30 Oct

15 to Watch + 5 Tech + Power of Sports 5 103017

1. This year’s World Series between the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers got off to a strong start from an overnight ratings perspective. According to SportsBusiness Journal, Game 1 on Fox drew a 10.2 rating as the Dodgers won 3-1. That figure is lower than last year’s 12.6 that the Indians and Cubs drew, but “was the best for a World Series opener since Phillies-Yankees in 2009.” Despite a cry that games have been taking too long, Game 1 was the shortest World Series game in a quarter century. Game 2 followed up with 16.0 million viewers on Fox, with the Astros pulling out a 7-6 win in 11 innings. That number is down compared to last year, but up 13% from two years ago. Subsequent games have been packed with drama and action as the series seems likely to go the distance. Viewership numbers for the most recent games have not yet been released, but numbers are expected to be strong across two of America’s biggest markets due to the intensity and star power featured in the contests.

2. With the World Series now well underway, MLB baseball has revealed its postseason viewership numbers leading up to the championship round. According to SportsBusiness Journal, playoff games across ESPN, TBS, FS1, Fox and MLB Network averaged 4.8 million viewers – representing the league’s “best pre-Fall Classic figure since 2011 (4.9 million).” The 4.8 million average is up 13% from the 4.24 million viewers that last year’s postseason averaged. One of the biggest jumps from last year is NL viewership on TBS, which has seen a 46% increase from last year. FS1 has been the big winner thus far, as it had the honor of broadcasting the ALCS Game 7 matchup between the Houston Astros and New York Yankees. That game alone averaged 9.9 million viewers, “marking the net’s most-viewed telecast on record.” The 9.9 million average tops last year’s 9.7 million that tuned in to watch the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago Cubs in Game 6 last year. MLB has to be happy with this news, especially considering the NFL’s struggle to keep its viewership numbers up relative to past years.

3. Colin Kaepernick is set to attend a meeting between NFL players and owners, where the two sides plan to talk about the ongoing social activism and protest issues. According to Yahoo Sports, multiple players across the league have voiced their desire to get him in their meetings with team owners and league officials, noting that “he is an important voice in their effort.” This now marks the second time “he has been invited” by members of the players’ coalition to attend a league meeting, after he declined the first offer. League officials have been open to the idea of the former NFLer joining their discussions, though it remains unclear what his exact contribution will be since he is not on a team. Kaepernick recently filed a grievance against the NFL for “allegedly conspiring to freeze him out of a job.” Protesting the national anthem all began with Kaepernick, so it will be interesting to see what – if anything – comes out of his inclusion in the meeting.

4. The San Francisco 49ers are teaming up with multiple police unions in an attempt to “ease national police-community acrimony.” According to the San Jose Mercury News, the current on-field protests by players have since “extended far beyond the field,” prompting the 49ers to work with police unions all across the Pacific Northwest. The team and police unions from San Jose, Oakland, Santa Clara, Los Angeles, Sacramento, Long Beach and Portland “plan to solicit participation from other NFL teams and police unions.” One of the key areas of focus in this new partnership is gun control, specifically to outlaw bump stocks, which the shooter in Las Vegas used to boost the killing power of his rifles. “We’re all very interested in progress, and it’s very clear that protesting has brought ample vision, and the opportunity for people to speak loudly,” said 49ers CEO Jed York. This partnership could spur a movement across the league of teams working with police unions in their respective markets. This is a great step in the right direction for the NFL.

5. This week marks the national debut of episode three of “The Power of Sports,” a monthly program jointly produced by FOX Sports Southwest, Horrow Sports Ventures, Oklahoma City-based foundation Fields & Futures, and Group One Thousand One. This month, after successful forays into Oklahoma City and Indianapolis looking at public-private partnership ventures, we journey to South Florida with MLB Hall of Famer Cal Ripkin Jr. as he relives his first professional game at Miami Stadium as a Miami Oriole and tour community baseball facilities being developed by his namesake cause Ripken Baseball. We also hear about the good work his father Cal Ripken Sr. is doing with Team Cops and Kids, and go inside Up2Us, which is training everyday coaches to work with vulnerable youth. Check local FOX Sports networks listings to be a part of this truly remarkable journey.

6. The Tampa Bay Rays finally have a site picked out to build a new stadium on, but funding remains up in the air. According to the Tampa Bay Times, the proposed site in the Channel District-Ybor City area presents developers with an opportunity to “build an urban ballpark with, perhaps, waterfront views and access.” Plans and funding for the 14-acre site have yet to be determined. It still remains uncertain how much the new ballpark will cost the Rays, but it is expected to run between $500-650 million. That cost is the cost of the stadium alone, not including the millions it will take to acquire the land, build roads and parking lots, reroute sewer lines in the area and add “new exit ramps off highways or new stops on transit lines.” Sources close to the franchise note that it is unlikely that “ownership will offer to pay” for a new ballpark outright. St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman offered to build a new ballpark at a redeveloped Tropicana Field, though the team seems intent on moving elsewhere.

7. Just a year after opening, the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento has already begun to pay dividends in the community. According to the Sacramento Kings, the team’s new $1 billion arena is one of the world’s most technologically advanced and sustainable, making it a staple in the city. Since 2015, “downtown property sales have totaled nearly $885 million,” when construction first began on the Golden 1 Center, while 11 downtown properties worth nearly $360 million were sold in the past year alone. In 2017, the facility was ranked as one of the top 15 venues in the United States and in the top 40 worldwide in ticket sales, “attracting over 1.6 million attendees who spent more than $71.5 million in downtown Sacramento.” Going forward, the Kings want to build on of this momentum to spur more positive economic growth in the city. In just a few short months, the Downtown Commons development will be opening, which is expected to be busy even on non-event nights. Already a staple in the community, the Golden 1 Center continues to drive economic impact in Sacramento. Look for other cities to use this as a case to build their own state-of-the-art facilities.

8. Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta will host the 2018 MLS All-Star game. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, expansion side Atlanta United FC’s success, coupled with the city’s affection for soccer, has resulted in announcement that the city, team, and stadium will be hosting the event in the coming year. “I don’t think we have to worry about selling out the stadium for the All-Star game,” commented Atlanta United Owner Arthur Blank. On top of the 2018 MLS All-Star game, the brand-new Mercedes-Benz Stadium is also slated to host the 2018 College Football Playoff, 2019 Super Bowl and 2020 Final Four. In this instance, Atlanta was one of four cities in consideration to win the bid. Up to 30 Atlanta United employees “went to Chicago to observe the different facets” of this year’s all-star game at Soldier Field, where the MLS squad faced off against Real Madrid. This marks yet another mega sporting event that Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta has been awarded. The city and venue will use this as a tune-up for the CFP, Super Bowl and Final Four.

9. Detroit professional sports franchises are teaming up in an attempt to bring more marquee events to the city. According to the Detroit Free Press, executives from the city’s four pro sports teams – Red Wings, Pistons, Lions, and Tigers – have formed a new partnership, the Detroit Sports Organizing Corporation, which will “identify, bid, plan and produce major sporting events in Detroit.” Some of the events that the city hopes to attract in the coming years include the NFL Draft and NBA and NHL All-Star Games. Little Caesars Arena just opened in the heart of the city and the DSOC sees the venue as a selling point in winning bids. “The cities that have been really successful in hosting those events on a regular basis have a group like this that is permanently in place so that when an opportunity comes up we’re not starting from scratch,” said Lions President Rod Wood. Detroit now joins the likes of Indianapolis, Atlanta and Phoenix as cities with permanent organizing committees, the latter of which are notorious for hosting some of the country’s biggest sporting events.

10. Charlotte is out of the running to land an MLS expansion club – at least in this round. According to the Charlotte Business Journal, the city’s first round efforts were confirmed to be “dead” by the lead investor for a local team. The city planned on building a soccer-specific stadium for a new team, one of the main criteria for cities hopeful of landing an expansion bid, that would cost $175 million, but “the combination of upcoming elections and a competing bid by Nashville dashed any remaining hopes.” The city and county government disagreed on how the stadium was going to be funded, with some supporting the use of tourism tax while others dissented. SMI President & CEO Marcus Smith leads MLS4CLT and had even “committed to pay” the $150 million fee to acquire a team if Charlotte’s bid succeeded, but it will not get to the point where that is necessary. With numerous cities vying to land an MLS expansion team, a soccer-specific stadium is a must. Funding always presents an issue though, especially for smaller markets.

11. Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Chris Long is doing more than just playing football this season, he is making a massive impact in communities around the country. According to SportsBusiness Journal, Long made a splash when he announced his plan to donating his first six game checks to fund academic scholarships in his hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia. Long is now expanding his charitable efforts by donating his final 10 game checks of the season “to organizations committed to balancing education inequity.” His new campaign – Pledge 10 For Tomorrow – is geared toward the three markets he has played in throughout his career: St. Louis, Boston and Philadelphia. Using social media as his platform to get fans involved, the campaign has already raised around $200,000 in just over a week. “We’re all trying to improve our communities and our country,” said Long. “I think everybody would agree equality is a goal, and a great gateway to that is an education and educational opportunities, educational equity.” A great example of a player using their status as a professional athlete to spur change in communities across the country.

12. As Amazon and Facebook continue their push to stream live sporting events around the world, a potential bid to land the English Premier League’s media rights is expected to cost more than $13 billion. According to the London Times, if either of the two web-based companies wanted to “stand any chance of winning live rights” to the EPL, they would have to pay at least $13.1 billion. The preeminent soccer league’s media rights have been hyper-inflated due to “aggressive competition between BT Sport and Sky” in the United Kingdom. Amazon currently owns the media rights to stream the NFL’s Thursday Night Football games via its Prime subscription model, though it attracted a mere 370,000 viewers for the first game streamed, “compared with 14.6 million on conventional TV, and was hit by glitches.” Sky and BT are working out a deal to pay less for the EPL’s media rights, since sport “now accounts for two-thirds of spending on content but only 8% of viewing.” Amazon and Facebook both have the capital necessary to make a competitive bid here, it just depends if either company is willing to justify such a move.

13. After a few years of unparalleled growth, Under Armour’s sales are beginning to waver. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Baltimore-based sportswear company is now considering “exiting some of its smaller sports categories as it works to stem declining sales.” Among those categories under consideration for exit are outdoor gear, fishing, and most-notably tennis, among others. Star British tennis player Andy Murray is currently represented by Under Armour, but his endorsement deal is not expected to be impacted by any potential move. Just this past year, Under Armour “recorded its first losses as a public company,” while its shares hit a record low when the “retailer reported second-quarter earnings in August.” The company’s revenue growth is expected to slow from 11-12% growth down to 9-11% growth. One of the main reasons for these results is the resurgence of Adidas, specifically in America. Now that Under Armour’s growth has plateaued, the long term arms race between them, Nike and Adidas to only continue to heat up going forward.

14. With the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia is now less than a year away, significant plans are still being made for the event. According to the London Independent, FIFA President Gianni Infantino want VAR technology in place for all tournament matches. VAR technology was used during the Confederations Cup in Russia this past summer, with positive results coming out of the trial. One of the biggest fears in the sport is that a major tournament or game would ultimately be decided by a refereeing error – hence the need for VAR. “We need it. Every championship needs it,” said Infantino. “That’s being shown in leagues like Portugal and Italy at the moment.” Meanwhile in Russia, the AP reported that hosting the World Cup will cost the country “$600 million more than previously planned,” bringing the total cost up to $11.7 billion. Hidden and rising costs are commonplace for countries tasked with hosting the World Cup and Olympics, despite continual efforts to buck this trend.

15. Merely months ahead of the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, ticket sales continue to lag. According to the Wall Street Journal, safety concerns about neighboring North Korea plague the event – a primary reason for the weak sales. Organizers noted that only “about 30% of the tickets they targeted to sell worldwide, and less than 20% of the batch earmarked for South Koreans” have been purchased thus far. South Korean and IOC officials are adamant that the February Games will be “safe and secure,” but that reassurance appears to be doing little to convince people to make the trip to Asia. The “sluggish ticket sales raise questions about the IOC’s strategy of holding three consecutive Games in Asia to capture interest there, though the next two Games” – Tokyo in summer 2020 and Beijing in winter 2022 – will at least be in “larger population centers.” A recent front-page story on the Wall Street Journal, titled “The Winter Olympics Are Close, and So Is North Korea,” did little to calm any nerves about PyeongChang’s proximity to the DMZ (40 miles).

Five Top Tech

1) Amazon has continued to make their way in the steaming services arena. After it was announced that Amazon had acquired the rights to stream Thursday Night Football, many wondered about how successful the new venture would be. This week, we found out. Over the first four TNF games, Amazon compiled 7.1 Million views in over 180 countries around the world. Amazon’s Chief Financial Officer Brian Olsavsky had this to say about the extent of the streaming success: “We’re going to continue to invest in video and increase that investment in 2018. The video business is having great results with our most important customer base, which is our Prime customers. It continues to drive better conversion of free trials, higher membership renewal rates for existing subscribers and higher overall engagement. That will always be an important part of our Prime offer, and we’ll continue to use the data that we have to make better and better decisions about where to invest our dollars in Prime Video.” Clearly, the move for Amazon in the digital streaming space has started to work. Over the remainder of the NFL season, we will see if the viewership increases. If it does, Amazon may have much more competition next season for NFL streaming rights.

2) Simon Wheatcroft, a British runner, will be competing in the New York City Marathon on November 5th. Wheatcroft, who is blind, will be wearing a vibrating device that will help him navigate the course next week.
 The vibrations are called “Haptic Feedback” and is worn around his wrist similar to a watch. When asked to detail his upcoming experience, Simon Wheatcroft said: “This will be my third New York marathon, but undoubtedly my greatest challenge and most significant run to date. Technology has enabled me to strive for the impossible. I want to continue using it to push the boundaries of what I am capable of achieving — and to ensure technologies exist that can assist everybody, whether they’re running a marathon or simply walking through their home town.” Wheatcroft is an inspirational athlete who is using technology to the best of his ability in order to compete in one of the most prestigious races in the world. The NYC marathon will include other athletes using other forms of technology to help them complete the race, but Wheatcroft’s use of a Haptic Device is the first of his kind.

3) The NBA may be moving closer to having players wear technology such as wristbands during play. The move would increase the amount of data and information teams, coaches, and fans could have about players while they’re playing. An interesting idea, wearable technology could tell us all about a player’s heart rate during some of the most crucial moments of each game. Executive Vice President of Media Operation and Technology for the NBA, Steve Hellmuth, said this of the recent VR developments: “Once we have motion capture, then we actually know the hands, arms, legs, feet positioning. It’s “kind of the last piece in really allowing a computer to understand the game of basketball. This is the next best experience that we can provide them with,” he said. “You’re under the basket, you’re seeing the collisions, you’re seeing the athleticism, the grace of the players that you just can’t when watching a flat television screen.” With the NBA progressing as one of the most tech-savvy leagues in all of professional sports, it comes as no surprise that the NBA is embracing this collection of tracking data. In MLB, teams and fans have a large amount of access to a variety of on-field measurable stats, and it has only raised interest for more data.

4) Wearable technology continues to make its way into MLB. Garmin has released the “Impact Bat Swing Sensor” that will relay data and information to any player that uses the application. The sensor is a small, watch-like device that fits onto the knob of the bat. Similar to a Zepp sensor, Garmin has decided to try its hand at a new piece of baseball technology. Garmin’s Vice President of World Sales Dan Bartel said: “Garmin has seen great success with our other sports products, like the golf swing sensor, so the addition of the Impact bat swing sensor to the performance training market seemed like a natural fit. Whether playing baseball or softball, or coaching players, the on-device display and auditory cues on the Impact bat swing sensor allow batters to quickly make adjustments so come game time they can step up to the plate with confidence.” While the product is useful, it is a direct copy of Zepp sensor technology. Unless there is a stark difference in price, it doesn’t seem like this product will gain much headway on the market. Time will tell, but Garmin is entering this field very late compared to its main competitor.

5) The New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies are creating augmented reality experiences for their fans starting next season. The transition began in late September this last season, where Coca Cola handed out interactive cards on which fans could download the BallPark App, and see the card display an animation. Coca-Cola’s Marketing Director for Sports Entertainment had this to say about their new MLB partnerships: We were one of the first partners to do something with Major League Baseball on this, but the team loves this because app downloads were up by 66 percent when we did this activity. That’s a major focus for the team, for Major League Baseball, and a win for us.” The advent of this form of technology could help attract fans who may not be pleased with baseball’s relatively slow pace.  With more interactive features, fans that come to the ballpark could have something else to watch along with the game and stay engaged throughout. Soon, we may see more and more MLB teams adopt this technology in an effort to add to their fan experience.

Power of Sports 5

1. Microsoft Partnering With NFL Stars For Charity Campaign. As part of their “Create Change” campaign, Microsoft has begun backing the charitable organizations of five NFL players. Von Miller, Russell Wilson, Martellus Bennett, Greg Olsen, and Richard Sherman have each started their own charitable organization since entering the league, and this week each player agreed to partner with Microsoft in an effort to spread awareness and raise additional funding for their cause. Under the agreement, Microsoft will be providing each organization with Surface tablets to help increase the efficiency of their work. Additionally, the company will be making a charitable donation to each players’ foundation. Microsoft has also produced videos of each player discussing their foundation and why it is important to them. The videos were debuted this week as part of a contest that Microsoft is running for the Super Bowl, in which fans are encouraged to submit stories of how they have created positive change in their community. The five winners, selected by Microsoft’s NFL partners, will each receive a trip for two to Super Bowl LII.

2. Olympian April Ross Encouraging Schools to Host Match for Breast Cancer Awareness. Professional beach volleyball player April Ross, alongside the Side-Out Foundation, is encouraging high school and college volleyball programs to host a Dig Pink event to help raise money and awareness for breast cancer research. Ross, whose mother Margie battled breast cancer for more than 15 years, has met with multiple college teams over the last year to speak to them about breast cancer awareness and encourage them to support the Dig Pink initiative. DePaul University, one of the schools that Ross was able to visit after her AVP tour stop in Chicago, has been hosting the event annually since 2009 and has been one of the foundation’s biggest supporters over the last eight years. The Side-Out Foundation was founded in 2005 by Rick Dunetz. Through Dig Pink matches and fundraising events across the country, the foundation has been able to raise more than $12 million dollars for breast cancer research and clinical trials. The foundation’s goal is to eventually have every high school and college program host at least one Dig Pink event during the month of October, which is recognized nationwide as Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

3. NYCFC and City of New York Open Ten New Soccer Fields Across the City. As part of the New York City Soccer Initiative launched last year by Mayor Bill de Blasio, members of New York City Football Club were present at the openings of ten new soccer pitches across the city this week to cut the ribbon and speak on behalf of the initiative. The New York City Soccer Initiative is being led by NYCFC, the U.S. Soccer Federation, the Mayor’s Fund to Advance NYC, Adidas, and Etihad Airways. The initiative plans to to build and maintain 50 mini-soccer pitches in underserved neighborhoods across the five boroughs of New York over the next five years. Their goal is to expand after school programming for thousands of New York City youth and ensure that New Yorkers of all ages can work, learn, and play in safe neighborhoods.

4. Captain of the Rwandan Cricket Team Teaching the Sport to Young Refugees. Mary Maina, captain of the Rwandan women’s cricket team, has begun teaching a one-hour cricket class for a group of around 200 children refugees at the Mahama Refugee Camp in southeastern Rwanda. The camp is home to approximately 55,000 people, 51 percent of whom are children. The class was started in an effort to help the children forget about the trauma and issues that they have been forced to escape from, while also allowing them to learn a new sport that most of them have never been exposed to in the past. The program was started by the Cricket Builds Hope foundation, a charitable organization focused on delivering social programs for children with an emphasis on the empowerment of young females. The foundation believes that this first class is just the tip of the iceberg for what the organization will be able to achieve, and hopes to spread the program across the country and eventually across the rest of Africa.

5. San Francisco 49ers Partner with Local Police Unions. The San Francisco 49ers have joined together with several major police unions to sign the “Pledge for a More Understanding and Safer America.” The 49ers are contributing $500,000 to the campaign, which aims to improve police and community relationships. The pledge also advocates for legislation banning bump stocks, armor-piercing bullets, and gun silencers, accessories that have been facing heavy scrutiny after the recent shooting in Las Vegas. The 49ers will invite other NFL franchises and police unions to join them in their effort to build bridges of trust and communication between the community and their local police force. Thus far, unions representing the police in Oakland, Sacramento, Portland, Long Beach, Los Angeles, and San Jose have all agreed to sign the pledge.