April 25, 2014

App developer theScore lands $15 million venture deal

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A few years back there was a steady stream of sports apps from small, independent developers all seeking to establish themselves in a niche and grow (or be acquired) to become one of the go-to programs for sports fans.

Fast forward a few years and the first wave has sadly mostly died off, victims of a variety of issues from over completion in their selected market, underfunding, well funded rivals, delivering an overall poor app and a host of other issues, so it is always nice when somebody breaks through to a new level.

One that has done that is theScore which has not only has stayed in the game but is now in a position to increase its exposure and enhance its platform with the influx of $15 million in venture funding that is expected to close in mid-May.

The private round already has a number of investors announcing their intention to participate including Levfam Holdings Ltd., Relay Ventures Fund II L.P. and Relay Ventures Parallel Fund II L.P. The publicly traded company is based in Toronto.

For those not familiar with theScore’s app, which is available on Android and Apple iOS devices, it is a customizable sports app that provides not only news and scores in real time but also information for fantasy teams and leagues. It tracks a huge number of sports leagues both domestic and international, along with their individual teams.

Hopefully the influx of cash will help enable the company to further establish itself as a mainstream app with broad based acceptance.

USA Today launches enhanced sports weekly app

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While I often read USA Today online I did not realize that it had a separate sports app called USA Today Sports Weekly that is available for free from iTunes, Amazon Kindle and Google Play, and which has just been upgraded to include new interactive features.

USA Today said that the revamp was due to the changing viewership habits of its readers which are continually moving from the print copy to digital versions.

The app will feature pretty much what a user would expect from USA Today with coverage of all of the major pro and college leagues with a heavy emphasis on the NFL as well as a solid influx of news from international sports and leagues. There will be editorials, opinion pieces and polls and it will handle fantasy sports including tips and advice.

A new feature that came out with the latest rev is called Stream and it is a social feature that in real time enables a crowd sourced stream of user suggested sports news feed. It also enables users easily cut and send or save articles that interest them. This will be moderated by the community.

There are few things that a prospective user should be aware of if they download the free app, since it has that little + sign next to it, which means in app purchases ahead. The app itself is just a shell, like an embedded e-reader. To actually get the copy for each week requires an in-app purchase, which starts at $2.99 for a single issue. A three-month subscription will run a user $12.99 while the six-month version is $17.99 and the full year is $38.99. Each week provides a preview so that if you are looking just for one that focuses on a specific event or issue, say the NFL Draft, you can find that out prior to purchasing.

I will be interested to see how well the subscription model does for USA Today. While I read the publication’s sports section I also know that there are plenty of free alternatives on the web, ranging from local newspapers up to ESPN. In an age where you can find any number of dedicated bloggers that covers an issue very closely such as NFL cap issues and make their findings available for free why would someone pay for a generalists view?

AT&T’s DAS and Wi-Fi network traffic for Final Four hits multiple Terabyte levels

AT&T StadiumWant to host a big sporting event? You better have a big network. Down in Texas, where everything’s big, AT&T had to go as large as possible to keep fans at the recent Final Four connected. According to AT&T, traffic on its cellular and Wi-Fi networks in and around AT&T Stadium surpassed terabyte levels during college basketball’s biggest weekend, with just over a TB of traffic on cellular and more than 4 TB on the stadium’s Wi-Fi network.

Granted, holding the final games of the college basketball season in a football stadium is sort of a guaranteed way to push the envelope when it comes to fan-phone traffic. With 79,444 fans at the semifinal games on April 5, this year’s event set a new record for most people at a college hoops game. Understandably, cell phone traffic also set records as according to AT&T its total data usage on cellular networks inside the stadium for all three games was 885 GB, up from 667 GB used at last year’s tourney in Atlanta and up from 376 GB used 2 years ago in New Orleans. When you throw in data usage at connected areas like the stadium parking lots, AT&T reported 1,268 GB of traffic, which is a massive amount of selfies.

And remember, this is JUST AT&T traffic. No telling how much T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon customers generated. Anyone at those companies want to let us know, please do so and we’ll add it all up.

In its press releases before the game AT&T made some noise about how it was doing cool things to prepare for the tournament crowd, like putting “stealth” DAS antennas below the court. Any hoops/hockey stadium IT director knows what’s going on there; when you put a basketball court into a facility that has normally wider fields (football or hockey rinks) you have a huge problem bringing connectivity to the VIP courtside seats. Hence, the solution for the Final Four: antennas below the court. Something that will probably be copied in a lot of arenas around the country.

On the Wi-Fi side, AT&T has one of the bigger and better Wi-Fi networks inside its namesake stadium, and it was put to heavy use as well. According to AT&T its stadium Wi-Fi network carried 4,035 GB of traffic total for the three games. Is your network ready for that kind of pressure? How high will this usage surge go? Have we seen the top yet or are connected fans just getting started?

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.

Stadium Tech Report: St. Louis’ Edward Jones Dome taps Mobilitie for DAS deployment

Edward Jones Dome

Edward Jones Dome

You can add the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis to the list of large, public facilities with a common No. 1 complaint from visitors: Why doesn’t my cell phone work?

“People get really anxious when they can’t get a signal,” said Marty Brooks, senior vice president and general manager of the Edward Jones Dome and the adjacent America’s Center convention complex. “It’s been our number one complaint, that people can’t connect.”

To address its connectivity issues, the team in charge of IT at the 66,000-seat stadium that is home to the NFL’s Rams and the adjacent 500,000-square-foot convention center enlisted wireless infrastructure supplier Mobilitie to install a neutral-host distributed antenna system (DAS), which should be operational this summer. At that point, cellular reception for customers of all the major carriers should improve drastically, even in the concrete hallways and closed meeting rooms of the connected facilities.

“Like many facilities that are 10 years old or older, we were not prepared for the [wireless] demands that the public and our clients have brought,” Brooks said in a recent phone interview. “It was a no-brainer for us to upgrade. We knew we had to.”

DAS first, another common theme

Marty Brooks, senior vice president and general manager, Edward Jones Dome

Marty Brooks, senior vice president and general manager, Edward Jones Dome

Aside from the connectivity issues, the deployment schedule Brooks and his team chose – DAS first – is also in line with many other facilities. Though Wi-Fi services often get more public attention due to the perhaps wider understanding of the technology, according to Mobile Sports Report’s 2013 State of the Stadium Technology Survey, most large public facilities that are installing new wireless infrastructure put a priority on DAS, perhaps because it alleivates the most pressing problem, that of having no connection at all.

“Our first priority was to address [basic] cellular, because we felt we could mobilize that deployment faster,” said Brooks. Though the facility, which opened in 1995, also hopes to bring Wi-Fi in, Brooks said the early negotiations confirms his beliefs that installing Wi-Fi is a longer process.

“We hope to get Wi-Fi installed in a couple years,” Brooks said. “But DAS will bring an immediate marked improvement.”

Staying in Neutral

Though the largest wireless carriers in the U.S., especially AT&T and Verizon Wireless, often like to lead or build DAS installations they are a part of, Brooks said that the St. Louis arena and convention center – which is owned by the St. Louis Regional Sports Authority and operated by the St. Louis Convention/Visitors Bureau – knew it wanted a third-party DAS operator.

“We felt the [DAS] backbone should be built like Switzerland,” said Brooks, who said that carrier groups were not even allowed to bid for the system’s construction. In the end the complex went with Mobilitie, a firm whose long track record of putting DAS into large public venues helped Brooks and his team move confidently forward.

Christos Karmis, president, Mobilitie

Christos Karmis, president, Mobilitie

“Mobilitie has good relationships with all the carriers, and they had the experience we were looking for,” Brooks said.

“Our focus has always been to be a good partner with [wireless] carriers,” said Christos Karmis, president of Mobilitie, in a recent phone interview. One of the benefits a facility owner or operator gets when they work with a neutral provider like Mobilitie is the accumulated knowledge gained by doing many large-venue deployments, and the internal resources to have staff who knows the differences in needs between the major carriers.

“We have people who are 100 percent dedicated to each of the different carriers, and how their technology changes from year to year,” Karmis said. “You have to stay up to speed or even ahead of it. If not, you end up in a situation where [the DAS] is not deployed right and the carriers don’t move onto the system.”

Antennas easy, cabling hard

According to Brooks, the easy part of the DAS installation is the deployment of the actual antennas. The hard part, he said, is stringing all the cable necessary to bring signals to the antennas, especially in the “dark” areas like long concrete-walled hallways and the convention center’s many internal meeting rooms.

Edward Jones Dome at night

Edward Jones Dome at night

“Pulling all the wire is very difficult and time consuming,” Brooks said. “We need to make sure that the media members who are working back at the end of dark corridors, or the suite holders in the backs of their suites, all have the ability to connect with their cell phones. Same with the all the attendees in our convention halls. We need to bring [wireless] access to all the inner spaces of a steel and concrete building.”

For its DAS operations, the facility has a 1,700-square foot enclosure with all the necessary HVAC and electricity. Brooks said stadium owners and operators need to “be creative” in finding spaces for DAS gear, which has only grown larger the past few years with the 4G LTE network deployments from all the major carriers.

Planning for crowds beyond the game

Unlike other stadiums that exist by themselves, the combination of arena and convention center makes for some unusual crowd gatherings, Brooks said, including a half-dozen or so times a year when the 66,000-seat stadium is at capacity while another 25,000 to 30,000 people are at the convention center.

But just like they expect their team to win no matter who the opponent is, Brooks said Rams fans also expect their phones to work on game day – and they aren’t shy about letting his team know if their performance isn’t a winning one.

“There’s such a level of expectation for the service we have to provide – and the fans are not shy about letting us know,” Brooks said. “But we told them, we’re committed to making this happen.”

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!