Archive for November, 2015

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.

 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Header image via Karsten Bitter)

Who Will Save GoPro?

Hey, remember GoPros? You might have one sitting in a closet or a drawer somewhere. Perhaps some well-meaning friend or family member got you one as a gift thanks to a great Black Friday deal, or you did the same for someone on your gift list. I have one. I can see it right now from where I’m sitting. It has footage of golf and curling and probably my dogs on it, but I wouldn’t know. To know, I’d have to unload the video files off the SD card onto my computer. And then what would I do with it? Shove it onto a hard drive somewhere? Back it up to the cloud where it will live a sad and lonely existence? Put it on YouTube? Much like the footage I’ve shot with my camera, GoPro is being left for dead.

Herein lies the problem with GoPro. It’s a great piece of hardware that provides output of limited value. It’s like if Gutenberg invented the printing press, but it was only capable of producing copies of Fifty Shades of Grey. A GoPro is one of things that seems like a good idea when you get it, like a wok or a pair of snowshoes. Any maybe you do use it for a time, but the novelty eventually wears off. It’s not GoPro’s fault. Its draw is the same as a wok or some snowshoes — GoPro isn’t just selling a product, it’s selling the idea of what your life could be like with that product. I’m gonna get my snowboard out of the garage and hook this thing up to it! I’m gonna strap this to my bike helmet and finally try navigating those trails! This is some Don Draper-level stuff. And then, like so many things in life, our hobbies of fantasy are put on the shelf. And the sales drop off. And that’s where GoPro sits. On your shelf, and on the sales lists of investors.

Sure, some people use GoPros for legitimate and genuinely great stuff. Some use them in very creative and engaging ways. And those people are really the core market of GoPro. But that market is niche and limited. The rest of use schlubs barely use the things. Even if we do, the cameras are so durable that we hardly have a need to replace or upgrade the models we currently own. GoPro has become a victim of its own success, it seems. And this is why the market is so bearish on them. GoPro might have hit its maximum saturation already. Throw in a new lawsuit and things start to get even more dicey.

But we should not mourn GoPro just yet. They have one very important thing going for them right now — they make really solid products. Startups are a dime a dozen these days, but one thing remains true; hardware is hard. With all due respect to software developers — seriously, many of them do amazing things — an app or a website can be set up with, all things considered, somewhat-minimal investment. A few laptops and a server instance can lead to great things in software. Hardware, on the other hand, takes a good deal more capital. There’s R&D. There’s prototyping. There’s contracts to be hashed out with manufacturers overseas and quality control and component sourcing. So when a company can break through all those barriers and produce a quality product, it’s a big deal. GoPro has already done that. They’re just having a hard time convincing the market to buy more of them. All the legit and wannabe thrill seekers have already procured GoPro cameras. GoPro needs a new gig, a new way to inject themselves into our lives. That’s where another company with deep pockets can come in and utilize the superior hardware into a new application.

So, who has the resources and possible need for such a thing? Here are a few ideas.

It should go without saying, but this is pure speculation on the author’s part and does not constitute advanced knowledge of the situation nor investment advice.

Google

This one seems like cheating since Google has enough money to acquire almost any company, but there could be a fit. Since Google spun off into a subsidiary of Alphabet, it’s clear that they’re not just in the search/advertising game any more. They are branching out. They already have a hardware company under their umbrella in Nest, and they own the biggest platform for GoPro content in the form of YouTube. Perhaps Google can package the cameras with a free software suite that allows GoPro footage uploads to be faster and easier. Maybe footage shot with GoPros can hit higher in the search ranks or be featured in promoted content. Could Google figure out a good solution to actually use a GoPro as a webcam? They have the engineering talent. Maybe selling these cameras as the all-in-one solution to create user content is how it comes into the hands of consumers again. And don’t forget that Google and GoPro have already collaborated on a new rig that will allow 360-degree filming for VR purposes.

Facebook/Oculus

Facebook made a big and somewhat unexpected splash when it entered the hardware market by acquiring Oculus. Oculus may be best known for making VR gaming hardware and software, but there is no reason it can’t get into the content-producing game. Much like the Google offering, Oculus could concoct a filming rig to produce content for their upcoming headsets, making it easier (and perhaps cheaper) for creators to create a VR environment. Why stop at gaming when the future of news and entertainment could hinge on the VR world?

Some other camera company

The analog company Fossil just got into the wearables game when it acquired Misfit. What’s to say an old-school camera company can’t make a similar push into the video field with GoPro? Canon and Nikon already are neck deep in the digital photography and video world. There are good reasons for bringing GoPro into the fold, either to bring the durable cameras into their product line or integrate GoPro tech to make SLR cameras more feature-rich. A hyper-durable SLR that can shoot HD video with the push of a button? Not a bad market to get into.

Samsung

Samsung has been trying to introduce their own ecosystem to rival Apple’s with limited success. They have their own VR division, of course, and everything they make seems to tie into the Galaxy family of products. If they could offer a piece of dedicated hardware that paired with both the consumption and production of VR content and have it specifically tie into the Galaxy line of products, they could bring another bargaining chip to the table when trying to covert iPhone users. Yeah, the iPhone camera might be good, but check out what you can make when you pair a Galaxy GoPro with a a Galaxy phone! Samsung has the capital and engineering chops to make a partnership like this work, if they chose to.

I don’t see the GoPro going extinct any time soon. I do see it becoming a product offering for another company, however. GoPro did all the heavy lifting here. It made the rock-solid product that’s easy and fun to use. They just need a little help from another entity to make a better use case for their cameras. It may be one of the companies mentioned above, it could be another entirely. But hardware is still hard. When an outlier like GoPro comes along, it doesn’t die a quick death. Like their cameras, GoPro can take a beating and still end up in great shape. Exactly who ends up with the final say in that shape they will take remains to be seen.


A Tech Controversy is Hitting the World of Curling

You know technology is a pervasive force in sports if the seemingly-tranquil game of curling is getting involved. Yes, it seems as if the roaring game is mired in its own back and forth over technological advances. No, no one has installed remote controls in the rocks, but — at least according to some people — recent changes in the sport mean that comparison isn’t too far off.

To explain the scientific changes going on in the sport, one must first understand the science behind curling itself. If you are a veteran of the sport, please forgive my high-level overview.

I won’t go into the intricacies of scoring in curling, but suffice it to say that the point of it is for the person delivering the stone to get it to stop exactly where they want on the other side of the ice. That ice is covered in tinier bumps of ice called pebble. Essentially, a watering can of sorts sprays droplets on a flat surface of ice. Those droplets freeze to the surface and create a bumpy texture. It’s this bumpy texture that allows the curling stone to move as far as it does. The stone glides along those bumps, rather than on a flat sheet of ice. If curling were played on hockey ice, the stone would barely move as the concave bottom of the stone would create a suction. The pebble is also how the sweeping comes into play, and that’s what everyone is up in arms about.

If you’ve ever seen a picture or video of curling, you may have noticed two people flanking the rock while holding weird looking brooms. The person throwing the rock has the most influence on what happens, but the sweepers are there for the fine tuning. Sweeping the pebble momentarily melts it. This allows the stone to move farther down the ice while also decreasing its rate of curl. Sweeping makes stones go farther and straighter.

Way back when, the sweeping was done with good old-fashioned corn brooms — you know, the kinds witches ride around on. But in the last quarter of the 20th century, broom technology began to see upgrades. The handles went from wood to fiberglass to carbonfiber. The broom heads went from corn to horse hair to synthetic fabric stretched over a type of cushion. Brooms got lighter and more effective, meaning sweepers could influence the stone more and more. But for the most part, the changes were incremental. Things got better over a long period of time. Now, it’s an arms race.

Old horse hair curling brooms. Taken by the author at the Chicago Curling Club.

Old horse hair curling brooms. Photo taken by the author at the Chicago Curling Club.

 

Examples of the newer, synthetic style of brooms. Photo taken by the author at the Chicago Curling Club.

Examples of the newer, synthetic style of brooms. Photo taken by the author at the Chicago Curling Club.

Teams these days — and I’m talking about the tops teams that play for cash prizes and sponsorships in Canada — put a very strong emphasis on sweeping. While teams certainly still work on strategy and delivery, sweeping is now a big part of the game. The reigning men’s Olympic champion and 2015 Canadian National runner-up squad from Northern Ontario knows this. That’s why their front two players (those that sweep the most) look like this:

The Harnden Brothers (EJ and Ryan) of team Jacobs (Northern Ontario). Image via WikiMedia

The Harnden Brothers (EJ and Ryan) of team Jacobs (Northern Ontario). Image via WikiMedia

Technique and physical fitness are now part of a sweeper’s training regimen. Teams with great sweepers have an advantage. But fitness and technique can only take one so far. Eventually, the tool has to be upgraded.

The synthetic brooms from even a few years ago were all pretty similar. They all had lightweight handles, and the pads were made of a sort of nylon material — not dissimilar from a boat canvas. It was durable and swept quickly and smoothly. Different companies made variations of course, but they were all fairly similar.

Then, about five years ago or so, a company called Hardline came out with a new kind of pad. They call it the icePad. It’s a little smaller, much thinner, and the material that covers it is much different than previous broom. Hardline broom material is more like something found used to make a tent or winter coat. It’s much thinner and the weave is much tighter. The broom as a whole is very light and easy to sweep.

In the past couple years, the use of Hardline brooms among top competitive teams has grown quite a bit. They can be seen in almost every major event. Hardline sponsors many teams in hopes that exposure will convince recreational curlers to buy their product. They are fine brooms that make sweeping easier and are competitively priced. And some people want them banned.

The controversy revolves around what’s now being called “directional fabric.” There’s a lot of bickering and conjecture involved, but here’s the gist. Hardline started making a serious dent in the curling industry. This, theoretically, cut into the profits of other equipment manufacturers like BalancePlus. This year, BalancePlus released their own version of a “directional” broom that can do some really amazing things to a curling stone. In case you’re interested, here are two videos put out by BalancePlus.

The first shows a BalancePlus broom essentially changing the curl direction of the stone:

The second shows a stone being held incredibly straight down the line:

Basically, BalancePlus took Hardline’s broom concept and cranked it to 11. Now, people are calling foul saying that these new brooms make the game too easy, that simple sweeping techniques and new brooms are taking the art of shotmaking out of the game all together. They debuted these brooms earlier this year, and some teams and fans got pretty peeved.

Now, some teams have agreed to a pact where they will not use any of the “directional” brooms in competition, including both the BalancePlus and Hardline brooms.

Hardline believes that BalancePlus is playing the part of a bully — making an absurd product to garner vitriol over all makes of these brooms in an attempt to get them banned. As of this writing, these brooms are legal. But if that were to change, teams would have to go back to using more traditional brooms. One of the biggest makers of traditional brooms? BalancePlus.

Hardline doesn’t make traditional brooms. They are a smaller company (they were even featured on the Canadian version of Shark Tank) with limited resources. These types of brooms are their bread and butter. They can’t go back to making other kinds without incurring significant costs. Even further, they claim their heads don’t even perform in a directional way — that their brooms aren’t even capable of the things the BalancePlus offerings are.

At some point, a committee will have to be set up to sort all this out. Some independent testing will have to be done and some rules will have to be put in place. But until then, what’s being dubbed as BroomGate (cue audible eye roll) will remain the talk of curling clubs all across the world — after the requisite drinking stories and dirty jokes, that is.

(Header image via RyAwesome)