FTX Creates $2 Billion Fund to Expand Blockchain Adoption

By Andrew Cohen

FTX, a cryptocurrency firm with numerous sports sponsorships, has launched a $2 billion venture capital fund to invest in blockchain and Web3 technologies. FTX Ventures is particularly interested in growing blockchain’s integration across gaming, social platforms, financial technology and healthcare. 

 Amy Wu, who led crypto and gaming investments at Lightspeed Venture Partners, has been hired to lead FTX Ventures. “We are very bullish that over time, just like free-to-play games and mobile games really established dominance, we will see that next step in the evolution of Web3 gaming as well,” Wu told Decrypt, also noting that FTX aims to work with major video game publishers.

 FTX is valued at $25 billion and recently attempted to buy sports betting app PlayUp. In November, FTX invested in blockchain-based sports betting platform BetDEX. In another tie-up between crypto and gaming, the NFLPA plans to release NFTs with DraftKings that can be used to play in fantasy football contests.

 FTX’s sponsorship portfolio includes deals with MLB and MLBPA, Monumental Sports & Entertainment, the Golden State Warriors, esports organization TSM and stadium naming rights deals with the Miami Heat and UC Berkeley. The company’s athlete ambassadors include Steph Curry, Tom Brady, Trevor Lawrence and Shohei Ohtani. 

C360 Technologies, Maker of Immersive Panoramic Cameras, Gets Funding From Cosm, Blue Tree Allied Angels

By Joe Lemire

Immersive streaming startup C360 Technologies, which is headquartered near Pittsburgh, added investment from Cosm, an experiential media company, and Blue Tree Allied Angels, an investor network in Western Pennsylvania. 

C360 carries live, high-fidelity video in 360 degrees. Its cameras have, at times, been used in conjunction with SkyCam and pylon cameras in ESPN and Fox Sports broadcasts, and the company also has working relationships with CBS Sports, TNT, NASCAR, NFL, NHL, UFC, Google and Intel. Former Intel executive—and former NBA player—Howard Wright became C360’s CEO in Nov. 2020. 

The company’s footage has aired in Super Bowls, the Olympics, MLB All-Star Games, the college football national championship and Daytona 500, among other events. Fans can select their own viewpoint through C360-developed apps. Its streams work in augmented, virtual and mixed reality formats.  

C360 won a SeventySix Capital pitch competition in Nov. 2019 and is now a portfolio company of the Philadelphia venture firm. Boeing made an investment through its HorizonX Ventures fund back in 2017. 

Motion Capture Expert Phil Cheetham Becomes Sportsbox AI’s Chief Scientific Officer

By Joe Lemire

Renowned biomechanist and motion capture specialist Phil Cheetham has joined startup Sportsbox AI as chief scientific officer. Sportsbox AI assess a golfer’s movements and swing using only a single smartphone camera. Cheetham had been advising the startup, but now joins full-time. 

Since 2010, Cheetham had worked at the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, most recently as its director of sport technology and innovation. He remains a biomechanics advisory board member for the Titleist Performance Institute. An Olympic gymnast for Australia who competed at the 1976 Summer Games, Cheetham later earned a Ph.D. in biomechanics from Arizona State and is a developer of several 3D motion capture systems, including one during a prior stint at the USOPC in the early 1980s.

Sportsbox AI launched a coaching product in October and has plans for a consumer version. Famed golf instructors David Leadbetter, Sean Foley, Mike Adams and Terry Rowles are all advisors and/or investors. The company is run by CEO Jeehae Lee, a former LPGA Tour golfer who subsequently received an MBA from Wharton. 

NFL Awards AI for Head Impact Detection, New Innovation IDs Injury 83 Times Faster Than a Human Can

By Joe Lemire

The NFL and Amazon Web Services awarded $100,000 to data scientists who took part in the computer vision competition to develop algorithms for automatic identification of players involved in on-field helmet impacts. 

  Previously, the NFL undertook a manual process of reviewing postgame video frame-by-frame to record 150 different variables for all major injuries. The league uses that data to inform rule changes, spur innovation in protective equipment and influence coaching and training strategies. This was the second phase of the competition, building on a previous contest to crowdsource methods of detecting helmet impacts. 

  The winning entry completed the task 83 times faster than a human. NFL SVP of health innovation Jennifer Langton previously summarized the results, suggesting a consolidation of required time from three or four days down to two hours. All of this data helps fuel the Digital Athlete that AWS is building in collaboration with the NFL and its injury surveillance data to simulate varying game and play conditions and how that affects injury rates. 

  First prize and $50,000 went to Kippei Matsuda from Osaka, Japan, while second place and $25,000 was given to Takuya Ito from Tokyo. The third, fourth and fifth finishers received a total of $25,000, distributed on a graduated scale. 

Rooter, Which Streams Games for Mobile and PC Users, Raises $25M

By Joe Lemire

Rooter, an India-based game streaming company, raised a $25 million Series A investment led by Lightbox, March Gaming and Duane Park Ventures.  

 Hosting streams for both mobile and PC gamers, Rooter reported more than 30 million total downloads of its app with 8.5 million active monthly users, of which 1 million are content creators. The company has 55 employees based out of its New Delhi headquarters, which it hopes to double with this new funding.  

 Among those who joined the round were the ADvantage Sports Tech Fund; Rooter is a graduate of its affiliated leAD Sports & Health Tech Partners accelerator. Boutique investment bank A&W Capital, which has a strong sports division, acted as financial advisor. One of Rooter’s earliest investors was Intex Technologies in 2017, a consumer electronics company that owns the Gujarat Lions in cricket’s Indian Premier League. 

Atlantic League Returns to Human Home Plate Umpires, Moves Mound Back Up for 2022

By Andrew Cohen

The Atlantic League will return to having human home plate umpires and move its mound back to the conventional 60-feet, six-inches for its 2022 season. The league has deployed an Automated Ball-Strike (ABS) system since 2019, while last season’s second half was played with a 61-foot, six-inch pitching distance to home plate through trials conducted with MLB.

 The Atlantic League called its experimental ABS deployment “successful” in a press release on Thursday, noting MLB will continue testing its automated umpiring system in an affiliated minor league next season. In 2021, MLB trialed ABS in a Low-A league using Hawk-Eye’s computer vision cameras, while the Atlantic League’s ABS system over the past three seasons utilized TrackMan radars.

 MLB extended its partnership in 2020 with the Atlantic League to continue using the league to test rule changes through 2023. The Atlantic League will retain other MLB test rules such as 17-inch bases, extra inning tiebreaker and anti-shift rules. More collaborations with MLB will be announced this spring.

 “The test rules and equipment are transitional by definition: Some elements remain, others are tweaked, and still others are abandoned,” Atlantic League president Rick White said in a statement. “We’re proud that many tests today will find their way to the big leagues in the future. We will continue to closely corroborate on tests with MLB.”

Michigan State Partners With Caesars, Becomes Second Big Ten School to Have Sports Betting Sponsor

By Dominic Massimino

Michigan State University has a new multi-year deal with Caesars Entertainment to make Caesars Sportsbook the official sports betting partners of the Spartans. 

 The partnership will include the designation of a new premium seating area inside Spartan Stadium—to which Caesars will receive the naming rights—as well as a Caesars-branded tailgate area outside the stadium. Michigan State and Caesars plan to debut the seating area during the 2022 football season.

 Caesars will receive exposure through MSU broadcasts and digital content, as well as signage within the school’s basketball, football and hockey arenas. Caesars will also allocate funds towards responsible gambling education for MSU students and student-athletes.

Michigan State is the second Big Ten school (11 of the conference’s 14 schools are in states with legal online sports betting) to sign with a sportsbook after PointsBet partnered with Maryland in December. PointsBet also has a deal with the University of Colorado, while Caesars sponsors LSU—making up the four current Power-5 schools to have sports betting partners.

FuboTV Buys Exclusive English Premier League Rights in Canada

By Andrew Cohen

Sports and TV streaming service FuboTV has bought exclusive rights to the English Premier League in Canada. The deal will start next season and run through the 2024-25 season. All 380 EPL matches per season will stream on the service.

 FuboTV will effectively take the place of DAZN, another streaming service that held Premier League rights in Canada after it signed a three-year deal in 2019 to replace Sportsnet and TSN as Canada’s home of EPL matches. FuboTV’s Canadian service acquired rights in August to stream Italy’s Serie A and Coppa Italia competitions.

 More than 100 channels from partnered networks across sports, news and entertainment are available on FuboTV, which also operates in the U.S., France and Spain. The company is building up its own live sports coverage—which also includes exclusive U.S. streaming rights to CONMEBOL’s Qatar World Cup qualifying matches—while also integrating its on-screen programming with its Fubo Sportsbook and FanView prediction gaming contests. 

Green Sports Alliance Partners With WinCup to Bring Biodegradable Straws Into Venues

By Andrew Cohen

The Green Sports Alliance, an environmental nonprofit with more than 300 members across the sports industry, has partnered with biodegradable straw developer WinCup. GSA will now promote WinCup’s straw to be adapted by sports venues, with the straw already being used at SoFi Stadium, Gillette Stadium, Mercedes Benz Stadium and at the 2021 PGA Championship. 

 WinCup’s straw is called Phade and is made from polyhydroxyalkanoate, a biopolymer derived from the fermentation of canola oil. WinCup’s Phade straw won a 2021 innovation in food service award from the National Restaurant Association and SmartBrief. 

 Green Sports Alliance was co-founded by Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, who took an environmental science advisor position with the New York Yankees in 2019. The GSA was one of several environmental organizations to partner with MLB and the Colorado Rockies last season to restore water into the Colorado River.  

Fan Controlled Football Raises $40M, New Team Owners Are NFT Collectors

By Andrew Cohen

Fan Controlled Football has raised a $40 million Series A led by blockchain gaming company Animoca Brands and crypto research firm Delphi Digital. The league, whose app lets fans call plays for their selected team to execute on the field, will double from four to eight teams in its second season starting April 16.

FCF also announced two new teams—The Bored Ape Yacht Club and The Gutter Cat Gang—will each be controlled by the communities that own their respective NFTs. The FCF’s upcoming nine-week season will also include new teams owned by retired NFL stars Tiki and Ronde Barber and musician Steve Aoki.

Last year’s inaugural FCF season generated 10 million live views on Twitch, while NFL stars such as Marshawn Lynch, Richard Sherman, Austin Ekeler, Dalvin Cook and rapper Quavo all owned teams. The league announced a global broadcast deal with DAZN last month and will soon unveil a new venue in Atlanta.