June 25, 2017

Ballmer’s energy, enthusiasm will push fan-viewing technology for Clippers, NBA

Clippers owner Steve Ballmer (L) talks with John Ourand at the Sports Media & Technology conference. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

Clippers owner Steve Ballmer (L) talks with John Ourand at the Sports Media & Technology conference. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

As a longtime tech reporter it was a bit of a flashback to see former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer holding center stage at a conference, even if this one was centered around sports and not anything to do with PCs or Windows.

There was no dancing through the spotlights, but even in a sit-down setting you couldn’t hide Ballmer’s enthusiasm for technology, now focused on improving the fan experience for watching NBA basketball games, specifically those involving the Los Angeles Clippers, the team Ballmer now owns.

“I am excited for the future of technology and how it could make it REALLY more fun to watch sports,” Baller said to interviewer John Ourand, a writer with Sports Business Journal, the hosts of the 2016 NeuLion Sports Media & Technology conference held at the Manhattan Beach Marriott. If you’ve ever heard Ballmer speak live you know the voice pitch that escalated on that “REALLY” part, a volume increase guaranteed to ensure you’re paying attention.

Now one of the most visible NBA owner-fans, Ballmer told event attendees Wednesday how his team’s new rights deal with Fox’s regional sports network would help the Clippers experiment with more innovative viewing options, including over-the-top streaming game broadcasts.

Watching the game through a player’s view

But put aside for a moment the concerns about old-school broadcast rights — according to Ballmer what he really wanted out of the most-recent deal was breathing room to try new things, like having game views with statistics and other information overlaid or available in pop-out windows; or different camera views, including a VR-like view of the game from a player’s eyes.

Screenshot of fan-info TV 'overlays' that might enhance NBA broadcasts.

Screenshot of fan-info TV ‘overlays’ that might enhance NBA broadcasts.

“We needed a relationship that would allow us to innovate,” said Ballmer of the recent media deal, one where he dismissed the final dollar figure [worth $50 million to $55 millon per season] as “money is just an arm-wrestle.” Instead of crowing about getting piles of dough for TV rights, Ballmer was clearly more excited about ideas like being able to have player fantasy stats super-imposed over that player’s jersey while live action went on, among other plans.

“I want to watch a game as [Clippers point guard] Chris Paul, to see what he sees,” Ballmer said. “That would be a cool view of a game.”

Meet the new boss, different than the old boss

While such ideas are not completely new — others in and around sports have been thinking up such ideas and even trying them out — what’s different with the Clippers and the NBA is Ballmer’s energy, and the ability to not have to care about making money right away given his uber-billionaire wealth. I never worked for Microsoft or Ballmer but from the outside looking in it was pretty easy to see that Ballmer has never been a sit-around-and-wait kind of guy. When talking about the excitement of working with innovative sports-tech firms like Second Spectrum and NeuLion on his player’s-eye cam idea, Ballmer didn’t hesitate to put a timeline on the project.

“I’m going to be highly, highly, HIGHLY disappointed” if the Chris-Paul view isn’t available in 3-4 years, Ballmer said, laughing that it’s always best to put public pressure on engineers to get them to deliver more quickly. And while he’s frustrated by the delays caused by long-term rights deals, the opportunity to rework the Clippers’ local rights gave him a door to push open. And like always, Ballmer didn’t come in quietly.

“I didn’t want to wait to get started,” Ballmer said. “I’ve got a passion for the technology and we were at the end of the contract so… BOOM! Let’s go ahead and move forward.”

Ballmer also talked about the idea of building a new Clippers arena somewhere down the road, and about using technology to let fans at games have a better experience, like being able to upgrade your seat during the event. Dreaming about a new venue specifically built for basketball, Ballmer thought out loud about the benefits of having fans closer to the action, with an increased list of tech-aided amenities.

“The technology of arena design is advancing, too,” Ballmer said, pointing to such new structures as Sacramento’s Golden 1 Center. “You have to figure out how to serve the modern fan.” Will Ballmer in charge, it’s a safe bet that Clippers fans may be among the first to be so served.

App developer theScore lands $15 million venture deal

thescore

A few years back there was a steady stream of sports apps from small, independent developers all seeking to establish themselves in a niche and grow (or be acquired) to become one of the go-to programs for sports fans.

Fast forward a few years and the first wave has sadly mostly died off, victims of a variety of issues from over completion in their selected market, underfunding, well funded rivals, delivering an overall poor app and a host of other issues, so it is always nice when somebody breaks through to a new level.

One that has done that is theScore which has not only has stayed in the game but is now in a position to increase its exposure and enhance its platform with the influx of $15 million in venture funding that is expected to close in mid-May.

The private round already has a number of investors announcing their intention to participate including Levfam Holdings Ltd., Relay Ventures Fund II L.P. and Relay Ventures Parallel Fund II L.P. The publicly traded company is based in Toronto.

For those not familiar with theScore’s app, which is available on Android and Apple iOS devices, it is a customizable sports app that provides not only news and scores in real time but also information for fantasy teams and leagues. It tracks a huge number of sports leagues both domestic and international, along with their individual teams.

Hopefully the influx of cash will help enable the company to further establish itself as a mainstream app with broad based acceptance.

USA Today launches enhanced sports weekly app

usatod

While I often read USA Today online I did not realize that it had a separate sports app called USA Today Sports Weekly that is available for free from iTunes, Amazon Kindle and Google Play, and which has just been upgraded to include new interactive features.

USA Today said that the revamp was due to the changing viewership habits of its readers which are continually moving from the print copy to digital versions.

The app will feature pretty much what a user would expect from USA Today with coverage of all of the major pro and college leagues with a heavy emphasis on the NFL as well as a solid influx of news from international sports and leagues. There will be editorials, opinion pieces and polls and it will handle fantasy sports including tips and advice.

A new feature that came out with the latest rev is called Stream and it is a social feature that in real time enables a crowd sourced stream of user suggested sports news feed. It also enables users easily cut and send or save articles that interest them. This will be moderated by the community.

There are few things that a prospective user should be aware of if they download the free app, since it has that little + sign next to it, which means in app purchases ahead. The app itself is just a shell, like an embedded e-reader. To actually get the copy for each week requires an in-app purchase, which starts at $2.99 for a single issue. A three-month subscription will run a user $12.99 while the six-month version is $17.99 and the full year is $38.99. Each week provides a preview so that if you are looking just for one that focuses on a specific event or issue, say the NFL Draft, you can find that out prior to purchasing.

I will be interested to see how well the subscription model does for USA Today. While I read the publication’s sports section I also know that there are plenty of free alternatives on the web, ranging from local newspapers up to ESPN. In an age where you can find any number of dedicated bloggers that covers an issue very closely such as NFL cap issues and make their findings available for free why would someone pay for a generalists view?

RBI Baseball is here; Best ballparks for craft beer

MLB has released R.B.I Baseball 14 to the joy of long-suffering fans of the game who have been waiting and hoping for years that the title would be reinvented and reinvigorated for a new generation of fans as well as older fans.

The game is the first one for consoles developed by the MLBAM and is available as a digital download for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 entertainment systems as well as for iPhones and iPads. The original game was discontinued around 20 years ago.

Quidditch is a real thing?
Apparently not only can you really play quidditch, there is an actual World Cup for the sport. The game that was made famous via the Harry Potter franchise of books and movies, sans magical brooms and a few other minor details, is being played around the globe these days.

Not only is it being played but it is gaining a bit of international support as teams from Canada and Australia will be among the 80 teams participated in the sport’s seventh World Cup in South Carolina last weekend. As a spoiler the University of Texas retained its crown beating Texas State University. Time to start practicing for next year.


Cubs’ fans disappointment may continue for 6 more years

When a new owner comes to town to take over a forlorn franchise there is always hope that they will manage to achieve what so many have failed to do in the past, create a winning atmosphere that will help make up for past failure.

That is what Cubs fans were certainly hoping for when Tom Ricketts et al took over the team. Yet it seems that a stadium and team that do very well in attendance and broadcasting viewership need to wait for new contracts and rebuilding. Or it could be the way the loan is structured and they don’t want to talk about that.

The 10 best ballparks for craft beer
When I started going to baseball games the options for food and beverages were very limited but that has really changed for the better. Now the Daily Meal has taken in upon itself to track down which stadiums have the best craft beer — why is this not a job assignment that I am ever given?

They list #1 as Safeco Field in Seattle, and the overall West Coast is well represented with AT&T and Petco also listed. Also did you know that at Yankee Stadium the space where they sell crafty beer is called ‘beer mixology destination?” Beer Mixology, really?

Qatar World Cup construction worker death rates continue
The World Cup that is due to be played in Qatar has already been under a cloud due to complaints about corruption and the fact that the tournament might have to be moved from summer to winter due to, what else, hot weather. But one issue that also seems to be running under the radar is worker treatment.

According to a piece in Slate 1,200 workers have already died building the facilities for the 2022 event. However FIFA said that it would look into it, which since it is responsible for the awarding of the games in the first place seems like the fox watching the hen house.

Wilson brings digital data collection to basketball
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Golfers can get a version of a smartwatch that tracks their game and provides real time feedback, there is a host of apps for runners and bicyclists to track their efforts and skiers can get goggles that lay out the run and show speed and slope. Soon recreational basketball will join the digital world with an app that will help Sunday morning athletes track their efforts.

There is more than just an app in the Wilson Smart Basketball program; there is of course a basketball that helps feed in the data. The app and accompanying basketball are scheduled for release for this year’s holiday season.

CBS to get ‘strong’ Thursday Night NFL slate
After outbidding rivals for the newest set of games that the NFL will be playing on Thursday nights CBS appears to be receiving an extra with the deal. It has been reported that the NFL will be taking steps to make those games between what are viewed as strong teams, not necessarily quality teams, but ones that will bring strong viewership.

Of course the quality of the games at the early point of the season, when offensive lines have not yet jelled, rookies are still learning the playbooks and teams have their new coaches is sometimes average at best and add in the fact that teams really only get two days to prepare for Thursday games I am not sure I would put the quality tag on any of these games just yet.

Friday Grab Bag: NBA first to adopt ads on jerseys?

Apparently it is just a matter of time. ESPN is reporting that new NBA commissioner Adam Silver told an audience at the IMG World Congress of Sports that the move to put ads on NBA jerseys is inevitable and that it will enable its marketing partners to get closer to fans. I guess that translates into owners will be able to take home more money.

Ads on U.S. pro team uniforms has been contentious — MLB has talked about it for more than a decade and in a game in Japan rolled out the look to wide displeasure but it seems inevitable. Teams are always looking for additional revenue and this looks to be money just left on the table.

NFL to have official to official communications
According to MMQB the NFL will equip all NFL on-field officials with a microphone, earpiece and a radio pack so that during games they can communicate wirelessly over an encrypted system to each other for a more efficient game.

I wonder in this day when people can hack into store accounts how long it will take for some person or persons to hack the communications between officials and either broadcast it somewhere or interfere with the chatter?

Buffett wants bracket changes for tournament
If you are like everybody else I know your March Madness bracket was blown up during last weekend’s round of major upsets but not everybody was unhappy — Quicken Loans and Warren Buffett’s offer to pay $1 billion to anyone that picked all winners will go uncollected this year.

However they are not gloating and Buffett, who said that they plan to offer the $1 billion next year, wants to change it so that it will be easier to win. However he has not yet worked out how that can be done.

You can still win millions if you Beat The Streak
March Madness is not the only game in town as with the start of the MLB season there s also the launch of the 14th annual Beat The Streak fantasy contest, this year with a $5.6 million prize, and hopefully someone will finally win this very hard to attain prize.

The Beat The Streak sponsored by Dunkin Donuts game itself is very simple; all a fan has to do is select two players every day and hope that one gets a hit, for 57 consecutive games, breaking baseball’s historic single season hitting streak. Good luck.

Maryland’s departure from ACC gets even more acrimonious

Maryland is one of the many schools that has shopped for a better deal in its collegiate alignment and announced 2 years ago that it was departing from the ACC for the Big Ten in search of its pot of gold. The ACC responded by suing to collect an exit fee.

Now Maryland is striking back and has subpoenaed 10 conference schools and ESPN claiming that the ACC violated its own rules on exit fees and that along with ESPN it tried to lure Big Ten schools, according to the Washington Post.

MLB delivers daily fantasy game in partnership with DraftKings

draft

In the past Major League Baseball once denounced daily fantasy baseball games as gambling, implying that no skill was involved, but that has changed as baseball has teamed with fantasy sports contest provider DraftKings for an offering that launches with the upcoming season.

The Official Mini Fantasy Game of MLB.com is a free one-day fantasy league that can be entered daily and offers fans the ability to win tickets to regular season games, the 2014 All-Star Game and a 2014 World Series game. There are a total of four grand prizes, two each to the All-Star and World Series as well as a number of other prizes.

Players get a $50,000 salary cap and then select from a field of players that has 10 position players who can accumulate points (or lose them) by accomplishing select actions such as +5 points for a stolen base and +2 points for each strike out a pitcher earns. There will be several different offerings including a daily MLB.com Official Fantasy Contest and a weekly MLB.com Friday Home Team contest among others.

DraftKings specializes in creating what it calls daily leagues, ones that you can play and then quit, none of this following a fantasy baseball team for a season trying to convince a fellow owner to trade his star starting pitcher for your broken down LOOGY.

Its system is simple and has the potential to be lucrative for users. It has both free and paid contests in which participants select individuals to make up a team, watch how they perform that day and if they perform the best you can win cash. DraftKings is currently running several contests including a March Madness one. It offers contests in five major sports: MLB, NHL, NFL, NBA and the PGA. It offers a wide variety of contests from head-to-head to qualifiers.

This will be interesting to see how this pans out on many levels. Lotteries have tried to have sports offerings and most of the major league teams have fought against them. States, led by New Jersey, have then fought back, so far unsuccessfully. Now a league is endorsing it as a skill event and that could lead to an easing of other leagues’ dislike of this type of activity.