Archive for October, 2015

TechGraphs News Roundup: 10/30/15

A very happy and very spooky Friday to you, fair TechGraphs reader. As you get all your tricks and/or treats in order, feel free to check out all the sports-tech stories that we found interesting this week.

Public service announcement: NBA League Pass is available for free through November 3rd. If you are on the fence about subscribing, or if you just want to check out some out-of-market games this weekend, now’s your chance.

If you are a data wizard interested in breaking into the baseball world, the Astros are currently hiring a research and development analyst. For some, getting a job with any big-league club is a win, but jumping on with a stat-friendly team on the rise is an added bonus.

Yahoo! aired the first ever regular season NFL game over the Internet last weekend, which is a pretty big deal. Wired has a nice look at what went on behind the scenes. Everything seems to have gone pretty smoothly, even if not as many people watched as Yahoo! would have you believe. It makes sense that a bunch of people tuned in for at least a little bit of the game, considering how hard Yahoo! was pimping the thing.

On a similar note, the Golden State Warriors streamed their first game of the season via virtual reality. Anyone with a Samsung VR headset and compatible smartphone could tune in to experience the game in real time.

Remember how the two big names in daily fantasy (DraftKings and FanDuel) came under scrutiny for insider antics and general skullduggery? Well, it looks like a governing body is being set up to monitor these shenanigans going forward.

Speaking of, TechCrunch has an interesting take on how daily fantasy could be used to launder money.

FiveThirtyEight ran a great piece about how camera systems and machine learning is changing the sports landscape. Or, at least I think that’s what it was about. It’s pretty long.

Sports data startup Sportsradar got a big influx of money from investors that include both Mark Cuban and Michael Jordan. It looks like Sportsradar’s next push will be into the world of fantasy and gambling.

That’s all for this week. Have a fun and safe Halloween, and make sure to be excellent to each other.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Header image via Tony)

MLB Teams Demo New Tech During Fall Instructs

After quietly toiling away all summer, they travel to the complexes in Arizona and Florida just after the minor league seasons end. Now is the time to impress the higher-ups that will decide their future with the organization.

It seems the startups traveling to the Arizona Fall League and fall instructional leagues have more in common with the prospects they work with after all.

MLB teams use the fall instructional leagues (“instructs”) to try out new technologies they are considering purchasing. Organizations get to use their minor league talent as guinea pigs, rather than their stars. And tech companies get more access to players than they would during spring training or the regular season, when their schedules are much more regimented.

The result is a who’s who of baseball-related companies making their way to the Arizona and Florida. Over the past year, deCervo, Motus Global, SmartKage, and Zepp all reported spending time at fall instructs, and that’s just the companies I’ve personally written about. Motus brought their pitching sleeve — later officially christened the mThrow — to last year’s fall instructs, where they reported metrics such as arm slot, arm speed, and elbow torque to coaches during game action.

“Fall instructs serves as a great platform for Motus to work with our existing lab partners on new developments while we transition our biomechanics lab experience to the field,” chief technology officer Ben Hansen said.

Teams are always looking for new products to test out. Suggestions for new devices can come from anywhere: training staffs reading about a new technology, or front office members suggesting products they or their colleagues have used before. But there’s a significant effort needed to try new devices, so organizations have to narrow their choices down to the most promising options.

“In almost all cases, the decision to evaluate technology involves more than one department buying in,” said Rangers’ director of baseball information services Todd Slavinsky.

Once a decision to work with a particular technology is made, the technology is evaluated on a number of fronts. Slavinsky said the Rangers pay special attention to making sure the device is unobtrusive for the players who use it and produces clear, actionable information for coaches and trainers.

“Ease of use is key,” he said. “And the ability to import results into our internal systems is important.”

Part of the evaluation process is determining how, if a device is designed for in-game use, data collected outside of a game environment relates to data collected during competition. And this is where fall instructs provide a unique opportunity for organizations: In contrast to the regular season, there are relatively few barriers to in-game use during instructs. MLB currently prohibits the on-field use of technologies like bat sensors during games (though a new policy is in the works for next season). But unlike spring training or even the Arizona Fall League, fall instructs are not sanctioned by Major or Minor League Baseball. And since these games are more of a very organized scrimmage than their officially sanctioned counterparts, rules about things like on-field technology are made by the participating clubs without the involvement of MLB.

Startups are understandably excited to get an invite to fall instructs. Jason Sherwin, founder and CEO of deCervo, worked with four teams this fall: two teams with whom he had an existing relationship, and two new organizations. A veteran of spring training, Sherwin said the less stringent schedules of fall instructs makes life easier for people like him, who need to grab players between games and workouts and batting practices.

“During the season, the schedule’s more set … and the priority is on the players being ready for the game,” Sherwin said. “So there’s a lot less room for us to fit in there.”

But in the spare moments at instructs, Sherwin and his colleagues had a chance to test the minor leaguers available to them using their full EEG system. Naturally, most of the players had never heard of deCervo’s brain training techniques. But Sherwin said he was encouraged by the feedback his group collected from the users.

“It was a very positive response from the players,” he said. “They’d like to use it on their phone, they thought it was cool, that sort of thing.”

But it wasn’t all smooth sailing for deCervo. Sherwin said his group witnessed “sparring” within organizations between those who were excited about the technology, and those who hadn’t heard of it and were more skeptical.

“Because what we’re doing is such a different approach to hitting, the process is more by exposure,” Sherwin said. “So there is a little bit of a hump to get over in terms of willingness to change or work it into the already busy schedule.”

Now that the instructs season is over, the technology companies are back in the lab, analyzing the data they collected from the pros to see how they can improve their products. And front offices are gathering too, poring over their new data sources and trying to determine if they are worth a longer look.

“In the end the decision to move from evaluation to adoption would be based on positive feedback … along with strong buy-in from multiple departments that the results will yield a real competitive advantage,” Slavinsky said.


Behind the Code: Ken Pomeroy

Behind the Code is an interview series centered around the sports-related web sites we use every day.

For many college basketball fans, Ken Pomeroy’s kenpom.com is the first–and often the last–word in statistics and analytics.

Pomeroy’s efficiency-based team ratings have received praise from the likes of Nate Silver and have led Pomeroy to consulting opportunities for several college and professional teams. Yet they only scratch the surface of the info “KenPom” provides, including player comparisons, posts on college basketball trends, and preseason game-by-game projections — the latter of which just went live for 2015-16.

TechGraphs writer Brice Russ spoke recently with Pomeroy about what’s new and what’s next for kenpom.com.

Brice Russ: What’s new on KenPom.com for the 2015-16 season? It seems like every fall, there’s another half-dozen features on the site. What should we be looking for this time around?

Ken Pomeroy: The main offseason addition was expanding the player stats to break out performance against different levels of competition.

Marcus Paige stats

Marcus Paige career stats breakdown by level of competition

That is an extension of the conference-only player stats and minutes tracker that I added towards the end of last season. I’ve added some search boxes to the navigation bar so people can find teams and coaches a little more quickly.

There are some other things on the burner for this season, but they’ll be surprises for people when they appear. I’m usually reluctant to call my shots because I don’t want to over-promise something.

BR: What’s your motivation when you’re adding new stats to KenPom? Are you looking to incorporate what you think will be most popular? Most useful? Anything you’ve added as a result of your consulting work?

KP: There’s definitely a selfish motive. Usually, I’m thinking of things that I’d like to see, but that’s also consistent with doing something that will be useful to an audience interested in analytics.

I’m not opposed to adding what I’d call trivial stats that have little analytical value. I mean, I have team free throw percentage defense on the site. But I try to avoid adding trivial stats that might be misconstrued as useful. I always get a few requests for home/road splits and largely the differences in home/road performance over the course of the brief college hoops season is noise and not useful from a predictive standpoint, so that’s why they aren’t on the site.

BR: KenPom is unquestionably one of the oldest and most well-established sports analytics sites around, particularly in the basketball arena.

How have you seen the perception and role of analytics change in sports over the years, especially in the public eye? Has the field grown more competitive, or does it feel like there’s still plenty of ground for everyone to cover?

KP: It’s definitely more accepted than it was a decade ago. A lot more people understand the concept and utility of points per possession. But then again, almost every broadcaster and coach still cites regular field goal percentage to measure shooting accuracy, so it’s not like there has been a revolution.

As far as competition, there are certainly more people coming out of college with the goal of working in sports analytics. But it seems like most of the people interested in basketball gravitate to the NBA level, where the data is so much more granular and there are fewer teams to cover.

BR: One of the biggest stories for the upcoming season is the introduction of the new 30-second shot clock. Presumably, this will lead to an increase in tempo, but how else do you expect this to change the game from a metrics standpoint?

You took a brief look at the clock before it was tested in last year’s NIT; have you had a chance to look at the data since then?

KP: I haven’t looked at it any further, although my series of blog posts over the summer was partly inspired by trying to develop a theoretical framework to figure out how we got to this point. And what I found was some evidence that the offense deserves a good chunk of the blame for the slowing of the game.

The cool thing is that with 200+ games during the opening weekend we’ll get a real good idea of the impact of the clock (and the expanded charge circle) fairly quickly.

BR: 2015 will mark the fifth season that team-level KenPom data has gone behind the paywall. Is it fair to say this has been a successful experiment at this point? Any data or trends you can provide about subscriptions?

KP: It’s worked out well. I had a choice between appealing to a mass audience and blasting people with ads, or putting up the paywall and keeping the site clean and limiting the audience to folks who really wanted a source for advanced stats.

BR: What’s next?

KP: Usually the events of the season dictate this, so it’s difficult to say.  But I’m sure it won’t take long for something interesting to happen.

Thanks to Ken for speaking with us! You can follow Ken on Twitter at @kenpomeroy and, of course, at kenpom.com.


TechGraphs News Roundup: 10/23/2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


CoachMePlus Completes Fundraising for Athlete Management System

CoachMePlus, a Buffalo-based company behind an eponymous athlete management system, recently completed a $600,000 round of venture capital fundraising, according to the company. The latest round followed a $1 million round of fundraising in October 2013.

The CoachMePlus software aggregates data from disparate sources into a single dashboard, making it easier for coaches and training staffs to combine the data from different wearable sensors, camera-based systems, and other sources. As such, they draw comparisons to Kinduct and Kitman Labs, which TechGraphs has recently covered. The difference, according to president and co-founder Kevin Dawidowicz, is that CoachMePlus was developed by “software guys,” rather than people with a physiology background. As a result, he argues, the company’s software is agnostic to a trainer’s methodology, which can mean a lot in a field as contentious as injury prevention.

“If I’m an industry expert, I’m going to shape my ideas and my software around my thought process,” Dawidowicz said. “But if you don’t believe in that methodology, then the software doesn’t work.”

This can be an advantage for teams with established sports science programs, who subscribe to their own theories on what keeps their athletes healthy. CoachMePlus also combines raw data with the outputs of algorithms produced by device companies to give front offices more options when working with data.

“We have universities that will use raw force plate data, put their own algorithms on top of it, and come up with their own indicators,” Dawidowicz said. “Nobody else is doing that.”

But not every organization is quite that advanced. For those cases, CoachMePlus has a network of consultants in place that teams can hire to help them analyze their data. The network, which Dawidowicz said was built entirely by word of mouth, keeps CoachMePlus from being influenced by a specific methodology.

“Everything that we’ve done is kind of through word of mouth, trade show attendance, and networking through different channels,” Dawidowicz said. “If you build these longstanding trust relationships, these coaching trees and these sport science trees open up because you’ve actually delivered for somebody.”

In addition to its data management tools, CoachMePlus also features workflow management tools, which Dawidowicz believes to be unique among his competitors. The tools allow coaches and training staffs to perform repetitive tasks like weigh-ins quickly and efficiently, even for large teams. The workflow tools also allow staffs to more effectively communicate with their athletes, so that athletes coming off the field can be quickly routed to the appropriate recovery therapy.

“We’ve created these workflows in our system that display this information throughout facilities and it lets people know ‘Something’s wrong,’ or ‘Go do something'” Dawidowicz said.

The origins of the company date back to the early 2000s, when Dawidowicz was running a software consulting company. The Buffalo Sabres’ strength and conditioning coach came to Dawidowicz to make an interactive version of the team’s workout book. But Dawidowicz, whose interest in strength and conditioning came out of his days as a self-described “bro-science gym rat,” saw the potential for something much more interesting.

“I get down to the locker room and I go, ‘You don’t want that, you want a calendar, and you want to put your periodiziation model on there, and you want to track your sets and reps, and you want to put your body fat percentages…’ and I’m just going on and on about all the stuff that it could be instead,” he said.

This relationship continued for a few years until the Sabres increased their budget, giving CoachMePlus the money to develop a prototype system. In 2011, CoachMePlus brought the prototype to the NHL combine in Toronto and signed deals with the Edmonton Oilers and Columbus Blue Jackets. The company still counts those organizations among their 48 customers.

“We’ve never lost a team, we’ve never gotten to the point where a team’s not going to renew with us,” Dawidowicz said.

In addition to their athlete management system, CoachMePlus has begun working with wearable device manufacturers to develop software that teams can use to take advantage of the new technologies.

“There are actual device companies right now that have given up on being software companies and instead pump their data into our system,” Dawidowicz said. “We’re finding more and more device companies looking to focus on just the hardware, and then we help them by focusing on the software.”

The additional venture capital funding will allow CoachMePlus to support the data management needs of even more organizations. Dawidowicz says the company will continue its focus on building software to the needs of its clients.

“It’s such a noisy market out there,” he said. “We’re playing the long game of, ‘Get the next customer, make them happy, continue.'”


Scoutee Pairs Handheld Radar Gun with Smartphone App

Slovenia probably isn’t the first country you’d expect new baseball technology to come from. But they do have a baseball league and a national team (trounced by such powerhouses at Bulgaria, Ukraine, and Slovakia at this summer’s European championship qualifiers). And it’s this Balkan country that’s produced the Scoutee, a handheld radar that its creators hope will help those just learning the game measure themselves.

According to Scoutee, the first prototype of the device was created last summer. Design was completed over the past year, and the device is now available for pre-order through a Kickstarter campaign. Of the four co-founders, only chief executive officer Miha Uhan came into the project with experience playing baseball. I asked if his fellow Scoutee developers even knew about baseball when they started the project.

“They sort of knew,” he said. “The hardest thing for our team was actually the technical point, not the baseball point.”

Naturally, the product is small, weighing around half a pound. The Scoutee can attach to a tripod or be clipped to a fence, but also ships with a magnetic sticker so users can attach the device directly to their smartphone. Inside is a Doppler radar transceiver, hardware to perform amplification and other signal processing, and a low-energy Bluetooth transmitter to send the readings to the user’s phone or tablet. Scoutee also claims a battery life of up to six hours, and a range of up to 130 feet. For most amateur games (which seems to be Scoutee’s target demographic), that should be just enough for someone positioned just behind the backstop, which is supposed to be 60 feet from home plate (or about 120 feet from the pitching rubber).

The most common question Scoutee fields is related to the device’s accuracy. Scoutee claims to be accurate to within one mile per hour, based on side-by-side tests with traditional radar guns. Tests have been performed with both human pitchers and (because the pitchers available during testing never broke 90 mph), with a high-velocity pitching machine to test the device’s accuracy at speeds over 100 mph. Additional ballistic tests are planned by Scoutee’s technical team to establish the device’s accuracy for objects moving at a known speed.

Though designed with baseball applications in mind, the Scoutee is at heart a radar gun, and thus has a number of other potential applications. Scoutee’s Kickstarter comments page is filled with suggestions for other uses, all of which Uhan claims are possible with the existing hardware but may require additional algorithm and app development.

“We got requests from national ski associations, they want to measure how fast their skiiers go,” Uhan said. “We even got requests or emails from people who want to measure the speed of cars in their neighborhood.”

Uhan, along with Scoutee’s chief marketing officer Majda Dodevska, have been touring the United States since early September to spread the word about the product. Scoutee has made appearances at TechCrunch Disrupt’s Hardware Alley, and will be present at this week’s Hashtag Sports Fest. Scoutee is also making contacts with companies interesting in importing Scoutee measurements into their existing apps (though Dodevska wouldn’t mention any specific organizations at this time).

“We’re definitely open to any type of cooperation,” Dodevska said. “If anyone wants to talk to us about anything, we’re here.”

Any down time the team has is spent meeting with coaches, scouts, players, and parents, demonstrating their product and collecting feedback. Uhan said prospective users are always surprised when first introduced to the technology.

“It seemed really strange that if it is technically possible then nobody has done it before, and that’s what we heard over the last 12 months,” Uhan said. “Everybody we talked to and we showed our prototype was like, ‘Okay, you must be kidding me right? This thing exists already,’ and we’re like, ‘No! No!'”

Uhan’s moment of inspiration was a long time coming. His first introduction to baseball came on a 1997 trip to the United States, when he went with his family to a game at Jacobs Field. That was the Indians team that lost in Game 7 to the Florida Marlins, facing a Mariners team that included Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson, Edgar Martinez, and Ken Griffey, Jr. Uhan pestered his American relatives with questions, and brought a love of the game back home with him.

“It was so, so nice to be there in the stadium and to watch the game and to experience that all,” he said.

Once back in Slovenia, Uhan began playing with a local team. Soon after, he was invited to join the national team (“You get noticed because there is not a lot of competition,” Uhan admitted) and became a pitcher. Within a year — and before he even understood all the rules of baseball — Uhan was traveling with the junior national team to a tournament in Switzerland.

By the time he was in high school, Uhan was sitting mid-80s, playing for the senior-level national team, and traveling with his coach to the MLB elite camps. One of his teammates played for a bit in the Mexican League, but Uhan wanted to play college ball in the U.S. He borrowed a directory of colleges from the American embassy and emailed every athletic department in the book. Of the thousands of emails he sent, only a handful got back to him. But the responses discouraged him further.

“Everybody said, ‘Yeah, sure, just send us some stats, send us some videos,'” Uhan said.

With no statistics available from his national team days, and no video or scouting reports available to him, Uhan couldn’t make an impression on his would-be college coaches. He ended up attending the University of Ljubjana in the Slovenian capital, and his baseball career ended. As a lecturer in the school’s faculty of economics, Uhan was bitten by the entrepreneurial bug and found inspiration in his former passion. He soon after partnered with fellow faculty members who specialized in electrical engineering (especially radar systems), and they began developing what would become Scoutee.

“Because we don’t have a technical background, we contacted some people who we knew in Slovenia that had the hardware knowledge,” Uhan said. “It was a challenge, but if it wasn’t a challenge then probably somebody would have done it before.”

Uhan recalled that, in his playing days, the radar gun was a rare sight. The only one available to the national team was old and on its last legs, so Uhan and his fellow pitchers didn’t have many opportunities to measure their progress. Scoutee’s goal is to make these sorts of metrics accessible to anyone with a smartphone, with the hope of growing baseball in fledgling markets like Slovenia.

“We’re actually crowdsourcing the scouting process, that’s the idea,” Uhan said.


TechGraphs News Roundup: 10/16/2015

The baseball playoffs have been narrowed to four teams, the number of undefeated college football teams continues to shrink every week and of course, this past week’s news cycle was filled with no shortage of information and rulings in the Daily Fantasy Sports market. Here are the stories we found interesting this week.

IBM’s supercomputer, Watson (of Jeopardy fame), could help optimize DFS lineups in the near future. TechInsider learned of an upcoming IBM partnership with baseball stat company Ariball where Watson will choose which players to own and which to avoid. Similarly, a generator is also in the works for fantasy football thanks to IBM teaming up with Edge Up Sports. Of course, with the FBI investigating the goings-on of both FanDuel and DraftKings, the Watson-chosen lineups may become irrelevant. The state of Nevada — where gambling is somewhat popular, so I’ve been told — just banned DFS as it was ruled “unlicensed gambling.

Soccer star Thierry Henry will be speaking at TechCrunch’s Disrupt London Conference. The all-time goal scoring leader at Arsenal as well as for the French National team, Henry’s long career has allowed him to see the development and growth of sports as technology allows. The event will be held December 7 and 8 and Henry, among other guests, will be speaking at the Copper Box Arena.

Many advanced technology has unlocked in the athletic world has come to benefit the players in the form of improved safety measures. One player, former Seattle Seahawk Michael Robinson, is helping develop a smart mouthpiece. Robinson is teaming up with SMRT Mouth to develop a biometric device to monitor a player’s hydration, respiration and perspiration levels. The former fullback still recalls losing one of his best friends to heat stroke back in high school, and is now setting out to prevent another tragic loss of life. From concussions to exhaustion and heat stroke, seeing former players step up to help current and future generations is grand.

As YouTube continues to wade into the live-streaming market of esports, they appear to be taking a cue or two from current industry leader Twitch.tv. YouTube recently launched their “$3.99 Sponsorship” option for streamers, identical in all but name and price to Twitch’s “$4.99 Subscription” option, where the respective amount is sent from the sponsor or subscriber to the streamer.

More esports investors are flocking to the digital realm as ESL, probably the largest Western esports organization, announced a multi-faceted partnership with data service provider Sportradar. ESL will give exclusive data to Sportradar, who will in turn provide analytics as well as fraud detection. With so much money — both hard currency and in-game items — on the line, match fixing is an issue in esports the same as it is in traditional sports.

While tracking digital property from esports is certainly a concern, so is the digital property of various sports leagues. Recently Deadspin’s Twitter account, along with Sports Blog Nation’s, was temporarily shut down due to a DMCA notice from the NFL. Deadspin and SBN were suspended from Twitter for a handful of hours. Those sites, like many other sites and people, use GIFS (or more accurately GIFV or HTML5 videos) to help convey points, show impressive plays or just have, you know, fun.

Hopefully this week’s TechGraphs News Roundup went well as I stepped in for it. I’d like to think it went better than Josh Lyman’s press briefing from The West Wing.

As always, be excellent to each other.

 

 


MLB Teases New StatCast Features Coming Soon

We all know about StatCast and all the amazing data it (usually) collects. We’re still in a bit of a honeymoon period with this new system. We realize the importance of it, but we’re not quite sure what to do with the data. We don’t yet know what a good route efficiency rating actually is. We don’t know how fast outfielders or infielders should be throwing the ball, or what an optimal speed while base running is. This information is all very new. In ten years, we’ll almost certainly be laughing at how little we knew about the relevance of these numbers. While we sort all this out, however, MLB is working on new uses for StatCast that has more direct relevance to fans and perhaps even the game itself.

Amazon recently held their AWS re:Invent conference for developers that utilize the Amazon Web Services platform. AWS is a very powerful tool, and is a big driver in making Amazon actually profitable. Developers utilize Amazon’s plethora of computing and storage power to run their web sites, data processing, and file storage through AWS. It powers Netflix. It powers Spotify. And, if you’ve watched any modicum of baseball on television, you’ll know that it powers MLB’s StatCast product.

During the re:Invent conference, Amazon held a keynote address that featured some of the new uses of the platform as well as some words from some of their biggest clients. The last presenter (and the most relevant to sports fans) was MLB Advanced Media. You can see MLBAM’s presentation here, but much of it is a rehash of what StatCast actually does — the data it collects, the uses for it, etc. However, Joe Inzerillo, EVP and CTO of MLBAM, did take some time to show off some future updates coming to StatCast.

The first featured using StatCast to enhance the MLB At Bat app. At Bat and its Gameday feature is great in a pinch — if you want to see pitch-by-pitch results of a baseball game, but can’t catch it live or on TV. It’s a pretty neat service that is offered for free for anyone with the At Bat app or online via a web browser. But for all it’s usefulness, Gameday hasn’t changed much since its inception. The graphics are a little better, and features like box scores and play summaries have been added over the years, but it’s still basically a picture of a batter and a strike zone with text-based updates regarding the results of the play. Now that StatCast is being brought into the fold, MLBAM is hoping to up the Gameday experience.

Inzerillo hinted at some new ways Gameday will be able to integrate StatCast data into both the visual representation of the play and the corresponding statistics. Now, rather than seeing a simple “In play, run(s)” update, fans will be able to see the flight and location of the hit, its speed off the bat, and all the other numbers that StatCast tracks.

The exact integration of this feature has yet to be announced, and perhaps yet to be determined. Will these graphics just show up in the Gameday feed or will they be separate videos? Will this be a significant hit to people’s data limits if they’re watching on their phones? These new Gameday features certainly seem promising, but proper implementation will be key for fans to get the most out of the experience.

Another StatCast implementation has more to do with the video presentation. MLBAM is planning on ways to incorporate 3D camera technology to get a better look at plays in the field.

Every regional sports network has their own instant replay system, of course, but MLBAM is hoping to enhance that by giving their view on close plays. The example from the keynote is a little vanilla, but this could have big ramifications for plays at the plate, out/safe calls on the base paths, and even trap calls in the outfield.

This might also be a huge boon to the instant replay system. Right now, umpires are tied to using TV broadcast footage to review plays. If MLBAM had their 3D system in place in every stadium, they could leverage that system to better help umpires get the view of close plays from every possible angle. It might not be the silver bullet that totally redeems the maligned system, but it shows promise as a very solid feature addition.

MLBAM hints that some of this tech might be ready for the 2016 season, though I personally am not holding my breath. Regardless, it shows that MLBAM is committed to leveraging StatCast to do more than just present fancy numbers that we don’t understand or enhancing a few choice highlights. If they continue this push to utilize their technology to create a better presentation of the game, we may soon wonder how we watched baseball without it.

(Big shout out to MK for the link to the video)

TuneIn Provides a Reasonably-Priced Option for NFL Radio Streaming

Not so long ago (read: last year), fans who didn’t  feel like ponying up for a NFL Sunday Ticket TV package to follow their favorite out-of-market teams had an option to listen to radio streams from around the country via a service called NFL Audio Pass. The idea was similar to what MLB offers with their Gameday Audio package — pay a nominal fee (NFL Audio Pass was thirty bucks for the season) and get the ability to listen to the football team of your choosing via the web or an app. Things have changed a bit this year, but a third party service is stepping in to provide affordable NFL audio streams.

NFL Audio Pass was killed off this season, instead being rolled into a new service called NFL Game Pass. Game Pass costs $99.99 and allows subscribers to stream television feeds of all NFL teams as soon as their games conclude. It also gives access to games from previous seasons and includes audio streaming features that Audio Pass used to provide. Depending on one’s level of fandom, Game Pass could be a good deal. But for those wanting just the audio streams are left with a pretty serious price hike. There is no “official NFL” option to just stream radio feeds. Tweets and emails to NFL media customer support regarding what other options fans might have all went unanswered.

Enter TuneIn, the Internet radio service. TuneIn allows users to stream real radio stations from all over, including local stations. A premium subscription brings other features, including access to 600+ commercial-free music stations, MLB baseball and Premier League soccer, and even audiobooks. And now, TuneIn has brought the NFL into the fold. For $7.99 a month, users get (along with previously-mentioned features) access to both home and away radio broadcasts of all the NFL teams, Spanish language broadcasts, and a dedicated NFL channel devoted to news and talk shows. A look-in show, a la Red Zone, is also coming. Per the press release:

Starting in November, TuneIn Premium subscribers will have access to a seven-hour-long Sunday broadcast that will feature live analysis, stats, and drop-ins of local radio coverage for all Sunday games airing in-progress. The live look-in show will be live Sundays from 1pm ET – 8pm ET.

With the death of Audio Pass, TuneIn provides the best option for those who only require the audio feed. SiriusXM has long provided NFL game streaming via car radios, online, and apps, but the cheapest package that includes such options is the All Access package, which runs $20 a month.

In the NFL, like with pretty much every sport, video is key. It’s the TV networks that are inking the big deals with teams. MLB.tv basically created MLB Advanced Media, or at least made it what it is today. People like watching sports. So maybe an audio-only option for the NFL isn’t the biggest of deals. But those that subscribed to Audio Pass probably did for a good reason. Either they were stuck in a car or office on Sundays, or the very high cost of NFL Sunday Ticket was too much to follow their favorite out-of-market teams. Blackout rules and streaming availability/costs have long been a point of contention for pretty much every major sport. While NFL Audio Pass wasn’t a perfect solution, it was at least some kind of solution.

Good on TuneIn for stepping in and adding NFL game audio to their repertoire. It’s a nice feature addition to current subscribers, and should bring in former Audio Pass subscribers as well.  And perhaps most importantly, it provides a not-expensive and not-illegal method for fans to stay up-to-date on the goings on in TV markets other than their own. It’s a bit of a shame that a third party had to step in to provide this access to the nation’s most popular sport, but TuneIn’s something is certainly better than nothing.

(Image via Keith Allison)

MLB Announces New Clubhouse App Just in Time for the Postseason

The MLB postseason is upon us (yes, I understand that the play-in games were technically part of the postseason), so many eyes will be turning to baseball for these next few weeks. As it happens, given the age in which we live, a good amount of those eyes will also be glancing down at phones and tablets while the game action plays out on our TVs. The two-screen experience is nothing new — heck, I look at Twitter during games myself — and MLB is looking to capitalize on this by debuting a new, socially-minded, app for fans to use during playoff time.

The app is called MLB.com Clubhouse, and is now out (for free) on the iOS App Store (sorry, Android users. No word yet on availability in the Play Store). It’s a fairly straight-forward app, allowing users to share custom MLB emoji and GIFs revolving around their favorite team, or MLB baseball in general.

When you open the app for the first time, you will be asked to pick your favorite team. Don’t worry, you can always switch to a different club or MLB in general by using the Teams button on the upper left. Once that is done, you will be shown two categories of shareable material; GIFs and Stickers.

The stickers are merely emoji-looking illustrations of team-specific players and designs. My Houston Astros gave me the option of using Colby Rasmus, a bearded guy (Lance McCullers?), a bulldog with a beard meant to represent Evan Gattis, and a train carrying a car full of cheese balls, among others.

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Orbit is straight creepin’ on you.

The GIFs option consists of exactly that. When you change the team to MLB, you get lots of options to share, including memorable moments from baseball’s past. The team page gives a plethora of clips from the current team’s season. The Astros GIFs included Evan Gattis falling down, lots of team celebrations, George Springer dancing, and Evan Gattis falling down again.

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If Evan Gattis is so ungraceful, how does he have 11 triples this year?

Sharing these gems can present a bit of a problem. The first launch of the app will give you instructions on how to install the third-part keyboard for your phone. After you do this, you can use said keyboard to copy/paste your favorite sticker or GIF into an app. You can even pin your favorite images to save on scrolling. Unfortunately, this only works in the Messages app of the iPhone. I could not get the images to paste in the various other programs I tried, including Google Hangouts, Twitter, Instagram, and TweetBot. The special keyboard only seems to work in the Messages app, at least in terms of the many apps I tested.

The MLB Clubhouse custom keyboard.

The MLB Clubhouse custom keyboard.

There is another way to share, however, which is baked in to the Clubhouse app itself. You simply select the image, and choose Share. This brings up the iPhone’s sharing screen, which will allow you to send the image to Twitter, Facebook, and the like. The only problem here is that you are relegated to only using the apps that utilize iOS’s built-in sharing. My go-to Twitter app, Tweetbot, does not have this function so there’s really no way to use that app to share MLB Clubhouse content. That might be more of a limitation of Tweetbot, but it’s annoying nonetheless.

All in all, it’s a fine little app. It’s nothing revolutionary, but it’s not trying to be. It’s just a fun little thing you can use to post silly pictures on the Internet, and, let’s be honest, like 90% of the Internet is just silly pictures. Also, with MLB’s recent crackdown on sharing GIFs over social media, this might be our best option that doesn’t involve the Twitter Police knocking at your virtual door. It’s free and it’s fun, so give it a shot. Just don’t be surprised if you start losing followers from posting a GIF every 20 seconds.


TechGraphs’ Monthly Streaming Device List — October 2015

Much like Futurama’s Lrrr (ruler of the planet Omicron Persei 8) in the episode When Aliens Attack, many are getting upset at their current television situation. At this point it isn’t just the millennial crowd versus traditional TV package customers. Certain companies who have helped bring cord cutting to the forefront of people’s minds are now splintering.

Recently Amazon, creators of the Fire Stick and Fire TV, announced they will no longer sell Google’s Chromecast or Apple’s AppleTV. Via Bloomberg, Amazon has not offered new listings for said devices nor will the online retailer continue sales of the Google or Apple products after October 29th. As the linked article notes, it is curious to see Roku among other stream devices, unaffected by these events. Both Google and Apple still have various options for purchasing in stores or online, but seeing the the streaming options battle each other rather than the likes of Comcast, Charter and AT&T et al is disappointing.

For now, the table below is as up-to-date as possible, though again, any Amazon price listed for Chromecast or AppleTV is a deal with an October 29 expiration date. I’ve also separated the table to separate apps based on cost, determined by whether they are a monthly recurring cost, one-time payment, free, or needing a cable subscription.

Streaming Devices
Box/Dongle Opening Price Point Recuring Cost Apps Notable Free Apps One-time Cost Apps Cable TV Subscription Required
Amazon Fire Stick $39.00 HBO Now, Hulu, Netflix, SlingTV, GaiamTV Twitch.tv, YouTube MLBtv, NBA League Pass, Amazon Video WatchESPN, Fox Sports Go
Amazon Fire TV $99.00 HBO Now, Hulu, Netflix, SlingTV, GaiamTV Twitch.tv, YouTube MLBtv, NBA League Pass, Amazon Prime WatchESPN, Fox Sports Go
AppleTV (Revision A) $73.28* HBO Now, Hulu, Netflix, SlingTV, GaiamTV CBS Sports, 120 Sports, Twitch.tv, YouTube NFL Game Pass, MLBtv, NBA League Pass, NHL Gamecenter, MLS Live, Amazon Prime, Fox Soccer 2Go HBO Go, Watch ESPN, Fox Sports Go, USA Now
Google Chromecast $35.00 HBO Now, Hulu, Netflix, SlingTV, GaiamTV 120 Sports, Twitch.tv, YouTube NFL Game Pass, HBO Go, NBA League Pass, NHL Gamecenter, Fox Sports Go, Fox Soccer 2Go, MLS Live HBO Go, Watch ESPN, Fox Sports Go
Google Nexus Player $49.99 HBO Now, Hulu, Netflix, SlingTV, GaiamTV 120 Sports, Twitch.tv, YouTube NFL Game Pass, HBO Go, NBA League Pass, NHL Gamecenter, Fox Sports Go, Fox Soccer 2Go, MLS Live HBO Go, Watch ESPN, Fox Sports Go
Microsoft Xbox One $349.99 HBO Now, Hulu, Netflix, SlingTV, GaiamTV 120 Sports, Twitch.tv, YouTube MLBtv, NFL Game Pass, NBA League Pass, NHL Gamecenter, ESL, Major League Gaming HBO Go, Watch ESPN, Fox Sports Go
Nvidia Shield $199.99 HBO Now, Hulu, Netflix, SlingTV Twitch.tv, YouTube MLBtv Fox Sports Go, Watch ESPN
Roku Stick $46.99* NFL Now, HBO Now, Hulu, Netflix, SlingTV, UFC TV Twitch.tv, YouTube, Vevo, PBS NFL Game Pass, MLBtv, MLS Live, NBA Game Pass, NHL Gamecenter NBC Sports Live Extra, Watch ESPN
Roku 3 Player $97.95* NFL Now, HBO Now, Hulu, Netflix, SlingTV, UFC TV Twitch.tv, YouTube, Vevo, PBS NFL Game Pass, MLBtv, MLS Live, NBA Game Pass, NHL Gamecenter NBC Sports Live Extra, Watch ESPN
Slingbox M1 $129.99* N/A N/A N/A Steam any currently subscribed channel
Sony Playstation 4 $399.00* HBO Now, Hulu, Netflix, SlingTV, GaiamTV YouTube, PlayStation F.C. MLBtv, NBA League Pass, NFL Sunday Ticket, NHL Gamecenter, Amazon Video HBO Go

*Limited to Amazon Prime members


How to Stream the 2015 MLB Playoffs

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

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

Enjoy cold weather baseball!

(Header image via Keith Allison)

TechGraphs News Roundup: 10/2/2015

We are about to enter one of those wonderful convergences in sports next week. The baseball season is ending, and the playoffs begin on Tuesday. The NHL season begins on Wednesday. Add in the regular mix of NFL games, and we have a pretty busy week on our hands. Conversely, the sports tech world has been fairly quiet this week, but nevertheless, here are the stories we found interesting.

Non Sports PSA: Just in cases you hadn’t heard, there have been a couple of big data breaches this week. Some 15 million T-Mobile customer records were stolen thanks to a hack on the credit firm Experian. T-Mobile is offering free fraud protection for their users, so if you are one, make sure to sign up for that. Conversely, Patreon also got hacked, so if you use the crowd-funding site, make sure to update your passwords. This isn’t sports, but it’s pretty important so we wanted to pass it along.

A federal ruling involving the NCAA could perhaps open the doors for college sports video games to come back. There has been a two-year gap in releases of NCAA-branded video games, thanks in large part to these pending lawsuits. The reintroduction of the popular football and basketball games could still leave room for future lawsuits (hey, what can’t?), but the possibility is still there.

Do like to watch dudes punch other dudes in the head, but always wished you knew exactly how hard they were getting punched in the head? Well then, HBO might be barking up your tree. They just patented a technology that would place sensors in boxing equipment so that precise measurements of hits could take place. The plan would be to include hit metrics during broadcasts much like baseball or football broadcasts produce real-time stats during games. Quantifiable barbarism — it’s not just for the NFL any more!

Microsoft is using traditional prediction models along with your web searches and behaviors to help predict the outcomes of NFL games. Creepy? You bet. Accurate? Well … yeah. Check out TechInsider’s article for the full details. It’s actually fairly interesting in a Big Brother sort of way.

Sports-data aggregation company SportsRadar has reached a new agreement with the NHL to provide their statistics to third-party and media outlets. SportsRadar, based in my home town of Minneapolis, provides data for all kinds of sports to media, fantasy sites, and anyone else who needs real-time, play-by-play data. The NHL expects big things from this partnership, including new interactive and visual web elements. The NHL is already outsourcing their video to MLB Advanced Media, so it kind of makes sense that their real-time stats would be handled by a third party as well.

Finally, Kotaku has a very interesting video about how the American team took home this big esports prize at the latest Dota 2 tournament. I don’t know much about esports (that’s why we keep David Wiers around), but I found the video informative nonetheless.

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


Streamable Introduces Brand New Extension

We here at TechGraphs are pretty big fans of Streamable — one of the latest, and in my opinion best ways of sharing media clips, and they’ve just given us a reason to like them even more. Yesterday the company unrolled a new feature for Google Chrome users, an extension that allows users to clip video (and audio if so desired) directly from YouTube as well as Twitch.tv, and a number of smaller sites.

Being able to grab media files directly from Twitch.tv via a Chrome extension isn’t a particularly new option as Oddshot.tv has specialized in that area for months now, however support for web sites other than the esports-streaming site is a welcome sight. Unfortunately traditional sports sites haven’t caught on just yet — which should not surprise — however I’m looking forward to being able to grab a plate appearance or pitch sequence, or perhaps an incredible soccer cross and goal in near real-time.

The maximum length of the clip is 60 seconds, which is mostly enough time to capture whatever in-game moment you’re attempting to save. For the walk-through, I’ve grabbed a clip of my beloved A’s winning their 20th consecutive game, courtesy of MLB’s YouTube Channel. Before getting too far of ourselves, make sure to install the extension. It’s available for free at the Chrome Web Store and can be found by clicking here.

Once you’ve got it installed, make sure to see the Streamable icon/the infinity symbol. It will pop up on any page that is compatible with the extension, in this case the MLB channel.

streamable2

Now, after finding the clip you want — say, the glory days of seasons past — simply click on the Streamable icon and you’ll open a new page, specifically the editing page for Streamable.

streamable3

The extension allows users to re-name the clip (YouTube vids retain their name, but you can change it), crop, adjust the speed (as slow as x.50 or s fast as x2 with .25 increments) and to nail down a specific clip to one-tenth of a second of accuracy.

Note the picture below, at first glance it seems like I’m just ripping the clip, but I’ve cropped the black bars out of the original YouTube video and I’ve typed in exactly where in the video I want the clip to begin and end.

streamable4

Once the clip is finished, you’re given the direct URL or you can use an HTML embed code to share. Within the embed code options you can mute the clip, something I prefer doing because loud (not to mention auto-playing) clips are pretty terrible if you’re not expecting it. Don’t worry, muting the clip within the embed code doesn’t lose the audio. It’s just like a Vine or Instagram video where you can tap the speaker icon for the sound and full experience.

Armed with the perfect clip of the video, observe the final product:

Grab the extension and play around with it. You’ll be sharing priceless moments in non-terrible formats in no time.