Dick’s Sporting Goods Enters Metaverse With Launch of Virtual World on Roblox

By Andrew Cohen

Dick’s Sporting Goods is launching a new virtual world on Roblox called “School of Sport” as part of the retail company’s back-to-school campaign. The virtual environment was created to mimic a real-world high school and will contain a digital storefront where users can acquire digital shoes, apparel, and accessories to outfit their avatars.

The digital clothing can be acquired for free in exchange for style points, Roblox’s in-game currency that users collect through completing challenges and obstacles courses. Virtual spaces at Dick’s Sporting Goods High on Roblox include a cafeteria social hub, hallways, gymnasium, field, basketball court, and locker room. Users will also be able to collect virtual school supplies for their avatars such as notebooks and water bottles.

“It is important for us to continue evolving the way we engage with consumers. We are excited to make our entrance into the Metaverse with ‘School of Sport,’ creating a space to share sport and style while also connecting with our younger athletes,” Ed Plummer, CMO at DICK’S Sporting Goods, said in a statement.

Dick’s joins Nike as leading sports equipment and apparel brands to have launched their own virtual world on Roblox after the Swoosh debuted “Nikeland” in November. Roblox has also hosted in-game activations from the NFL, UEFA, NASCAR and Wimbledon.

Study Finds Repetitive Head Impacts as ‘Definitive Cause’ of CTE

By Joe Lemire

New research from a consortium of nine research universities in collaboration with the Concussion Legacy Foundation has concluded that repetitive head impacts are “a definitive cause” of chronic traumatic encephalopathy. CTE is a degenerative brain disease that can only be diagnosed through a post-mortem brain exam. 

Though the CDC and the NFL previously had acknowledged a causal relationship between the two, many influential sporting groups had not, including FIFA, World Rugby, the IOC, NHL and NCAA. The paper was published by the journal Frontiers in Neurology.

These researchers, which included academics from Harvard and Boston University, found that previously published independent studies from the US Department of Defense, BU and the Mayo Clinic indicated that contact sports athletes were 68 times more likely to have developed CTE than those that didn’t. The group also employed the Bradford Hill criteria—a system of assessing causal relationships that had been developed by a pioneering investigator of smoking and lung cancer work—and found that there was “robust evidence” in all nine benchmarks showing that repetitive head trauma was a cause of CTE.

Many sporting bodies and technology companies have been actively collaborating to research the frequency and magnitude of head impacts in their practices and competitions. The NFL allocated $60 million for its Engineering Roadmap for player health and safety, which has included the development of sensor-laden mouthguards, the creation of a Digital Athlete in conjunction with AWS and the distribution of grant money to catalyze helmet innovation. World Rugby has partnered with Prevent Biometrics, also the maker of an instrumented mouthguard, on several projects.

Brentford FC Launching Streaming Service Called BuzzBox, Offering On-Demand Content and Audio Commentary

By Joe Lemire

Premier League club Brentford FC is launching its own over-the-top streaming service called BuzzBox to offer on-demand content and audio commentary to subscribers. 

StreamAMG was selected to provide the underlying video technology, including its core product, MediaPlatform, to deliver streams to a wide number of devices. The broader company is based in London, but StreamAMG’s sports division is housed in the MediaCityUK

Development in Manchester. Its website notes that more than 75% of Premier League clubs use StreamAMG, as do Paris Saint-Germain, Roma and Premiership Rugby.

The launch of BuzzBox follows an upgrade to the Brentford Bees’ website, which will also include a new ticketing experience in the coming weeks. Brentford, which was founded in 1889, ascended to the Premier League for the first time last season and finished 13th to remain in the top tier of English football.

USGA Adds Apple Watch Integration to Golf Handicap Information Network App for Shot-Tracking Metrics, More

By Andrew Cohen

The USGA’s Golf Handicap Information Network (GHIN) mobile app has added Apple Watch integration so that users can view shot-tracking metrics and on-course distances on their smartwatch while golfing. GHIN app subscribers with the Apple Watch will be able to view data on their number of putts, approach shot accuracy and driving accuracy, and distances to key points on holes such as the green, bunkers and penalty areas.

Members of golf associations around the world can subscribe to the USGA’s GHIN mobile app for $39.99 per year. Last year, the app added features such as GPS, course maps and green-reading technology.

Other tools in the app include a course handicap calculator and score history tracking. The USGA expects to add games and multi-player scorekeeping to its GHIN app later this year.

Cisco Releases Connected Scarf Wearable to Track Fan Performance Biometrics

By Joe Lemire

The experience of sports fandom has often seemed to be as physically demanding as competing in the games themselves, and whether that notion is true or not may soon be answered as Cisco is introducing the Connected Scarf—quite possibly the first wearable to track fan performance. 

Cisco, which is the official technology partner of City Football Group, has partnered on the development of a tech-laden scarf that can track a wearer’s biometrics. A sensor from EmotiBit is stitched into the scarf to capture data on a fan’s heart rate, temperature, movement, stress and blood flow.

The Connected Scarf will be introduced to Manchester City fans and other global clubs. The data will help Cisco and the clubs better understand fan behavior and potentially inform new fan experiences.

Verizon Business Hosting 5G Innovation Sessions at Atlanta Hawks’ State Farm Arena

By Joe Lemire

Verizon Business is hosting a series of 5G Innovation Sessions, beginning with a demo and panel at the Atlanta Hawks’ home venue, State Farm Arena, on Wednesday, July 27. 

The event will feature speakers from the Hawks, Ericsson and Verizon Business and showcase 5G ultra-wideband and mobile edge computer technologies. Among the exhibition topics are near real-time crowd analytics, opt-in facial recognition for ticketing and autonomous shopping. Future 5G Innovation Sessions events include stops in Houston, Boston, Los Angeles, New York and Phoenix.

Verizon Business’s head of sports and entertainment for North America, Brian Gorney, will be a speaker. Two c-level Hawks executives—EVP and CRO Andrew Saltzman and CIO and CTO Kim Rometo—will also participate. ABC News technology contributor Stephanie Humphrey will host.

Verizon has a long-term partnership with the NFL and the NHL centered on deployment of its 5G network and has expanded its reach to more than 60 sports venues, including an innovative collaboration with the NBA’s Phoenix Suns around athlete performance and fan engagement.

Fantasy Sports App Underdog Raises $35 Million Series B Funding Round

By Andrew Cohen

Fantasy sports app Underdog has raised a $35 million Series B funding round that will be used to fuel its expansion into licensed sports betting. BlackRock and Acies Investments led the funding round for Underdog, which now values itself at $485 million.

On top of its existing fantasy sports app, Underdog plans to build sports betting products over the next year and hire more than 100 new employees. The company raised $10 million last year from notable investors such as NBA stars Kevin Durant and Trae Young, NFL stars Odell Beckham Jr. and Jared Goff, and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.

Underdog’s season-long fantasy football tournament held last NFL season had a $10 million prize pool. Chris Grove, a gambling industry analysis for the firm Eilers & Krejcik Gaming, is also a co-founding partner at sports betting-focused venture capital firm Acies Investments.

“While the typical sportsbook is spending over $500 to acquire a customer, Underdog is bringing in new users for a fraction of that. Underdog’s product is leading to competitive advantages as Underdog’s customer acquisition and retention success is best in class,” Grove said in a statement.

VR Hockey Training App Sense Arena Partners With Boston College, Arizona State University

By Andrew Cohen

Sense Arena, a virtual reality ice hockey training platform that works with five NHL teams, has announced two new collegiate partnerships with Boston College and Arizona State University. Both BC’s men’s and women’s hockey teams will now use Sense Arena during practice, while ASU’s deal makes Sense Arena the cognitive training partner of the Sun Devils men’s hockey team.

Boston College and ASU join Harvard, Cornell, Northeastern and Quinnipiac as the six NCAA Division I schools partnered with Sense Arena. Players wear an Oculus VR headset to access Sense Arena’s app that simulates a variety of hockey drills for skills such as passing, shooting, reaction time, checking and goaltending. Players wearing the headset hold a hockey stick mounted with Sense Arena’s sensor so that their real-life stick movements transfer within the training game. Players on the Arizona Coyotes have used Sense Arena to help them train while rehabbing injuries, and the company’s other NHL partners include the New Jersey Devils, LA Kings, Las Vegas Golden Knights.

“We have much more usage from the younger athletes who are looking for an edge to make the final step to become pros,” Sense Arena founder and CEO Bob Tetiva told SportTechie. “From a marketing and business perspective, obviously you want to have the NHL contracts, it creates credibility. But from the athletic perspective, it is even more important to bring the technology to the college teams and to high schools [because] this is where we can really influence their development. And then it will benefit in a couple of years when these guys sign their NHL contracts, they will have the routine and be happily using our system on a continuous basis.”

Sense Arena expects to add a sixth NHL partner ahead of the upcoming season and the company raised $3 million in May to fuel expansion of its VR cognitive training products into other sports. Prague-based Sense Arena also plans to develop virtual reality-based entertainment games across multiple sports to complement its cognitive training products.

BC will receive four Sense Arena systems and ASU will receive two to start. Sense Arena is currently only available for Meta’s Oculus headsets, but Tetitva expects to soon expand compatibility to headsets from PlayStation, Apple, and Pico, which is owned by TikTok’s parent company ByteDance.

“Everybody’s looking forward to what Apple’s going to do. There are rumors that they should come up with their headsets at the beginning of 2023, which from the marketing standpoint doesn’t really make sense to miss the Christmas market,” Tetiva says. “But let’s see. We know from history that whenever they put something out there, it has really elevated the technology to the next level. So I completely understand their standpoint that they want to bring a highly advanced solution. And then we will just adopt to that.”

Whoop Cuts 15% of Workforce, Citing ‘New Challenges and Uncertainty’

By Joe Lemire

Sports tech unicorn Whoop laid off 15% of its corporate staff late last week amid departmental reorganization, citing “new challenges and uncertainty” in the current macro environment and the need to build “a durable business that is able to withstand whatever economic climate we find ourselves in.” 

A human performance data company, Whoop collects and analyzes key physiological metrics such as sleep and heart rate and computes its proprietary strain and recovery scores to guide fitness and wellness. The company has raised more than $400 million since its founding in 2012, including a $100 million Series E round in Oct. 2020 and a $200 million Series F in Aug. 2021, which gave the company a $3.6 billion valuation.

Whoop now has 550 current employees, suggesting it had employed about 630 prior to the downsizing. Among its most high-profile partners are the NFLPA, PGA Tour, LPGA Tour and WTA.

“Whoop is experiencing record-levels of engagement in our app this year and has more members than ever before,” a Whoop spokesperson said in a statement.

“Although this difficult decision impacted employees across all departments and all levels, we still expect to continue hiring to support key company initiatives in the coming months. We are as committed as ever to delivering the best membership experience and innovating on the most advanced health monitoring technology.”

Usain Bolt Enters Metaverse With Move-to-Earn Startup Step App

By Andrew Cohen

Usain Bolt is sprinting into the metaverse with Step App, a move-to-earn startup that rewards users with in-game NFTs and cryptocurrency for completing physical activities such as walking their dog or going for a jog in real life. Bolt will serve as the company’s core brand ambassador ahead of Step App’s launch later this summer. 

Step App says it has more than 20 million pre-signed users and that its app will be available for iOS and Android devices. Users will earn Step App’s KCAL crypto token for steps and fitness goals they complete in real life. The blockchain-based move-to-earn app will also let users buy, sell and trade digital sneakers that their characters can wear in the game. Bolt, an eight-time Olympic gold medalist considered the greatest sprinter of all time, is also an investor in endurance events booking app Let’s Do This.  

“Our mandate is to inspire people to exercise daily so they feel better physically & mentally and feel we will achieve this by incentivizing their exercise by paying them in crypto,” Step App CEO Kirill Volgin said in a statement. 

Baltimore Ravens Bring In ImagineAR to Integrate Augmented Reality Into Their Mobile App for Fans

By Tom Friend

The Baltimore Ravens have hired Imagine AR to help create an augmented reality mobile platform for its fanbase.

As part of the two-year revenue-sharing partnership, the Ravens will leverage Imagine AR’s signature SDK Platform to drive metaverse-focused experiences for fans via their mobile phones. The deal is Imagine AR’s first with an NFL team. The company already has a deal with the La Liga club Valencia.

Imagine AR will collaborate with YinzCam, the Ravens’ app developer, to release the platform in time for the upcoming season. The team’s fans can aim their mobile devices at logos, signs, products, buildings and landmarks to activate videos, ads, coupons, 3D holograms and other team content that is housed in Imagine AR’s cloud. The Ravens have previously made mixed reality part of their game day experience, with a virtual Raven produced by The Famous Group.