Croatia Open Offered WhatsApp Chatbot Powered by Infobip for Visitors, Remote Tennis Fans

By Tom Friend

The Croatia Open, an ATP event staged last week in Umag, was enhanced digitally through a WhatsApp chatbot that significantly increased its global audience.

The tournament’s technological partner, Infobip—a cloud communications firm headquartered in Seattle, Wash.—developed the chatbot on its software platform Answers. According to the company, at least 86 percent of the Croatia Open’s viewers sent at least two messages on WhatsApp, while there were chatbot users from 44 different countries. Infobip also claims there was an average of 16.3 messages per chat session.

By scanning a QR code to activate chatbot, Croatia Open fans were able to access the tournament schedule, entertainment options, player bios and tickets, among others. There was also a tennis quiz on WhatsApp with prizes going to winners.

In the past nine months, the Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Brewers have launched chatbot applications through Facebook Messenger to better connect with fans. The first MLB team to partner with GameOn Technology, the Brewers Facebook Messenger page currently gives fans live updates, scores, highlight videos and player information.

FuboTV Ditches Independent Sportsbook Plans, Will Evaluate Other Betting Options

By Andrew Cohen

Sports streaming service FuboTV is adjusting its betting strategy “in light of the current economic environment” to no longer pursue operating its own independent online sportsbook, the company said in its Q2 earnings report on Thursday. The company currently operates its Fubo Sportsbook app in Iowa and Arizona and expects to also launch in New Jersey ahead of the upcoming NFL season.

“We continue to believe that an integrated wagering platform, offering both live video and a sportsbook, will result in the best viewing and gaming experience for consumers,” Fubo said in a letter to shareholders. “However, as we have evaluated how best to scale these capabilities in today’s market, we have concluded that we will no longer pursue this opportunity on our own. Accordingly, our interactive wagering business is under strategic review. We are in internal and external discussions to determine the best path forward for Fubo’s gaming business and look forward to sharing more information.”

The decision suggests that FuboTV could pursue alternate methods to offer betting, such as by partnering with an existing competing sportsbook. Fubo has been among the most aggressive streaming services to integrate sports betting directly into its live TV viewing experience since it acquired the sports betting app Vigtory in January 2021. FuboTV subscribers have been able to navigate their smart TV to access free-to-play prediction games while watching live sports, while viewers in Iowa and Arizona have been able to scan an on-screen QR code with their phone to place real-money bets via the Fubo Sportsbook.

“While our disciplined sportsbook progress continues, in light of a rapidly-evolving macro-economic environment, we believe it is important to be even more capital efficient than originally scoped,” reads Fubo’s shareholder letter. “We are taking steps to de-risk our business and have made the decision to no longer go down the wagering path independently. As a result, we’re evaluating strategic opportunities for our wagering business.”

Fubo has signed gaming sponsorships with NASCAR and the Cleveland Cavaliers as well as a deal with the New York Jets that saw a Fubo Sportsbook lounge installed at MetLife Stadium last NFL season. Other sports streaming services active in the ‘watch and bet’ space include The Rugby Network, which partnered with Tappp and Australian sportsbook PlayUp to let fans place bets directly though their smart TV during Major League Rugby matches.

John McEnroe, Will Ferrell to Host Live Audio Stream on Mixhalo During LAFC-Charlotte FC

By Andrew Cohen

Tennis legend John McEnroe and actor Will Ferrell will host a live audio stream on Mixhalo during LAFC’s home match against Charlotte FC on Aug. 13. The commentary will be exclusively available to fans attending the match at LAFC’s Banc of California Stadium who download the free Mixhalo app to listen through their phone or connected headphones.

McEnroe and Ferrell, who became an LAFC co-owner in 2016, will provide commentary of the soccer match on Mixhalo alongside Fox LA broadcaster Mark Rogondino. Mixhalo is a real-time audio platform intended to be used by fans when they attend live events, and it has previously hosted in-venue audio activations with the NBA’s Sacramento Kings and NHL’s Buffalo Sabres.

Mixhalo’s mobile app will additionally stream separate audio feeds during the Aug. 13 match hosted by LAFC play-by-play commentators Max Bretos (English language) and Armando Aguayo (Spanish language). Fortress Investment Group led Mixhalo’s $24 million Series B funding round last year.

Sodexo Live! Launches Accelerator Program to Find Startups That Address Personalizing Fan Experience, Venues

By Andrew Cohen

Sodexo Live!, a hospitality and concessions partner for sports and entertainment venues, has launched a new North America Innovation Lab to work with startups developing products to improve venue operations and the fan experience at live events. Startups can apply for Sodexo Live!’s new North American accelerator program through Sept. 12. The program is being held in partnership with global innovation specialist L Marks.

The accelerator is looking for startups whose solutions address themes such as:

  • Recruiting employee talent
  • Adding AR and VR fan experiences to venues
  • Sustainability
  • Frictionless fan entry
  • Point-of-sale touchpoints
  • Predictive analytics for optimizing venue space and internal operations

Selected startups will work with mentors over a ten-week program to trial their products in a live event environment.

Sodexo Live! Recently signed a deal through 2026 to become the hospitality partner for the French Open at Roland Garros. The company handles hospitality, food and beverage services for U.S. venues such as Nashville Superspeedway, Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, and T-Mobile Park in Seattle. Earlier this MLB season, Sodexo Live! opened an Amazon Just Walk Out store at T-Mobile Park for fans during Mariners games.

Among Sodexo Live!’s competitors in the venue hospitality space is Levy, which launched its DBK Studio innovation arm earlier this year that operates similarly to Sodexo’s new accelerator. DBK Studio partners with technology startups to deploy new services across Levy’s 250 venues, such as adding Mantis XR’s QR codes to the St. Louis Blues’ arena to power a new online virtual locker room merchandise shopping platform for fans.

Levy’s DBK Studio also worked with drone delivery startup Valqari to add drone deliveries for fans ordering food at Purdue University’s baseball field. American Airlines Center, home to the Dallas Mavericks, collaborated with DBK Studio to debut two autonomous checkout-free food and beverage stores in April that are powered by Standard AI’s computer vision cameras.

Another hospitality and concessionaire provider to sports venues alongside Sodexo Live! and Levy is Aramark, which has partnered with TendedBar to add its facial recognition-powered cocktail ordering machine to Empower Field at Mile High, the home of the Denver Broncos. Aramark also debuted mobile robot food delivery for fans at Capital One Arena during NHL playoff games in May through its partnership with delivery robot startup Tortoise.

HEIR Adds Anthony Edwards as Latest Athlete to Provide Membership Experience on NFT Platform

By Tom Friend

HEIR, the emerging digital fan token platform co-founded by Michael Jordan’s son Jeffrey, has secured another NBA player as a member-ambassador. 

Anthony “Ant-Man’’ Edwards, the first overall pick in the 2020 NBA draft by the Minnesota Timberwolves, joins Lonzo Ball of the Chicago Bulls and Bennedict Mathurin of the Indiana Pacers as an HEIR partner. Starting Thursday of this week, fans can buy early memberships to witness Edwards’ autumn journey on HEIR. Not only will members have direct access to Edwards’ Web3 activities, they can receive autographed memorabilia and potentially attend Edwards’ August 18 membership event in Atlanta, where they can witness one of his live off-season workouts. 

Members could also have the chance to participate in “digital content co-creation’’ with Edwards while in Atlanta. HEIR initially launched last December after Jordan and his son received $10 million in seed funding. The company, whose mission is to jump the Web2 to Web3 gap by transforming sports fans into owners, has previously released Lonzo Ball NFTs in collaboration with streetwear designer Don C and Web3 lifestyle developers, Okay Bears. 

Pac-12, Tempus Ex Machina to Develop Video-Sharing Tool for Student-Athletes to Monetize Game Highlights

By Joe Lemire

The Pac-12 Conference has announced a new video-sharing tool to help its student-athletes monetize their game highlights on social media. This is the first commercial product to be developed in the conference’s collaboration with Tempus Ex Machina and will be amplified through a partnership between Twitter and Opendorse to secure name, image, likeness compensation for athletes through the Opendorse NIL marketplace.

Tempus Ex, which partnered with the Pac-12 in March, will leverage FusionFeed—its low-latency data and video feed—to make personalized game highlights available immediately after each game. The product is rolling out first to Pac-12 athletes in football and men’s and women’s basketball, with the other sports to follow. Tempus Ex is able to provide every available angle of every play and automate the process to deliver relevant clips to each player, who can opt into the program. Social media companies can then create monetization programs that build on these videos.

The Pac-12 was the first NCAA conference to make game highlights available to student-athletes for NIL opportunities. Tempus Ex completed a Series B round last September and has also partnered with the NFL. Future Hall of Fame wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is among its investors and board members.

Twitter became the first social media platform to disclose its plans for helping college athletes monetize their name, image and likeness when it struck its agreement with Opendorse in June 2021. A portion of the pre-roll advertising on the video clips shared by Pac-12 athletes on their personal Twitter accounts will go to the user.

NFL Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk Acquires Football Team in SimWin Sports Metaverse, Joins Growing List of Celeb Owners

By Tom Friend

Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk will own a team this fall in the debut football season of SimWin Sports Metaverse, a new digital league that lets customers purchase player NFTs and use them in competition for potential cash earnings.

A metaverse-based combination of fantasy football, esports and sports betting, SimWin has accumulated a Who’s Who list of team owners. In addition to Faulk—whose team will be named the San Diego Battleships—franchises will also belong to Magic Johnson, Jerry Rice and Mike Singletary.

SimWin claims fans can collaborate with the team’s celebrity owners by “collecting, trading and managing virtual players.’’ Single-day and season-long fantasy competitions will also take place during the football season, as well as sports wagering.

The league’s CEO, David J. Ortiz, formerly led the development of EA Sports’ Madden franchise and is intent on having SimWin branch off to other sports such as basketball later in the fall.

Sportsbox AI Closes $5.5 Million Seed Round Led by EP Golf Ventures

By Joe Lemire

Sportsbox AI, which uses a single smartphone camera to generate 3D golf biomechanics analysis, has closed a $5.5 million seed round led by EP Golf Ventures, the investment vehicle created in collaboration by PGA of America and Elysian Park Ventures.

Joining the round were a female-led group of individual investors such as LPGA Tour players Michelle Wie West, Marina Alex and Mel Reid, broadcasters Amanda Balionis and Kira K. Dixon and Randi Zuckerberg, the CEO of her namesake media company. The CEO of Sportsbox AI is Jeehae Lee, a former LPGA Tour player who later became Wie West’s business manager and a Topgolf executive. Also participating in the seed round were famed golf coaches Sean Foley and David Leadbetter and David Blitzer, an owner of several pro sports teams.

The company’s first product is Sportsbox 3DGolf, which uses only slow-motion smartphone video to create motion capture data. Users can review the swing from six angles and receive datapoints on positions, angles and velocities. Within the app are tools for live remote coaching and personalized practice plans. Earlier this year, USOPC director of sport technology and innovation Phil Cheetham joined Sportsbox as its chief scientific officer. Sportsbox has partnered with Five Iron Golf to provide analysis at several locations of the indoor facility.

Oura Ring Compatible With Natural Cycles Birth Control App, Allowing Athletes to Track Body Temperature Trends

By Joe Lemire

Ōura Health, which makes a smart ring that monitors wellness, has partnered with Natural Cycles, the first FDA-approved birth control app. 

Especially since releasing its Gen 3 hardware, Oura has prioritized the addition of new health monitoring features for female users, including a period prediction tool. Natural Cycles used researched-backed fertility indicators to help determine fertile windows but previously relied on user-inputted oral temperatures. Oura can now import distal body temperature and heart rate data automatically from its device, onto which Natural Cycles applies its algorithms.

Oura, which recently partnered with Strava for data integration, has also gone live with some promised features in the past few months. Wearers of the Gen 3 ring now have access to average blood oxygen, breathing regularity and workout heart rate data. Among its sports partners are the NBA and NBPANASCAR and the World Surf League.

Oxford City FC to Accept Bitcoin as Payment for Tickets, Concessions

By Tom Friend

Oxford City F.C., a semipro team in the sixth tier of England soccer, is now the first National League franchise to allow fans to make matchday payments using bitcoin.

In collaboration with the Isle of Man company CoinCorner, spectators at Oxford’s RAW Charging Stadium can buy tickets, food and beverages with the cryptocurrency as opposed to cash and credit cards.

CoinCorner, Oxford City F.C.’s jersey sponsor, has also produced a touchless bitcoin credit card known as “The Bolt Card’’ to simplify the process. The team’s blockchain technology will debut at Saturday’s National League South match against Eastbourne Borough F.C., where reps from CoinCorner will be on hand to provide bitcoin tutorials.

In the U.S., the New York Yankees recently offered employees a savings plan with an option to convert parts of their salaries into bitcoin via the bitcoin financial services company NYDIG.