MLS Esports League Plans Return to Venues as Early as January 2022
Major League Soccer’s FIFA esports league eMLS plans to return to in-person events with fans for its 2022 season, beginning in January. The season will consist of three tournaments and end March 12 with the eMLS Cup at the SXSW conference in Austin, TX. Gameplay for the 2021 eMLS season was held remotely due to the pandemic.
Teams will compete for $75,000 in prizes, the highest single-season prize pool since eMLS launched in 2018. MLS expansion club Charlotte FC will have a new affiliate in eMLS to grow the league to 27 teams. For the first time, all eMLS season qualifying matches will be streamed on each team’s respective social channels.
FC Cincinnati’s TQL Stadium will host the season-opening series on Jan. 15, which will continue the next day at PromoWest Pavilion in Newport, Kentucky. The second series will be held in Chicago over two days at Soldier Field and House of Blues, before the ACL Live music venue in Austin hosts the eMLS Cup.
Dak Prescott-Backed At-Home Smart Gym OxeFit Debuts First Consumer Product
Smart fitness startup OxeFit has released its first consumer product, an AI-powered strength training machine called XS1. Investors in OxeFit include Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott and tight end Blake Jarwin, former players Dez Bryant and Jason Witten and sports medicine leader Dr. James Andrews.
OxeFit, which is based in Plano, Texas, raised $12.5 million in Series A funding in February. The XS1 includes a bench, barbell and cables for push and pull exercises. Similar to Tonal, the machine’s motors can generate up to 250 pounds of electromagnetic resistance without any physical weights, and it has a connected 32-inch touch screen to stream workouts and display performance data.
Built-in motion sensors and a force plate allow XSI’s artificial intelligence to track movements to identify muscle weaknesses that put users at risk for certain injuries. The machine’s price starts at $5,999, alongside a $40 monthly subscription to stream workout videos.
The XSI is the consumer version of OxeFit’s XPI elite-level system, which the company says is used by athletes such as Prescott, Los Angeles Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey and former MLB All-Star Matt Kemp.
NWSL Partners With Voyager, Players to Receive Crypto Payments
The National Women’s Soccer League has signed a multi-year sponsorship with cryptocurrency exchange Voyager Digital. The company has set up an NWSL players’ fund to create accounts on the Voyager app for each player.
Voyager, the first crypto brokerage firm to partner with the NWSL, will deposit an unspecified amount of cryptocurrency into each player’s individual account on its app. The company will also provide crypto educational resources to the players and select one person from all 12 NWSL teams to serve as a marketing ambassador.
Other partners for Voyager in sports include the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, MLB’s Oakland A’s and NFL tight end Rob Gronkowski. Other crypto exchanges to have league sponsorships include MLB and FTX and the NBA and Coinbase.
Crypto Exchange FTX Has Tried Buying Sports Betting App PlayUp for $450 Million
FTX, the cryptocurrency exchange whose brand ambassadors include stars such as Tom Brady, Stephen Curry and Shohei Ohtani, has made an attempt to expand into sports betting.
FTX began negotiations in August to buy sports betting app PlayUp for $450 million, according to a lawsuit filed on Nov. 30 that was uncovered by Legal Sports Report. The lawsuit claims that negotiations collapsed when PlayUp’s U.S. CEO Laila Mintas, upset over her own contract situation, allegedly contacted FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried to share disparaging information about PlayUp’s operations.
PlayUp is now suing Mintas for allegedly sabotaging its sale to FTX. PlayUp was founded in Australia and currently operates its U.S. mobile sportsbook in Colorado and New Jersey. FTX’s attempt to acquire PlayUp is not its first crossover with sports betting, as FTX recently invested in BetDex, a blockchain-based sports betting startup co-founded by former FanDuel CEO Nigel Eccles.
Valued at $25 billion, FTX sponsors MLB and has stadium naming rights deals with the Miami Heat and University of California-Berkeley, as well as a $210 million sponsorship with esports organization Team SoloMid (TSM).
Soccer Training App Balln Adds Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne as Ambassador
Manchester City star midfielder Kevin De Bruyne has joined soccer training app Balln as a brand ambassador. Roc Nation negotiated the deal for De Bruyne, who will host Balln challenges on social media and promote the app to his followers.
Balln’s target customers are youth players ages 8-17. A user’s smartphone is affixed to a tripod or held by another person while players complete drills indoors or outdoors. Through a smartphone camera, the app’s computer vision tracks player and ball movement to provide feedback on a user’s shooting, pace, dribbling, agility, first touch, passing, reaction speed and ball control abilities.
The app’s Player Card feature rates a user’s skill level based on past studies of hundreds of thousands of youth soccer players. Users can also watch more than 350 training videos on Balln, which adds augmented reality graphics for on-screen display while recording a player’s training session.
Chelsea FC, a Premier League club that competes with De Bruyne’s Manchester City, released its own app last year that uses a smartphone camera to evaluate players in its youth academy. Other apps in the soccer training space include Techne, Famer, GoldCleats and HomeCourt.
At-Home Pilates Machine Reform RX Launches Smart Clothing With Asensei
Connected coaching platform Asensei and at-home Pilates training company Reform RX are collaborating on a smart apparel line that will enable personalized instruction and real-time feedback.
Asensei uses artificial intelligence to track a user’s movement and correct technique. It launched a white-label smart apparel line—dubbed “smart (app)arel”—that weaves motion capture sensors into sportswear fabric. Asensei, which raised a $2.2 million round last June, began with a rowing product and has since expanded into yoga, rehabilitation, kettlebells, TRX and now Pilates.
Reform RX makes a digitally-connected Pilates machine and offers on-demand classes. The new line, which will be available in the first half of 2022, will be called Reform RX Connected Apparel with “Asensei inside.” The first such line was developed with Virus International.
Tamir Goodman’s Aviv, the Bacteria-Killing Basketball Net, Adds First Pro League Partner
The Basketball League, a minor league organization that began play in 2018, will use Aviv basketball nets for its 2022 season. Aviv’s net is made with antimicrobial fibers to disinfect the ball of germs and sweat each time it goes through the net.
All 42 TBL facilities in the U.S. and Canada will play with Aviv’s net when the season begins in March. Aviv was co-founded by former American-Israeli professional basketball player Tamir Goodman. The TBL is the first pro league to name Aviv as its official net.
The Aviv Net has been trialed in Europe’s FIBA Champions League and beta-tested in practice facilities for four NBA teams, as well as at the University of Kansas and the University of Memphis. The product is also a finalist in the NBA’s Launchpad program, according to Inc.
The Red Sox’s Triple-A Affiliate in Worcester, the WooSox, Debuts a Self-Checkout Store With Standard AI
The Worcester Red Sox, the Triple-A affiliate of MLB’s Boston Red Sox, opened its new autonomous retail store at Polar Park in partnership with Standard AI.
Ceiling-mounted AI-powered cameras inside the stadium’s WooSox Market identify patrons based on their shape and movement as they grab items such as snacks and memorabilia. Standard AI says it does not use facial recognition. Fans add their credit payment to the Standard AI app so they are billed as they leave the store.
Fans were welcomed to attend the store’s opening on Saturday for the WooSox Winter Wonderland, which included guest appearances from Santa Claus and former Red Sox players Lenny DiNardo and Sam Horn. Standard AI, whose investors include SoftBank and Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, expects to bring its self-checkout technology to other sporting venues.
The company’s competitors include Zippin, which built autonomous stores for the Sacramento Kings and Denver Broncos. NHL venues such as Seattle’s Climate Pledge Arena and Elmont, New York’s UBS Arena offer concessions with Amazon’s Just Walk Out technology.
Philadelphia 76ers Debut Facebook Messenger Chatbot for Fans
The Philadelphia 76ers have launched a new automated chat application so fans can get their questions answered about the team. The AI chatbot was made by GameOn Technology and can be accessed through Facebook Messenger.
Fans attending 76ers’ home games can open the chat to type questions such as “Where are my seats” or “Can I bring a bag to the game?” The chatbot can also provide 76ers player updates, while sharing information on how to watch game broadcasts and buy tickets and team merchandise.
GameOn originally partnered with the NBA in 2019 to make its chatbot available to teams and fans through Facebook Messenger. The company has also built chatbots for the PGA Tour, ATP Media and the NHL.
Pixellot Adds Video Analysis Into Youth Basketball Playbook App FastDraw
Automated sports video provider Pixellot has partnered with FastModel Sports to integrate its video editing and analysis tools into FastDraw, a playbook app used by youth and high school basketball teams.
FastDraw is used to display play diagrams and scouting reports for coaches and their teams. The software will now add interaction with VidSwap, a video editing and analysis platform that Pixellot acquired in 2019.
Pixellot’s AI-powered cameras stream more than 100,000 live sports game per month in 62 countries around the world. In February, Pixellot partnered with SportsEngine to grow use of its automated video tools in youth sports.
Big Ten Launches Sports Data and Analytics Department, Will Leverage It Into Broadcasts and Marketing
The Big Ten Conference has formed a sports data and analytics department to create new insights for the conference and pursue data-related business opportunities. Leveraging data to engage with fans through media and broadcasts will also be a focus of the new department.
“Data, analytics, research is king right now,” Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren said Wednesday in Las Vegas at SBJ’s Learfield Intercollegiate Athletics Forum. “And there’s so much more that we can do in the collegiate space from a fan activation standpoint — knowing about our fans, being able to target them from a marketing standpoint, opportunity to increase revenues.”
Kerry Kenny, a 14-year Big Ten employee, has been promoted to SVP of TV, media analytics and emerging platforms at the conference. He’ll lead the infusion of data and media consumption trends while working with the Big Ten’s main broadcast partners—the Big Ten Network, CBS, ESPN and FOX.
Networks such as ESPN and CBS have previously added in-game data into college basketball broadcasts through ShotTracker, the sensor-based shooting analytics system that has existing deals with the Mountain West and Big-12 conferences. In May, former Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany joined ShotTracker as an advisor.