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.

Virtual Reality and sports stadiums: What will fans see?

Why are stadiums testing out virtual reality (VR) technology for fans, and what is the goal of giving event attendees a “virtual” experience to go along with the one they’re getting in person? Episode 6 of the Stadium Tech Report Podcast takes a look at VR use in stadiums, with hosts Phil Harvey and Paul Kapustka breaking down the reasons behind the trials, and whether or not VR will succeed or flop in stadium situations. Listen now!

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Twins to test VR for fans at Target Field

The Minnesota Twins will test virtual reality content for fans at a July 29 game at Target Field. Credit all photos: Minnesota Twins

The Minnesota Twins will test virtual reality content for fans at a July 29 game at Target Field. Credit all photos: Minnesota Twins

The Minnesota Twins are partnering with SuperSphere VR to offer 5,000 fans the chance to “virtually” walk with a Twins player onto Target Field. On the July 29 test run, the Twins plan to distribute Google cardboard style virtual reality (VR) viewers to the first 5,000 attendees of the night’s game against the Chicago White Sox. The VR viewer offers users a low-cost means of experiencing VR by placing their phones inside a foldable cardboard headset shaped like a pair of binoculars.

Chris Iles, Senior Director of Content for the Twins, sees this promotion as an excellent way to engage with fans. “It’s giving fans the opportunity to do something they’ve never done before, and we think it will enhance their ball park visit.” Iles went on to explain that enhancing fan engagement is a major, organization-wide goal for the Twins.

Demo spurs another demo

According to Iles, the Twins began exploring VR after seeing a demonstration of the technology at a spring training showcase with Major League Baseball Advanced Media.

Panoramic views are possible with VR technology

Panoramic views are possible with VR technology

Iles and the Twins “saw some potential for using virtual reality to bring fans closer to the game.” After seeing the demo and experimenting with the tech themselves, the Twins got in touch with SuperSphere VR to develop the upcoming VR experiment for Twins fans. SuperSphere VR specializes in VR content production for many applications, including sporting events.

The Twins’ VR content will be distributed to fans at the game only, using a geofencing feature within the MLB Ballpark app. Once fans check in through the Ballpark app they will be able to access the VR content on their phones. Iles expects the content will be made available to all fans, inside or outside the park, through the app later on.

The VR experience will be prerecorded on this first go-around in order to reduce the technical complexity of content delivery. “For this first foray,” Iies said, “we wanted something a little more controlled. That way we can confidently deliver that great experience.”

The Twins VR deployment may be the beginning of broader VR use for the organization. However, it’s still tough to say how VR is going to fit into a broader fan engagement strategy. For now, the Twins are among the first MLB franchises to explore the possibilities presented by VR for fan engagement on the day of the game.

Christopher Meier is an intern for Mobile Sports Report.

Cavs, Budweiser and YinzCam bring virtual reality experiment to Cleveland fans

Fan testing the virtual-reality headset at Quicken Loans Arena. All photos: Cleveland Cavaliers

Fan testing the virtual-reality headset at Quicken Loans Arena. All photos: Cleveland Cavaliers

Approximately 750 fans were able to use the Cleveland Cavaliers’ stadium app and some cardboard headsets to get a virtual-reality experience while at Quicken Loans Arena for Wednesday’s playoff game between the Cavs and the Atlanta Hawks, according to the team.

Since we weren’t at the Q we couldn’t see the videos but according to the Cavs there was some VR content available Wednesday night via the YinzCam-developed team app, which if you were lucky to get one of the 750 promotional headsets that were given away, you could insert your phone and have a true, turn-the-head feel to the VR content, according to the team. Other fans could simply view the VR content on their phones, even without the headsets, the Cavs said.

Though there was no live VR content available, the canned-video experiment is just another leading-edge innovation for the Cavs at Quicken Loans Arena, one of the most technology-forward sports arenas around. According to the team it plans to repeat the VR experiment at some future playoff games, with another 1,500 Budweiser-branded headsets to give away.

Screenshot of Cavs app showing VR content tab

Screenshot of Cavs app showing VR content tab

Cleverly, the headset “easily transforms into a handy Budweiser beer holder,” according to a press release.

“We’re always looking for new ways to connect with our fans by leveraging emerging technologies that deliver unique experiences. VR was a logical next step and an area we’re excited to explore,” said Mike Conley, Cavs VP of Digital, in a prepared statement. “The technology has endless opportunity and thanks to our partnership with Budweiser and Yinzcam, we’ve been able to get a head start in the emerging VR space with the new video content available on the Cavs App.”

No word yet on how well the headsets worked (as viewing devices or beer holders) or how many fans viewed the VR content, but it is at the very least a sign that VR may be closer to mainstream than you think, and that for savvy teams it can be an easy way to add a very visible sponsorship. Oh and by the way the Cavs also destroyed the Hawks 123-98, going up 2-0 in their series.

vrc3

Here’s what the VR content looked like (kinda) in a 2D version

Masters online will show full rounds for featured groups; tourney also adds 4K TV and virtual reality options

Screen Shot 2016-03-31 at 11.11.03 AMOne of the best online sports viewing experiences, the Masters, will add a little more depth to its coverage this year, offering full-round coverage of selected “featured groups” of players. In previous years, the Masters only showed featured groups from the 10th hole on.

Otherwise, the superb Masters Live online package — which is available for free at both Masters.com and CBSSports.com — will remain largely unchanged from last year, with live coverage channels for Amen Corner (holes 11, 12 and 13) and holes 15 and 16, as well as one for a “Masters on the Range” live interview show from the famed course’s practice area. The online coverage will also include in-progress and end-of-day highlights in case you aren’t near a TV to watch the broadcast coverage. If you’re a golf nut and a Masters junkie like we are, you will probably have both options open, watching the TV coverage on a big screen while keeping up with the exciting challenges of Amen Corner and the 15-16 duo.

Maybe the best part of the extended featured-groups coverage is that online action will now begin at 9 a.m. Eastern, instead of noon like it did last year. Three more hours of Masters online? We’ll take it! Live action starts next Thursday, April 7.

HERE IS THE LINK TO WATCH THE MASTERS ONLINE

In yet another twist the Masters will also offer two new viewing options, including a 4K feed as well as a virtual reality feed. The 4K feed will cover the Amen Corner holes, while the virtual reality stream will show action from holes 6 and 16. For the 4K feed you will need a DirecTV account or an Internet-connected smart TV, along with some other requirements; for more information on 4K requirements check this page. For instructions and gear requirements for the virtual reality stream, check here.

S.F. Giants add more Wi-Fi, ‘virtual reality experience’ to AT&T Park for 2016 season

The view from AT&T Park's left field corner. All photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

The view from AT&T Park’s left field corner. All photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

The first ballpark to bring Wi-Fi to its fans is still padding its networking lead, as AT&T Park will have 543 new or upgraded Wi-Fi access points for the 2016 season, according to the San Francisco Giants.

Most of the new APs are of the under-seat variety, completing the team’s three-year plan to put more APs under seats to increase network density and capacity. According to Bill Schlough, senior vice president and chief information officer for the Giants, the park now has a total of 1,628 Wi-Fi APs, the most of any MLB stadium and more than most big football stadiums as well. With 78.2 terabytes of data used during the baseball season and another 20+ TB used during other events, Schlough said AT&T Park’s Wi-Fi network carried more than 100 TB of data in calendar 2015.

Since it’s an even year, the Giants expect to win the World Series again, so the action on the field should be pretty good. If you want to leave reality, however, the Giants can accomodate you in that realm this season with the addition of a “virtual reality experience” at the team’s @Cafe social media spot, located on the concourse behind the left-field bleachers.

Since it's an even year, does that mean another one of these is on order for the Giants?

Since it’s an even year, does that mean another one of these is on order for the Giants?

According to the Giants, fans can be “transported” to Scottsdale Stadium to view practice from spring training, or they can see views from the AT&T Park field, the batting cages and “even Sergio Romo’s car” through a VR headset.

The Giants said fans will also notice an upgrade to the stadium’s LED ribbon boards, which circle the park on the facings of the upper decks. The new Mitsubishi screens, the Giants said, offer 150 percent more pixels than their predecessors, meaning that you might not need those reading glasses to get stat updates or read advertising messsages.

On the DAS side of things, AT&T Park finally has all four major U.S. wireless carriers on its in-house cellular network, with the DAS and Wi-Fi serviced by 13 1-Gbps backbone pipes from AT&T.