understand offside or icing or interference of delays of game penalties. I didn’t know that if you shot the puck at the opponent’s net after an offside was called, the other team takes umbrage with it at a fairly aggressive level. I didn’t know that my goalie could be checked if he was out of the crease, because I mostly didn’t know what the crease was.

But soon enough, after enough failings and enough Googling, I understood the basic ins and outs of hockey. The hockey I watched on TV started to make more sense. When I watched the playoffs, I could understand a little more of what Doc Emrick was saying. It was some solid progress.

That was last winter, and I came into this season looking to understand a little more about strategy and basic fundamental gameplay. So instead of a general season playing as one team, I waded into the waters of creating my own player via the Be a Pro feature. I was about to go to school. NHL 15 taught me about how hockey was played. NHL 16 taught me how to play hockey.

OK, that last sentence may have been a bit of an overstatement. I’m not saying I’m ready to lace up and bang against some other out-of-shape dudes in a rec league or anything, but playing a season as a single player helped me better understand what everybody did and where they were supposed to go.

I think I’m on my seventh created player. The first six didn’t last very long. I tried playing as a center, but that didn’t do it for me. I tried a right winger but I made him right handed which isn’t the best idea because of the bad forehand angles (something I learned like three games in). I made some guys too big or too small for their position or juiced all the wrong attributes during creation, but finally I settled on a very solid player.

His name is Jacques Jacques. I wanted to make him have just one name like Pele or Cher, but the game wouldn’t let me. Regardless, Jacques was a last name prerecorded by the announcers, so it kind of sounds like they’re just using his one name. I even create a backstory for Jacques. Basically, he’s from somewhere outside Yellowknife, and he was discovered as a 17-year-old competing in unsanctioned MMA fights. He’d never played hockey because he was too busy logging or drilling for oil. But a scout found him and convinced him to learn hockey. It’s basically a mix between the plot of The Air Up There and Wolverine’s backstory from the first X-Men movie.

Jacques grows his playoff beard in November. That's how confident he is.

Jacques grows his playoff beard in November. That’s how confident he is.

Anyway, I played a whole minor league season with Jacques and ended up being the first overall pick. I was an Edmonton Oiler. The game, however, did not adjust the rest of the draft after that, so the Oilers still ended up with Connor McDavid. Needless to say, the Oilers are doing pretty well.

It’s kind of hard to explain everything I learned while trying to make my way through a digital hockey career, but the progress has been substantial.

I now understand things like general positioning — where the left winger should be in a given offensive formation. In the past, line changes always seemed so random to me, but now that I actually skate to the bench to rest, I’m starting to pick the best times to do so given where the puck, my teammates, and the opposing players are. I’m starting to decipher the fine lines surrounding what is and isn’t boarding and what is and isn’t interference. Whenever a goal is scored, I go to the replay to try and find out how. Where were the weaknesses in the defense? Who made a good play to get open? Was the goalie beat or was it a fluke deflection?

I see articles all the time about how schools are using games like Minecraft to teach kids things about teamwork and geometry and even basic computer programming. Educators have long used games as a teaching tool. And a silly as it sounds, NHL 15 and 16 honestly helped me learn about hockey. I now have a GameCenter subscription. I watch the Oilers and my hometown Wild or any other game that I find interesting. I’m understanding more and more why certain players or teams are really good.

I still have a lot of learning to do, but I can at least hold my own in a conversation with a hockey fan. I can detect a good play or a misstep when watching on live TV. I now have opinions that I yell at the TV.

Anyone can mindlessly play Madden or FIFA for hours on end. I’m not saying there isn’t value in that. But if one wants to really dig into the specifics and the minutiae of the sport, video games can actually be great for that too. I now know some stuff about hockey, which isn’t something I could have said two years ago. Now I just need to acquire a taste for lutefisk, and I’ll be a true Minnesotan.


TechGraphs News Roundup: 12/12/2015

Welcome back, fair TechGraphs readers. Here’s hoping your fantasy football wishes turned into caviar dreams and you all made your respective playoffs. Unless you play DFS, in which case this week was less important — if you don’t live in New York state, that is. More on that later. In the meantime, here are the sports-tech stories we found interesting this week.

We might as well start with the big news of the week. A while back, New York’s attorney general said that daily fantasy sites — most notably DraftKings and FanDuel — constituted gambling. Since gambling is still illegal, said attorney general  took DFS to trial. On Friday, the judge granted the injunction. Then, the appellate judge overturned that ruling. The overruling doesn’t put DFS in the clear in New York forever, they are just allowed to continue doing business until the legality of their operations are further discussed. Nothing is certain yet, but it’s some temporary good news for DFS players in New York.

Polygon goes over some of the HUGE numbers that October’s League of Legends tournament drew in terms of online viewers.

EA appears to see the writing on the wall, as they recently announced that they have opened an esports division.

While netting isn’t necessarily the cutting edge of technology, they can play a big role in keeping fans safe. Because of this, MLB has recommended that all teams increase their use of netting to increase the safety of spectators in the stands.

New Balance is working on a very cool idea that allows runners to 3D print the soles of their shoes to better fit their specific feet and running style. It’s still in R&D at this point, but it’s an excellent use of the emerging technology.

Yahoo has released a new app that serves as a sort of TV Guide for Internet streaming. While it doesn’t include sports yet, it’s fairly easy to see that getting implemented soon enough (or another company picking up where Yahoo is leaving off).

The Cowboys ran into a little bit of tech trouble on Monday Night Football. Because of the way NFL rules work, this in turn (and fairly) meant the Washington Professional Football Team also had tech trouble.

Showtime is trying to get people to watch boxing in a VR environment. You yourself can try it for free. The bout already happened, but the it seems that just showing off the technology is the main point of the demonstration.

That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend and be excellent to each other.

 


New Tech Partnerships Prove the NBA is King of Fan Engagement

The NBA is really good at making their brand as visible as possible on the Internet. They have been for some time, actually. Whenever I have discussions online or in person about what sports leagues can do to make online engagement better, I have long used the NBA as the high watermark. It’s probably true that basketball as a sport is slightly more akin to displaying highlights, in general. Dunks and half-court threes and buzzer-beaters only take a handful of seconds compared to a a touchdown pass or even an impressive deke leading to a goal. Nevertheless, the NBA hasn’t been resting on its sport’s inherent excitement. It’s making big pushes to engage current fans and win over new ones.

Leagues like the NFL have always held a firm grip on their property when it comes to things like highlights, and the MLB has currently upped their actions against people posting GIFs of what they consider to be their property. The NBA, conversely, gives fans and creators carte blanche when it comes to posting videos online. The NBA has their own YouTube channel where it posts plenty of highlights and videos itself, but one can also find tons of dunk compilations, replays of old All-Star games, or even the goofy one-off things that happen in any given game.

But they’re not stopping there. They just recently partnered with a company called AVGEN. And AVGEN’s software does some really cool things. From The Verge:

On a basic level, AVGEN is software that automates the video editing process that creates highlight reels. According to Aviv Arnon, WSC’s VP of business development, “We analyze the video itself to figure out where the players are on the court, where movement is, [and] do audio analysis to figure out the perfect ins and outs for every moment.” That means analyzing fans screaming in the stands and color commentary, as well as player stats to determine what plays meant for the game as a whole. Most importantly, the software uses image recognition to also identify players and the types of plays being made. So if an outlet wanted to create a highlight reel of DeAndre Jordan’s slam dunks, they’d simply need to specify those terms in AVGEN before getting a clip minutes later. That clip can then be shared to the waiting eyes on YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter on the fly, ready for easy consumption. Which is great, since the NBA has 3 billion cumulative views on YouTube alone.

This process takes away the labor and time needed for interns to comb through video, edit it down, and post it online. It’s been streamlined and automated, as it should be. AVGEN’s process takes away the biggest problem of MLB’s recent GIF crackdown. MLB says it doesn’t want people posting GIFs or videos of cool highlights on Twitter because that highlight is property of MLB. But MLB has a long history of, well, taking a good amount of time to actually post that material online. It’s way less fun to share something when it happened 20 minutes ago. The NBA never cared about highlight sharing the way MLB did, but event then they made the process smoother by letting a machine do the posting for them. They cut out the middle man that no one was avoiding in the first place. That’s progressive thinking.

Now that they’ve made consumption easier, the NBA has turned to increasing the ease in which fans can actually contribute — most notably in terms of All-Star voting. Certainly, the NBA has long allowed fans to vote for their favorite players online and via mobile, All-Star voting has now been ported to a platform that people have already baked into their daily online activities — searching crap on Google. The NBA and Google have entered a partnership in which fans can vote for the All-Star game right from Google in their desktop or mobile browser. All one needs is a Google account and the ability to search for “NBA All Star voting.” They’re then presented with an embeded voting platform right in their current screen.

googleallstar

Google’s All-Star Voting Screen

Again, the middle man is being cut out here. The barrier of entry is lowered. Nobody knows that actual URL to vote for the All-Star game, so they’re just going to Google it anyway. With this new partnership, fans don’t even need to leave their search engine to do what they sought out. No Tweets are necessary, no SMS messages need to be sent.

The NBA isn’t reinventing the way fans engage with its league online. They are simply making it easier and more convenient. These are incremental improvements — improvements that any other league could easily make. The NBA — like any other league — is not without its problems. But they are hands down leading the charge when it comes to proliferating their brand online. And when sports are competing with a seemingly infinite amount of other entertainment streams on the web, every little bit helps.


TechGraphs News Roundup: 12/4/2015

Greetings, fair TechGraphs readers. I hope everyone had a pleasurable Thanksgiving holiday. We took a little time off here at TechGraphs, but we’ll back in full force next week. In the meantime, here’s a look at the sports-tech stories we found interesting this week.

Remember that time that one of sports’ most iconic figures announced his long-rumored retirement on a blog? That was weird.

ESPN is always into using social media to promote games that they broadcast, such as Monday Night Football. The problems come when the game they have to promote promises to be a garbage fire. The game actually turned out to be fairly exciting for everyone who isn’t a Cleveland fan.

On the topic of ESPN, it appears cord-cutters are costing them a not-insignificant number of customers. I don’t know how losing TV subscribers means you should lay off a bunch of great web writers, but what do I know?

For those of you who think HD just isn’t HD enough anymore, you’ll be pleased to learn that DirecTV is planning on carrying 4K content in 2016. No word yet as to which channels will be offered, but since DirecTV still up-charges for basic HD programming, rest assured that 4K will cost even more money on top of the regular bill.

I don’t much at all about esports, but I do know that beefs always help a brand, so keep at it, nerds.

Lots of ESPN news this week, but they have integrated their WatchESPN feature (for those with qualifying cable/satellite subscriptions, of course) with their ESPN app. The idea is that if you are using the ESPN app to check on a score, you’ll be able to just tap a button to pull up the live video of the game. As ESPN carries a lot college basketball on WatchESPN, the addition is timely.

Google is immensely brilliant, interesting, and terrifying company. They seemingly do something incredibly cool and incredibly creepy every day. I would chalk up patenting a blood-sucking smartwatch under both categories.

That’s all for this week. Have a great weekend, and be excellent to each other.

 

 


TechGraphs News Roundup: 11/20/2015

Greetings, fair readers. We’ve been taking a bit of a mini hiatus here at TechGraphs, but luckily, not a whole lot of news has broken in the world of sports tech. Oh, I mean besides that an entire billion dollar fantasy industry is in complete legal limbo, but, you know … other than that. Anyway, while we all cash out our DFS accounts, here are the stories we found interesting this week.

Let’s get straight to the point, and talk a little daily fantasy:

  • New York state’s attorney general has suspended daily fantasy operations while they investigate the game’s legality.
  • DraftKings and FanDuel are sued said attorney general.
  • That didn’t work, so FanDuel is suspending operations in NY for a while.
  • Oh, it’s also running a bit behind in paying back its players.
  • Meanwhile, Massachusetts has instituted some new regulations regarding DFS.
  • Because of all this, the TV networks might be in trouble as far as ad money goes.
    • DraftKings is trying to suspend its advertising on TV, for example.
  • If you want a British guy to explain everything to you, check here.

OK, now that we’ve sifted through that:

Good news! MLB and Fox have announced that they will offer in-market streaming! Bad news! It doesn’t work for Comcast customers, and only those who already pay to watch the games on TV will have access!

We talked about the controversy circling new styles of curling brooms (because we’re hip like that), and now it looks like the World Curling Federation (yes, that’s a real thing) has put a temporary ban on the brooms while it sorts all this stuff out.

The folks behind Bauer hockey products has unveiled a new collar that they think will help prevent athletes’ brains from bouncing around in their skulls — i.e. concussions.

With the help of Facebook’s 360-degree video technology, GoPro has released a new video to with a panoramic view of what it’s like to carve some waves (is that surfing lingo? I feel like that’s surfing lingo.)

The video game Fallout 4 was released to much fanfare. The game takes place in a post-apocalyptic Boston, so some enterprising fan decided to mod the game to allow the game’s character to look like Red Sox slugger David Ortiz (albeit a right-handed version). It was a fun/lighthearted thing, so naturally MLB got butt-hurt about it.

Speaking of sluggers, Jason Giambi took some time away from not sliding to partner up with a company that uses VR to help train hitters.

If you are a stadium/architecture nerd, Wired ran a couple of stories giving a look into the future of NFL venues.

That’s all for this week. Have a great weekend, and be excellent to each other.