Professional Fighters League Extends ESPN Broadcast Deal
The Professional Fighters League has reached a multi-year contract extension with ESPN to expand media rights for the network. The new deal, which will include broadcasting on ESPN linear networks and ESPN+, will last through the end of 2023. The PFL signed its last deal with ESPN in 2019.
ESPN’s networks will carry the majority of PFL regular season events, as well as all of the 2022 PFL Playoffs — a tournament format unique to the PFL among top MMA leagues. ESPN will also carry pre- and post- fight coverage on its networks and create PFL-specific content. ESPN’s coverage of the PFL under the new deal will begin April 20 with the 2022 PFL Regular Season kickoff.
In recent years, the PFL has received investments from Legends, an investment group founded by the ownership of the Dallas Cowboys and New York Yankees, as well as a $65 million round led by Ares Capital, Knighthead Capital and Elysian Park Ventures, the investment arm of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Meta Leaps Into VR Deal With Overtime Elite; Its Oculus Headsets to Stream Wednesday’s Dunk Show
Meta has signed a virtual reality content partnership with Overtime Elite, the professional basketball league started by sports media company Overtime. Meta’s Oculus headsets will host a VR stream of Wednesday night’s Overtime Elite dunk contest.
OTE began its inaugural season in October, playing most games at its facility in Atlanta. The league’s three teams consist of 16-to-20-year-old players being paid six-figure salaries as an alternative to NCAA college basketball. Meta will now sponsor four “OTE Dunk Shows” starting with Wednesday night’s contest that can be viewed through Meta’s Oculus Quest, Quest 2 and Rift headsets.
Meta’s Oculus headsets will also let fans observe morning workouts, team breakfasts and other behind-the-scenes content from OTE athletes. Quest 2 has been named the official VR headset of OTE as part of the new agreement.
Fans with Oculus headsets can open Oculus TV or download the Horizon Venues app to watch OTE’s VR content. Facebook (now known as Meta) debuted its Venues app in 2020 for NASCAR’s Supermarket Heroes 500 race.
Overtime raised $80 million in April to develop its basketball league with financing from Jeff Bezos, Drake and NBA stars such as Devin Booker and Trae Young. The NBA also has a partnership with Meta to stream games in virtual reality for League Pass subscribers.
U.S. Youth Soccer’s National League Elite 64 Players to Perform in StatSports’ Wearable Technology
US Youth Soccer has partnered with STATSports to make the GPS provider’s wearable technology available to participants in the new USYS National League Elite 64.
STATSports previously struck a landmark deal with US Soccer to provide its Apex wearable to the men’s and women’s national teams, as well as youth development programs. A number of national team stars—Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, Tim Weah and Tyler Adams—are now brand ambassadors. USYS is the largest member of the US Soccer Federation and touts itself as the largest youth sports organization in the world with nearly three million players.
The Elite 64 is a new program launching in Fall 2022 for the top 64 boys’ and top 64 girls’ clubs in six age groups: 13U, 14U, 15U, 16U, 17U and 18/19U. The data from the wearables will enable more objective comparisons across teams and leagues and can be shared for college and professional recruiting.
Brazilian Fantasy Soccer Startup Rei do Pitaco Banks $32 Million Series A
Brazil-based daily fantasy soccer site Rei do Pitaco has raised a $32 million Series A round. The company says its funding round is the largest by a sports technology company in Brazil.
More than 1.5 million fans have registered for Rei do Pitaco, which lets users draft players from various top soccer leagues to compete in daily fantasy contests. Investors in the Series A included D1 Capital Partners, Kaszek, Bullpen Capital, Left Lane, DST Global and Globo Ventures—which is the venture capital arm of Latin American media conglomerate Grupo Globo.
The new funding brings Rei do Pitaco’s total investment to $38 million. The company currently has 75 employees and will allocate its funds towards hiring new staff and customer acquisition costs ahead of global soccer’s biggest event—November’s FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
Whoop Teams Up With MaxOne to Amplify the Wearable’s Readiness, Recovery and Sleep Manifesto
Whoop, a leading fitness and wellness wearable, has partnered with digital coaching platform MaxOne for direct data integration in order to provide wearers with personalized recommendations across Whoop’s three areas of focus: readiness, recovery and sleep.
Core to this new experience is the Own It coaching system that MaxOne acquired last October. Former NHL performance coach Justin Roethlingshoefer started Own It to provide habit coaching based on physiological data, especially heart-rate variability, a readiness indicator dependent on stress, sleep, exercise, nutrition and more.
MaxOne’s Own It includes an app for athletes and offers a coach consulting service. The collaboration with Whoop was piloted with the University of Miami football team last fall. Among the reported results were a 27% increase in total sleep and 20% increase in HRV, as well as reductions in time missed due to illness and injury.
“The whole world really can use the knowledge of understanding how my daily habits around hydration, nutrition, sleep affect my health and well-being and how I show up for my job every day,” MaxOne founder and CEO Jason Mejeur told SportTechie in October. MaxOne serves more than 650,000 athletes across 26 sports.
eBay Expands Authentication Service to Include Trading Cards
eBay will now offer authentication services for trading cards sold on its platform through an expansion of the company’s Authenticity Guarantee program. The service has been available for sneakers, watches and handbags, but will now include all ungraded sports and non-sports cards sold for at least $750 on eBay in the U.S.
The move aims to strengthen eBay’s position as a marketplace for trading cards after card transactions accounted for $2 billion on eBay during the first half of 2021. The company says that an average of one sports card was bought every second on eBay in 2020. Later this year, eBay plans to expand its Authenticity Guarantee service to all graded, autograph and jersey patch cards sold for $250+.
eBay’s authentication program will see sellers ship their eligible cards to the third–party Certified Collectibles Group to inspect the card’s physical quality, a process that includes computer-driven magnification and x-ray fluorescence. A QR code is then placed on the card’s packaging and shipped to the buyer, who can scan the QR code with their mobile phone to view the proof of authentication details.
“More time at home has been a boon for collecting and, as hobbies turn into investments, authentication services in categories of high value have become a priority for enthusiasts and hobbyists alike,” Dawn Block, VP of collectibles, electronics and home at eBay, said in a statement.
New Jersey Grants First Betting Approval to Esports Company
New Jersey has issued a transactional waiver to Esports Entertainment Group to permit the company to begin accepting bets in the state. The company is the first esports betting operator — meaning it strictly offers wagers on video games, but not traditional sports — to receive regulatory approval from NJ’s Division of Gaming Enforcement.
Esports Entertainment Group’s VIE.gg online betting site will take bets from Garden State-based users on esports competitions spanning titles such as Call of Duty, CS:GO, League of Legends and DOTA 2. EEG’s CEO Grant Johnson estimated that global betting on esports will reach $205 billion by 2027.
EEG is publicly listed on the Nasdaq under its stock symbol GMBL. The company partnered with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2020 to host Madden esports events. New Jersey-based esports team Dignitas, owned by Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment, formed a partnership with EEG in 2019. HBSE also owns the New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia 76ers.
Blockchain-Based Sports Betting Exchange Aver Raises $7.5 Million in Seed Funding
Aver, a sports betting exchange built on the Solana blockchain, has raised a $7.5 million seed funding round. The company’s peer-to-peer betting platform is expected to launch in the second quarter of this year.
Peer-to-peer wagering lets users create bets and set their own odds while other gamblers can choose to accept or reject those odds, serving as an alternative to traditional wagers set by bookmakers. Venture capital firm Jump Crypto led Aver’s seed round alongside participation from Mirana Ventures, Susquehanna International Group, Genesis Block Ventures, Serum Ventures, Blue Pool Capital, MEXC, Gate.io, PetRock Capital and the Solar Eco Fund.
Leading cryptocurrency exchange FTX invested in decentralized sports betting startup BetDEX in November. BetDex’s platform is also built over the Solana blockchain, and its co-founders include former FanDuel CEO Nigel Eccles.
LaMelo Ball Partners With Esports App One Up, Launches MB1 Gaming Brand
Charlotte Hornets star point guard LaMelo Ball has launched his own esports brand MB1 Gaming in partnership with esports tournament platform One Up. MB1 Gaming will host esports tournaments on One Up, while Ball will offer exclusive content and merchandise giveaways through the One Up app.
MB1 Gaming’s first event on One Up will be an NBA 2K tournament sponsored by Puma on Feb. 5. Gamers must be at least 18 years old to sign up for the free tournament, which will offer $25,000 in prizes. The four finalists will compete in Cleveland during NBA All Star festivities on Feb. 18, and all finalists will receive a pair of Ball’s Puma MB.01 signature sneakers.
One Up says more than 250,000 users have registered for its platform, which hosts tournaments for NBA 2K, Madden, Call of Duty, FIFA, NHL and Fortnite. Former South Plains College basketball player Brandon Pitts is the founder of One Up, whose investors include NBA players Victor Oladipo, Terry Rozier and Quinn Cook, as well as Cleveland Browns defensive back Denzel Ward.
Concacaf Adds VAR to World Cup Qualifying Matches Starting This Week
Concacaf, the governing body for soccer in North and Central America and the Caribbean, will implement video assistant referee (VAR) for its remaining World Cup qualifier matches. Those matches will be played this week through March.
World Cup qualifiers for national teams in Concacaf began in March 2021, with the Qatar World Cup scheduled to begin in November of 2022. Video review has not been used by Concacaf in any of those contests, which drew critical comments from U.S. men’s national team coach Gregg Berhalter in September.
“That’s where the modern game is going,” Berhalter told the AP. “We want to be right up there with the rest of the world, our region, in terms of the quality and the technology. And we need to find a way to get that done.”
Concacaf also announced it will add VAR to games for this year’s women’s championship, men’s and women’s under-20 championships and its Champions League. VAR made its World Cup debut at the 2018 men’s tournament in Russia and was again used at the 2019 women’s World Cup in France.
Wynn Resorts Intends to Sell Its Sports Betting App, New York Post Reports
Las Vegas-based casino giant Wynn Resorts is looking to sell its online sports betting unit Wynn Interactive for $500 million, according to the New York Post. The asking price is significantly lower than the $3 billion valuation that Wynn Resorts assigned to its Wynn Interactive unit last year, the Post reported.
Fanatics and Penn Interactive were mentioned by The Post as possible suitors for Wynn Interactive, which includes the WynnBet mobile sports betting app. NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal joined Wynn as a mobile sports betting ambassador in August; the company is also an official gaming partner of the Las Vegas Raiders.
The Post reported that exorbitant marketing costs—essential to acquiring customers—is a main reason Wynn is looking to abandon its sports betting business. David Katz, a gaming analyst at Jefferies, told The Post that it costs between $300 and $500 on average to acquire an online gaming customer.
“The market is really not sustainable right now,” outgoing Wynn Resorts CEO Mike Maddox said on a Nov. 10 earnings call. “Competitors are spending too much to get customers. And the economics are just not something that we’re going to participate in.”