August 30, 2014

Nike+ Fuel Lab powers up in San Francisco with new partnerships

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As per its previous announcement Nike has gotten its development lab up and running in San Francisco. The lab designed to help enhance and expand the ecosystem of apps and hardware that can partner with its line of NikeFuel-based sports technology.

The announcement coincided with that of three partnerships with Nike. The three are MyFitnessPal, RunKeeper and Strava all of which will be integrating Nike technology into their own products, hoping to expose Nike’s technology to millions of potential additional users.

Strava develops running and cycling GPS-based apps that enable users to take any GPS device out on a run or ride and then view their route on a map after the fact using its app on a PC. RunKeeper is an app for both Apple iOS and Android devices that tracks a users pace, distance and other factors including weight loss. Despite its name it can be used for more than just running as it works well with cycling, or for less active users, walking. MyFitnessPal is a calorie counting app.

Using the ability of NikeFuel to monitor activity, and for that matter inactivity, is core to what Nike is providing to these developers. The Nike+ NikeFuel line has expanded to include arrange of products some broadly focused and others targeting more specific activities. In the lineup are Nike+ FuelBand SE which includes Nike+ Groups and Sessions; Nike+ Running which includes Nike+Coach; Nike+ Training Club that includes more than 100 workouts and then there is Nike+Move.

It will be interesting to see how widespread the adoption of this technology will be. I wonder if Nike can leverage this partner strategy to the level of ubiquity that Facebook has achieved in getting comment sections to accept a Facebook login as a standard mode?

RBI Baseball is here; Best ballparks for craft beer

MLB has released R.B.I Baseball 14 to the joy of long-suffering fans of the game who have been waiting and hoping for years that the title would be reinvented and reinvigorated for a new generation of fans as well as older fans.

The game is the first one for consoles developed by the MLBAM and is available as a digital download for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 entertainment systems as well as for iPhones and iPads. The original game was discontinued around 20 years ago.

Quidditch is a real thing?
Apparently not only can you really play quidditch, there is an actual World Cup for the sport. The game that was made famous via the Harry Potter franchise of books and movies, sans magical brooms and a few other minor details, is being played around the globe these days.

Not only is it being played but it is gaining a bit of international support as teams from Canada and Australia will be among the 80 teams participated in the sport’s seventh World Cup in South Carolina last weekend. As a spoiler the University of Texas retained its crown beating Texas State University. Time to start practicing for next year.


Cubs’ fans disappointment may continue for 6 more years

When a new owner comes to town to take over a forlorn franchise there is always hope that they will manage to achieve what so many have failed to do in the past, create a winning atmosphere that will help make up for past failure.

That is what Cubs fans were certainly hoping for when Tom Ricketts et al took over the team. Yet it seems that a stadium and team that do very well in attendance and broadcasting viewership need to wait for new contracts and rebuilding. Or it could be the way the loan is structured and they don’t want to talk about that.

The 10 best ballparks for craft beer
When I started going to baseball games the options for food and beverages were very limited but that has really changed for the better. Now the Daily Meal has taken in upon itself to track down which stadiums have the best craft beer — why is this not a job assignment that I am ever given?

They list #1 as Safeco Field in Seattle, and the overall West Coast is well represented with AT&T and Petco also listed. Also did you know that at Yankee Stadium the space where they sell crafty beer is called ‘beer mixology destination?” Beer Mixology, really?

Qatar World Cup construction worker death rates continue
The World Cup that is due to be played in Qatar has already been under a cloud due to complaints about corruption and the fact that the tournament might have to be moved from summer to winter due to, what else, hot weather. But one issue that also seems to be running under the radar is worker treatment.

According to a piece in Slate 1,200 workers have already died building the facilities for the 2022 event. However FIFA said that it would look into it, which since it is responsible for the awarding of the games in the first place seems like the fox watching the hen house.

Wilson brings digital data collection to basketball
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Golfers can get a version of a smartwatch that tracks their game and provides real time feedback, there is a host of apps for runners and bicyclists to track their efforts and skiers can get goggles that lay out the run and show speed and slope. Soon recreational basketball will join the digital world with an app that will help Sunday morning athletes track their efforts.

There is more than just an app in the Wilson Smart Basketball program; there is of course a basketball that helps feed in the data. The app and accompanying basketball are scheduled for release for this year’s holiday season.

CBS to get ‘strong’ Thursday Night NFL slate
After outbidding rivals for the newest set of games that the NFL will be playing on Thursday nights CBS appears to be receiving an extra with the deal. It has been reported that the NFL will be taking steps to make those games between what are viewed as strong teams, not necessarily quality teams, but ones that will bring strong viewership.

Of course the quality of the games at the early point of the season, when offensive lines have not yet jelled, rookies are still learning the playbooks and teams have their new coaches is sometimes average at best and add in the fact that teams really only get two days to prepare for Thursday games I am not sure I would put the quality tag on any of these games just yet.

TV Everywhere drives strong growth in March Madness viewership

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The push to entice digital viewers to follow this year’s NCAA Basketball tournament was a resounding success for NCAA.com and Turner Sports as their NCAA March Madness Live push underwent continued growth in a year when the championship game was down a bit from the previous year on broadcast television.

The broadcasting of the championship game saw a 10% decline in viewership on television. However the match between Kentucky and Connecticut generated two million live video streams, up 30% when compared with last year’s championship game.

The digital streaming effort, which includes its TV Everywhere initiative, maintained strong support from the digital space even in the face of a number of the better know and more popular schools being eliminated early in the tournament this year.

It set a new record for video consumption, as it has in the past few years, with this year’s event with a 42% increase in live video streaming over last year to bring the collective total over all platforms to 69.7 million live video streams. NCAA March Madness Live registered 15 million hours of live video streaming, a new high and up 7% from 2013.

The mobile space, where tablets and smartphones are still undergoing strong growth themselves, experienced very strong growth with an increase of 71% in live streams over the course of the tournament, and the total hours grew by 38% over last year.

In addition to more viewers, they stayed on longer while viewing watching an average of 67% more minutes than non-registered viewers. While a user can register and watch TV Everywhere on a PC, the use of that platform as a second screen appears to be fading in favor of mobile devices. The live streams on logged-in mobile devices representing 52% of the total TV Everywhere usage for the entire tournament

The growth was in a good part helped by the variety of ways that fans could access the tournament aside from mainstream broadcast television that NCAA.com and its partners Turner Sports and CBS Sports made available. There was an option of any one of three web sites available as well as NCAA March Madness Live available via the Amazon Appstore, Apple App Store, Google Play and Windows Store. On top of all of that fans could watch games via live streaming on TNT, TBS and truTV’s digital platforms, as well as participating TV provider websites.

ESPN continues to ramp up cricket coverage

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Just a few weeks ago ESPN announced that it would be carrying the biennial 2014 ICC World Twenty20 Cricket Championship across multiple platforms and the network has now added additional coverage to its lineup.

Next up is the India Professional League (IPL) cricket which comes to the sports giant via a deal with Willow TV that gives ESPN exclusive digital rights to the matches in the US, which the network will be making available on ESPN3.

The broadcasts will start on April 16th and run through the end of the season on June 1 and will include pre- and post- game coverage as well as the matches themselves. The pre and post game coverage will also be available online and to mobile platforms via ESPNcricinfo.

The deal will result in ESPN3 showing seven “Game of the Week” matches as well as both IPL semifinal matches and ESPN can show unlimited highlights from those events. It also has limited access to select highlights from all of the other IPL matches played during the season.

While not all of the matches will be made available a number of them will be able to be viewed across the spectrum of platforms that are reached by ESPN3 that includes smartphones and tablets by using the WatchESPN app. It can also be streamed to a television using a variety of platforms using ESPN on Xbox LIVE to Gold members, Apple TV, Roku and Amazon Fire TV.

ESPN published some numbers from its ESPNcricinfo site and I was surprised at how popular it has become. According to the network it is among the five most visited single sport digital sites. It was founded in 1993 and acquired by ESPN in 2007. Its mobile presence is huge with 141 million visits and 2 billion minutes of time spent on the site each month.

Hopefully this move will turn into a ratings success for ESPN and so encourage it and its rivals to both promote more international sports as well as make them available to the digital world where increasingly fans are using mobile devices to follow their favorite teams and sports.

Olympics great for NBCSN; Are mock NFL drafts worthwhile?

The Sochi Winter Olympics are now in the rear view mirror as the sporting world now looks to the next major event, the World Cup, yet NBCSN is ready to continue basking in the winter event’s limelight for just a bit longer.

The network reported its best ratings quarter ever with a 215,000 average viewership daily for the live events that it broadcast during the two-week run. This represents a 231% increase over its 2013 numbers. Even subtracting the Olympics it saw a 58% increase and may indicate that the little-known channel may finally be getting traction with viewers.

Dodger fans can’t watch Dodgers games
With the huge growth of regional sports networks it seems that every MLB team has its own, dedicated network to bring its games to its fans. Somehow it does not always work that way, as New Yorkers can attest from a few years ago.

Now it appears that the fans of the Los Angeles Dodgers are facing viewing issues as its RSN, SportsNet LA, has had issues getting cable players to air the games, causing as much as 70% of greater LA to be blacked out.

Unconscious bias by umpires?
An interesting piece from fivethrityeight.com looks at strike zones but importantly how it can change, and change dramatically in important situations as umpires striving to ensure that they are not a part of the game instead do alter the outcome.

The article can be a bit confusing for some when looking at the graphs but it has some interesting conclusions including that umpires seem happier to call a strike on a borderline pitch with three balls than ball four. Head over and give it a read.

WatchESPN on Amazon TV Fire
Amazon has recently entered the broadcast delivery business with its Amazon Fire TV, a platform that will vie against Apple TV, Roku and others, but sports fans need not worry because ESPN will be there ready and waiting if you adopt the platform.

WatchESPN is available on the Fire TV and using it fans can access a huge amount of live and recorded sporting events along with ESPN’s select offerings of the channels original sports programming such as E:60 and Outside The Lines.


Mock NFL Drafts

The NFL draft is less than two months away and so now is the silly season for a growing industry — NFL mock drafts. You know, when an athlete who has not played in months magically goes from a first rounder to a third rounder on someone’s big board for no apparent reason.

The good folks at Kissing Suzy Kolber have taken the industry to task and show why you should pay little attention to the mock drafts. They point out the inanity of the event and it has always seemed to be that the local beat writer for a team has a much better feel for what your team will do than some talking head in a studio will — that is unless the talking head is using other peoples’ work without recognizing it and we know that never happens!

Mobile viewership soars in setting March Madness record

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Mobile digital viewers are making their collective strength known during the current NCAA tournament by blowing away last year’s then record setting totals, and doing so with the championship weekend still ahead.

The numbers of hours of live video consumed is up only slightly from last year but the amount of live video streams that fans are viewing has tremendously increased as users are voting with their tablets, computers and smartphones that streaming video is a viable delivery format for fans.

The breakdown for the tournament through its second week shows that NCAA March Madness Live has seen 13.5 million hours of video watched, a 7% increase over last year’s 12.6 million at this point in the event. That video is comprised of 64 million live video streams over that time period, a 40% increase from last year’s 45 million. To put it in a clearer context last year for the entire tournament there was a total of 49 million videos streamed.

The role of mobile usage in driving up these numbers is obvious. Simply counting the mobile portion of the total streaming viewership shows that smartphones and tablet usage saw a 71% increase over the same two weeks last year with live streaming hours on those two platforms increasing by 38% over the same span a year earlier.

Of course in terms of percentages the growth appears to be leveling off since in 2013 the growth rate for live video streams was 145% over 2012 and the number of hours was up 201% from 2012, but it shows that strong growth is still occurring and is likely to maintain a strong pace going forward.

According to video delivery technology firm Ooyala the amount of minutes video minutes that have been viewed on tablets and smartphones has grown 719% in the last two years and that sports fans spent 62% of the time viewing videos longer than 10 minutes. It estimates that mobile viewership will encompass half of all video viewed by 2016.

Two Final Four Apps Launched
NCAA.com and Turner Sports are launching a pair of event-based apps to take advantage of the interest in the Men’s and Women’s Final Four tournaments this weekend available for Android and Apple mobile devices.

The two apps, NCAA Final Four North Texas app presented by AT&T and Women’s Final Four Nashville will serve fans at the events as well as those that will be following them remotely. For fans in the two towns where the games will be played the app can serve as a guide to the city and event with information such as schedule information, interactive maps, tickets, free Wi-Fi locations in the cities, news, and social media features.

The Men’s app appears to be the more feature rich and has a number of events such as AT&T Final Four Photo Hunt- a scavenger hunt around North Texas, the Coke Zero NCAA Social Arena. Both have an interactive map, the ability to buy tickets and merchandise and a daily events schedule.