Genius Sports Joins March Madness, Inks Global Data Distribution Deal With Mid-American Conference

By Andrew Cohen

The Mid-American Conference has struck a data deal with Genius Sports, becoming the first NCAA conference to have a league-wide global data distribution partner. Second Spectrum, the Genius Sports-owned optical camera tracking system, will deploy its system for this week’s MAC men’s basketball championship at Rocket Mortgage Field House in Cleveland as part of the deal. 

Genius’s data collection will fuel free-to-play games around MAC competitions, as well as stats integrations across MAC media channels. Current NCAA rules prevent Genius from selling MAC data to sportsbooks, although MAC schools will pursue sponsorships with sports betting companies. 

Genius signed a 10-year deal with the NCAA in May 2018 shortly after the Supreme Court overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA). The MAC is the first conference to individually partner with Genius.  

The MAC will also use Genius’s betting data monitoring services and provide educational workshops to MAC players, officials and athletic departments. The betting integrity component is notable after Genius recently flagged mobile bets placed by Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley and alerted the NFL, leading to his suspension by the league. Genius signed a betting data distribution deal with the NFL last year. 

Just as the Denver Broncos Trade for Russell Wilson, They Partner With WaitTime to Track Fan Movement

By Andrew Cohen

Crowd monitoring company WaitTime has announced the Denver Broncos as its first NFL team partner. WaitTime’s computer vision cameras have been installed near gates at Empower Field at Mile High and the data will help inform the team’s stadium operations decisions regarding area capacity and crowd management.  

WaitTime pairs its cameras with the Cisco Meraki network, Intel Xeon Scalable processors and its own A.I. algorithms. Security teams can use its dashboard to view the number of people in a given area and determine whether each person is passing through or waiting in line, among other metrics. The Broncos installed WaitTime at some gates last season and plan to expand to more gates next season —just as newly-acquired quarterback Russell Wilson is making his Denver debut.

“Early WaitTime data is indicating that at gates where we have newer scanning devices and metal detectors, wait times to get into the game are shorter,” Russ Trainor, the Broncos SVP of information technology, said in a statement 

WaitTime’s other partners include the Los Angeles Dodgers, Philadelphia Phillies, Buffalo Sabres and Miami Heat. The Heat use WaitTime’s fan-facing tech to display average wait times for bathrooms and concession stands throughout concourses at FTX Arena, according to Sports Business Journal

ESPN will debut a season-long WNBA fantasy game ahead of the league’s 2022 season tip-off on May 6. It will mark ESPN’s first season-long fantasy game for a major women’s sport.

The new season-long fantasy leagues come after ESPN’s 2021 WNBA Finals broadcasts had the highest average viewership for a WNBA Finals since 2017. The network will air 27 WNBA regular season games this year, with sister channel ABC showing nine.

ESPN+ subscribers will be able to play in exclusive WNBA fantasy leagues. The WNBA, which raised $75 million last month, now adds a season-long fantasy option for fans in addition to the betting already made available through the league’s deals with PointsBet, FanDuel and BetMGM. The WNBPA also partnered in August with Gaming Society, a betting-focused media outlet co-founded by Kevin Garnett. 

Athlete NFT platform Game Coin will make crypto fan tokens for 61 LSU student athletes through a new deal brokered by NIL marketplace MatchPoint Connection. Game Coin, which is based in Baton Rouge, lists its cryptocurrency on the PancakeSwap, BitMart and LBank crypto exchanges.

LSU athletes will be able to sell their NFTs on Game Coin’s marketplace that is expected to launch this summer. Athletes joining Game Coin include LSU baseball’s Jacob Berry and Gavin Dugas, men’s basketball players Tari Eason and Darius Days, women’s basketball’s Alexis Morris and Khayla Pointer and LSU gymnast Sarah Edwards.

Game Coin says its cryptocurrency has a market capitalization of $1 billion since June 2021. The startup plans to also develop a social media platform for athletes to post their highlights, training regimens and stats. 

Scorecard App Golf GameBook Raises $3.2 Million

By Joe Lemire

Digital scoring and social community app Golf GameBook has announced a $3.27 million funding round. The round was fueled by a series of strategic investors, including Carl Manneh, founder of Minecraft; Fredrik Österberg, co-founder of Evolution; Rustan Panday, investor of Storytel; Martti Aarnio-Wihuri, board member of Wihuri Group; and Pii Ketvel, CEO of MARCOL Capital Europe.   

Headquartered in Finland, Golf GameBook supports 25 scoring formats and recently passed 1 million global users. Half of the users are in Scandinavia, which is a growing hotbed for golf tech with Golf GameBook following the lead of TrackMan, deWiz and others.  

Golf GameBook, which previously partnered with the Swedish Golf Federation, helps stage virtual events and challenges and uses GPS to help golfers track shots and analyze their play inside its mobile app. 

Online Cycling App Zwift Is New Title Sponsor of the UCI’s Paris–Roubaix Femmes

By Andrew Cohen

Online cycling platform Zwift has a new four-year deal to become the presenting partner of the Paris-Roubaix Femmes. The annual race will be known as Paris-Roubaix Femmes avec Zwift, with this year’s event being held April 16 in France. 

The sponsorship expands Zwift’s investment in women’s cycling as the gamified fitness company will also be the presenting partner of this year’s inaugural Tour de France Femmes in July. The inaugural Paris–Roubaix Femmes was held last year on the UCI Women’s World Tour as an equivalent to the men’s Paris–Roubaix that’s been held since 1896.

 Zwfit, which raised $450 million in 2020, makes a fitness app that wirelessly connects to a user’s indoor bicycle trainer or treadmill to have their real-world movements translate on-screen as they compete against other users in Zwift’s virtual cycling and running worlds. Zwift held a virtual Tour de France in 2020 and hosts esports races for the UCI, IOC, World Triathlon and the Collins Cup.

Recur’s NFTU Marketplace Adds Ja Morant, Klay Thompson, Carmelo Anthony and More NBA Stars

By Joe Lemire

NBA stars Ja Morant and Carmelo Anthony are among the new partners of NFTU, a college-centric platform for non-fungible tokens that will launch on March 14. 

Blockchain tech company Recur announced the creation of NFTU last fall and added partnerships with the Pac-12 Conference as well as athletic programs at LSU, Syracuse, Florida State, Michigan State, Texas Tech and West Virginia. Learfield, which works with some 180 schools, recently began collaborating with Recur. New York Mets owner Steve Cohen is also an investor in Recur. 

NFTU will open a day after Selection Sunday for this year’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament with a collection called Tip Off. The weekly NFT drops will feature more than 100 past and present college basketball stars including—besides Morant and Anthony—NBA players Blake Griffin, Jaylen Brown, Klay Thompson, Bradley Beal and current Baylor University forward NaLyssa Smith. 

College Athletes Get TikTok NIL Support Through INFLCR

By Joe Lemire

TikTok is partnering with INFLCR, the Teamworks-owned brand building firm, to help more college student-athletes capitalize on name, image and likeness deals.  The deal follows INFLCR’s recent partnership with Meta to share brand monetization tips for college athletes on Instagram and Facebook. 

As part of the three-year agreement, TikTok and INFLCR will offer athletes education about social media best practices and NIL opportunities, as well as helping monetize and grow their TikTok accounts. The two companies will hold workshops on college campuses to connect directly with athletes on the process. 

Penn State wide receiver KeAndre Lambert-Smith, Auburn gymnast Morgan Leigh Oldham and Kentucky women’s basketball guard Rhyne Howard are among the athletes already using INFLCR’s management software to share content on TikTok. 

WSC Sports to Produce Automated Highlights for Pac-12 Football, Basketball

By Andrew Cohen

AI video highlights company WSC Sports is partnering with the Pac-12 to produce automated highlights for the conference’s football and basketball teams. Student athletes will be able to leverage the highlights for their own NIL opportunities as part of the Pac-12’s NIL Licensing Program.

The partnership announced Monday builds on a pilot ran during the 2021 football season, when the Pac-12 used WSC Sports’ software to create highlights for its Facebook page. The result was a 46% increase in minutes viewed of video highlights and a 131% increase in people reached.

WSC Sports is producing highlights shown during Pac-12 football and men’s and women’s basketball broadcasts, as well as the conference’s social media channels, and the Pac-12 Now app. The new deal is part of a broader effort for WSC Sports to expand across college sports after the company raised $100 million last month. Its pro-level partners include the NBA, NHL, NASCAR and MLS.

MLB Players Rebuff Robo Umps for 2023 Season, but Willing to Accept Pitch Clock

By Andrew Cohen

MLB wants the option to implement its automated strike zone for the 2023 season, but the MLBPA omitted robot umpires from its offer presented to the league during Sunday’s collective bargaining negotiations, according to Jon Heyman of MLB Network.  

While the robotic umps were effectively rejected by the MLBPA, Heyman reports that the union is willing to agree to let MLB ban shifts, implement a pitch clock and make bases larger for the 2023 season so long as the players receive at least 45 days’ notice. The league’s desired pitch clock would last 14 seconds with bases empty and 19 seconds with a runner on, according to ESPN

The league is already set to trial the automated ball strike (ABS) system during Triple-A games this year, so the system could feasibly fit into MLB’s timeline for use in the big leagues as soon as 2023. Powered by Hawk-Eye’s optical tracking system, ABS was used in Low-A games last year. MLB’s most recent bargaining agreement with the Umpires Association, which was agreed upon in late 2019 and runs through the 2024 season, includes cooperation for ABS in the majors. 

MLB has already canceled the first two series of the upcoming season. Outside of potential rule changes, the league and players association reportedly remain far apart on economic issues, leading to the possibility of more games being eliminated.  

“The Players Association chose to come back to us with a proposal that was worse than Monday night and was not designed to move the process forward. On some issues, they even went backwards. Simply put, we are deadlocked,” MLB spokesperson Glen Caplin said Sunday, according to The Athletic

Crypto Exchange OKX Enters Sports With Manchester City Sponsorship

By Andrew Cohen

Manchester City has partnered with OKX, a cryptocurrency exchange based in Malta. The multi-year deal marks OKX’s first partnership in sports and will span Manchester City men’s and women’s teams, as well as the club’s esports operations.

OKX is the second largest crypto exchange in the world by daily trading volume, behind only Binance, according to data from Coin Gecko. The company will receive branding inside Man City’s Etihad Stadium and Etihad Academy Stadium. 

Manchester City is separately creating a virtual recreation of Etihad Stadium in partnership with Sony, while Socios launched a crypto fan token for the Premier League club last year. OKX’s new deal comes after Manchester City suspended its partnership with crypto startup 3Key Technologies in November after media outlets reported that the company had a vague and minimal online presence.