SEC Baseball Umpires Will be Monitored by TrackMan

By Andrew Cohen

TrackMan radar will track pitches during SEC baseball games this season to evaluate the accuracy of ball and strike calls made by home plate umpires. The technology will be used during all conference games and the SEC tournament. 

The TrackMan device uses a 3-D doppler radar to measure ball flight data. MLB installed TrackMan at Atlantic League stadiums in 2019 for the first trial of its automated ball-strike system. MLB has since replaced TrackMan’s radar system with Hawk-Eye’s optical cameras for its electronic strike zone, which will call balls and strikes in Triple-A games this season and be used to challenge calls in Low-A.

Pitch data from TrackMan will help the SEC train, evaluate and improve performance of the conference’s human umpires. TrackMan’s ball-tracking technology is also used by college baseball programs to evaluate potential high school recruits through the company’s partnership with Prep Baseball Report

“This is another innovative step to improving the accuracy and performance of SEC officiating,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said in a statement. 

HSBC Joins The Sandbox, Will Work With Its Sports Partners in the Metaverse

By Andrew Cohen

Blockchain-based video game The Sandbox has partnered with banking company HSBC to “take sports engagement to a new level in gaming metaverse,” the companies announced Wednesday. HSBC will buy a plot of virtual land in The Sandbox to interact with the game’s sports and esports communities.

“The metaverse is how people will experience Web3, the next generation of the Internet—using immersive technologies like augmented reality, virtual reality and extended reality,” Suresh Balaji, CMO of HSBC Asia-Pacific, said in a statement.  

HBSC’s existing sports sponsorships include deals with the Wimbledon tennis tournament, English soccer’s Tottenham Hotspur, the World Rugby Sevens Series and golf events such as the British Open and Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

More than 200 brands have deals to operate in The Sandbox—including Adidas, Warner Music Group, Gucci, Atari, Ubisoft and athletes such as Swiss tennis player Stan Wawrinka and Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Marco Verratti. The Sandbox is owned by Hong Kong-based Animoca Brands, which also made Olympic pin NFTs used in a mobile game launched by the IOC

HSBC is not the first bank make a metaverse deposit. JP Morgan opened a virtual lounge earlier this year in Decentraland, another digital world where users buy in-game real estate and perks with cryptocurrency. 

Animoca Brands partnered with Formula 1 in 2019 to launch F1 Delta Time, an Ethereum-based mobile game. The game shut down Wednesday as F1 did not renew its licensing deal with Animoca Brands. Users will effectively lose their NFTs purchased in the game. Animoca plans to provide those users with NFT cars from another racing game it operates, according to Decrypt

ESPN’s NCAA Women’s Basketball Final Four Broadcasts to Feature Second Spectrum Advanced Stats

By Andrew Cohen

ESPN will debut graphics powered by Second Spectrum’s optical tracking system during its broadcasts of the NCAA Women’s Final Four and National Championship basketball games. Such visualization will include real-time shot probabilities and shot distances, as well as special effects for three-pointers.

The network plans to offer the augmented feed as an alternate viewing option to ESPN’s main telecast of the games. ESPN says it will be the first live augmented video feed for women’s basketball.

Second Spectrum, which is owned by Genius Sports, is also providing advanced data graphics for Turner’s coverage of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. ESPN first used Second Spectrum to create its Marvel-themed NBA alternate broadcast last year. Second Spectrum’s AI camera system tracks data for the NBA, English Premier League and MLS.

Baseball’s New CBA Has Gambling Implications, as MLB Cannot Sell a Player’s Training Data

By Andrew Cohen

MLB’s new CBA blocks the league from selling a player’s biometric data tracked during training sessions, according to Mark Saxon of US Bets. The protective clause comes as sports betting companies increasingly seek data from wearables and optical camera systems to fuel their oddsmaking and prop bets. 

“It shall be illegal for Major League Baseball and any club to sell and/or license a player’s confidential medical information, personal biometric data, or any nonpublic data used to evaluate player performance in practices or training sessions,” reads the collective bargaining agreement. 

In 2017, Whoop became the first wearable device approved to be worn by players during MLB games. Leagues such as NASCAR, the PGA Tour and WTA have since struck deals to equip their athletes with Whoop’s wrist-worn device to have biometric data such as a player’s live heart rate appear during broadcasts. 

 “I think there is a world where you’re seeing heart rate data or recovery data leading into a game,” Whoop’s VP of performance science Kristin Holmes told SportTechie in 2020. “You can see heart rate data as a pro golfer approaches a putt, and fans betting on it in real time based on some of that biometric feedback.” Holmes will speak at next month’s State Of The Industry conference in NYC. 

MLB already has existing deals with gambling companies such as MGM Resorts and FanDuel to share in-game data from Statcast, the league’s player-tracking system powered by Hawk-Eye’s optical cameras. 

The new CBA also gives active MLB players the right to sign sponsorships with sports betting companies for the first time. Earlier this month, NHL star Connor McDavid signed with BetMGMthe first active player in any major U.S. pro league to endorse a regulated North American sportsbook.

As part of the new CBA, all MLB teams are required to set up a hotline to report sports betting-related threats made against players and their families. Last year, gambler Benjamin Tucker Patz pleaded guilty to sending Instagram messages that threatened to kill members of the Tampa Bay Rays after they lost a game. 

 This upcoming season will see MLB’s first connected in-venue sportsbooks operate at home stadiums for the Washington Nationals and Arizona Diamondbacks. Chicago’s Wrigley Field also plans to open a DraftKings Sportsbook in 2023.

Premier League Investigates 400 Cases of Online Abuse Against Players, Managers

By Andrew Cohen

The Premier League has opened investigations into more than 400 cases of online abuse over the past year, the English soccer league announced Tuesday. The cases span social media abuse towards players, managers, referees and their families. 

In June 2020, the Premier League launched an online abuse reporting system that let players and coaches notify the league’s rapid-response team if they received direct abusive messages on social media. Now, the league is making its reporting system available to fans, who can also report abuse directed at players, managers and match officials on social media. Each team’s website will have a link for fans to report such abuse and share any pertinent evidence. 

Claims are to be reviewed by the Premier League’s investigations team, which will then contact the club, social media companies and law enforcement before pursuing legal action. Anyone found guilty of abuse will be banned from all Premier League stadiums. 

About 75% of the Premier League’s online abuse investigations have been traced to instigators from outside the U.K. In July 2021, a 19-year-old from Singapore was sentenced to nine months probation for sending death threats on Instagram to Neal Maupay, who plays for EPL club Brighton & Hove Albion.

“There is a lot happening, but fundamentally, the social media companies have to do a lot more,” Wes Morgan, a recently retired Premier League player who now serves on the league’s Black Participants’ Advisory Group, said in a statement. 

MLB’s Automated Ball-Strike System Will Be Used to Challenge Human Calls During Select Low-A Games

By Andrew Cohen

MLB’s automated ball-strike system will be used to challenge the human home plate umpire’s calls during select Low-A Southeast games this upcoming season. Teams will be limited to three appeals per game, MLB announced Monday.

The new challenge system is part of several experimental rules MLB will test in the minors this season. Hawk-Eye’s AI cameras were used to call balls and strikes during Low-A Southeast games last year and will return this season. However, in select Low-A “Challenge Games,” human home plate umpires will call the strike zone while the pitcher, catcher and batter can challenge a given ball or strike call through appealing to ABS.

If the ABS rules the home plate umpire’s call was correct, the team will lose a challenge, according to Baseball America. Overturned calls will result in a team keeping their challenge.

MLB will also implement its ABS system to call balls and strikes for all Triple-A West games starting May 17. Human home plate umps will call the strike zone in Triple-A West games through May 15. In Triple-A East, all Charlotte Knights home games this season will see balls and strikes called by ABS.

At the big-league level, MLBPA’s recent labor proposal to MLB did not give MLB the right to implement robot umpires in the majors through the 2023 season. Other experimental rules being tested in the minors this season include pitch clocks and the size of bases increasing from 15 to 18 inches. Shift restrictions at Double-A, High-A and Low-A will require a minimum of four defensive players on the infield, with at least two infielders positioned on either side of second base. 

NFL, Skillz Select Four Finalists for Mobile Esports Game

By Andrew Cohen

The NFL and mobile games developer Skillz have announced four finalists for their inaugural Game Developer Challenge. Up to three of the four finalists will be chosen to launch their NFL mobile esports game during the 2022 season.

Vancouver-based Session Games, Illinois-based Play Mechanix, California-based Brainstorm Games and Illinois-based igamebank were the four finalists selected to move onto the next development phase using the Skillz software development kit (SDK). As many as three selected winners will get a three-year sublicense to use the NFL and all 32 teams’ logos in their game and be promoted on NFL channels. Skillz will award $50,000 for each winner to spend on user acquisition. 

“We look forward to providing football fans around the world with a fresh, competitive mobile gaming experience that allows players to interact with the NFL brand right at their fingertips,” George Petro, president of Play Mechanix, a subsidiary of arcade game company Raw Thrills, said in a statement.

The NFL originally invested in Skillz in 2019, then announced a multi-year gaming partnership with the company in Feb. 2021. Skillz and the NFL’s developer challenge is only open to skill-based games and gameplay must not include 11-on-11 simulation, as those rights are covered by EA’s Madden NFL series. 

NIL Marketplace MOGL Wins SXSW Startup Pitch Contest

By Joe Lemire

NIL marketplace MOGL won the Social & Culture category during the 14th annual SXSW Pitch Event held this week in Austin, Texas. Winners from all nine of the contest’s categories will each receive $4,000 and increased exposure to potential investors in attendance at SXSW. 

MOGL is a platform that helps pair athletes with businesses, brands and community initiatives for partnerships—both pro athletes and especially college athletes who can now take advantage of name, image and likeness deals. The company emphasizes not just the highest-demand athletes and top earners, but also lower-profile athletes who can connect with local brands. 

Earlier this month, MOGL began a collaboration with sports apparel maker Vintage Brand to help athletes create their own apparel and merchandise. MOGL was founded by former Notre Dame quarterback Brandon Wimbush and his classmate Ayden Syal; Vintage Brand was co-founded by former Notre Dame baseball player Chad Hartvigson. 

Former Disney CEO Bob Iger Invests in Avatar Company Genies

By Andrew Cohen

Former Disney chairman and CEO Bob Iger has invested in Genies, a digital avatar company that has licensing deals with the MLBPA, NBPA and NFLPA. Iger will join the company’s board of directors; financial terms of his investment were not disclosed. 

Genies announced partnerships in 2019 with the MLBPA and NFLPA and with the NBPA in 2020 to create digital avatars of players in each league. Dapper Labs also partnered with Genies last year to launch a “wearable NFT marketplace” that lets athletes and celebrities sell NFTs of digital goods and clothing. Fans can buy the digital goods to customize outfits of their avatars, which appear in apps such as iMessage, Instagram, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp.

“I’ve always been drawn to the intersection between technology and art, and Genies provides unique and compelling opportunities to harness the power of that combination to enable new forms of creativity, expression and communication,” Iger said in a statement. 

Genies also makes avatars and NFTs of music artists through its deals with Warner Music Group and Universal Music Group. Investors in Genies include sports talent agency CAA and NFL star Ndamukong Suh. A startup pitch competition hosted by the NFLPA in 2019 included Genies as a presenter. 

PGA Tour Debuts Mixed Reality as a 3D-Animated Players Championship Trophy Appears on NBC

By Andrew Cohen

The Players Championship trophy came to life this week during NBC’s broadcast of the PGA Tour event. The Tour and NBC partnered with The Famous Group to animate the trophy, which marked the first mixed reality segment to appear on a golf broadcast.

Throughout the week, the golden golfer dismounted from his trophy stand and took swings on the iconic 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass. On Saturday, the trophy mimicked the mannerisms of Tiger Woods’ during his famous “Better than most” putt at on the 17th hole at the 2001 Players Championship. After the trophy sunk that putt, it delivered Tiger’s iconic fist pump.

How ‘bout that, huh? 🐅

— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) March 13, 2022

“Mixing this type of technology into the broadcast is huge for us to attract a new demo, and a demo outside of golf who may just be more interested in the XR space [extended reality],” says Anne Detlefsen, the PGA Tour’s senior director of digital content. “It’s hopefully a very shareable moment outside of our broadcasts across all of our Tour platforms and with our partners.”

The PGA Tour used last week’s event as a trial before possibly adding mixed reality activations for this year’s FedEx Cup Playoffs and the Presidents Cup. The Famous Group has previously created mixed reality activations for the Baltimore Ravens, Carolina Panthers and for Nickelodeon’s NFL wild card broadcasts. 

Inter Miami Adds Recycling Rewards; Fans at Stadium Can Exchange Bottles for Jerseys and More

By Andrew Cohen

MLS club Inter Miami has added four Heineken-branded reverse vending machines at its DRK PNK Stadium. The machines were built by Cycle, a technology startup whose app rewards users for recycling empty bottles. 

Fans insert their empty bottles into Cycles’s reverse vending machines and then scan a QR code on the machine with their phone. Their phone will display their rewards for their recycled items, which can include Inter Miami merchandise, team jerseys, exclusive stadium promotions and Heineken’s 0.0 non-alcoholic beer. DRK PNK Stadium’s video boards and PA announcements will promote the recycling program throughout Inter Miami home games. 

Cycle was co-founded by two University of Miami students and was a winner at the 2020 Miami Herald Startup Pitch Competition. The four reverse vending machines at Miami’s DRK PNK Stadium are placed near sections 120/121 and 103/104, with two machines next to the Heineken Bar. Cycle’s machines also contain sensors to automatically reject contaminated beverage containers. 

David Beckham-owned Inter Miami named Heineken a founding sponsor in 2019.  The club’s partnership with Cycle supports Heineken’s Brew a Better World sustainability program. “This initiative seeks to eliminate the barriers fans may face at sporting events by encouraging and making it easier to make the responsible choice to recycle,” Josephine Bertrams, SVP and chief corporate affairs officer at Heineken USA, said in a statement.