April 24, 2014

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?

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.”

Niners pick Aruba for Wi-Fi network gear at Levi’s Stadium

An under-the-seat access point. Credit: Aruba Networks

An under-the-seat access point. Credit: Aruba Networks

There’s no official press announcement as of yet, but judging by some presentations and social-media posts that are being publicly shared, it looks like Aruba Networks has won a big plum of a contract, as the Wi-Fi access point gear supplier for the San Francisco 49ers’ Levi’s Stadium, the new stadium set to open this year.

(editor’s note: We don’t do April Fools jokes, so this is real news)

At its user conference in Las Vegas last month, Aruba Networks had a keynote presentation (slides embedded below) about Wi-Fi deployment strategies at Levi’s Stadium, and the Niners’ senior IT director Dan Williams was a speaker, so clearly the team is comfortable with its execs talking with and about Aruba products. While it’s entirely possible that other Wi-Fi gear may find its way into what is being billed as the greatest stadium network of all time, it’s clearly a big win for Aruba, which is making headway with major announcements in stadium networking.

An under-the-seat AP install, with construction worker to show... perspective. Credit: Aruba Networks

An under-the-seat AP install, with construction worker to show… perspective. Credit: Aruba Networks

We have an email in to the 49ers CTO office to see if they will say anything official yet, but with pictures of APs being installed under seats it apparently won’t be long before we hear the official news of the deal. Aruba, as you may recall, is also behind the recent Wi-Fi network built for American Airlines Center in Dallas, home of the NBA’s Mavericks and the NHL’s Stars. Aruba gear is also being used for the Wi-Fi network being built at the Portland Trailblazers’ home, the Moda Center. (For more information on NBA stadium Wi-Fi deployments download our recently released Stadium Tech Report for Q1 2014, available for free download from our site)

There is no official press release from Aruba yet either, though the company is probably chomping at the bit as evidenced by their not-very-subtle leaks of the information via Twitter:

More, of course, as we hear more — according to the Aruba page there is video forthcoming from the user conference presentation, which may help explain some of the more cryptic bits of the presentation. We especially like the under-the-seat access point installation, with the requisite hardhat worker providing the human touch for perspective. Can’t wait to see how it works on game day!

Friday Grab Bag: NBA first to adopt ads on jerseys?

Apparently it is just a matter of time. ESPN is reporting that new NBA commissioner Adam Silver told an audience at the IMG World Congress of Sports that the move to put ads on NBA jerseys is inevitable and that it will enable its marketing partners to get closer to fans. I guess that translates into owners will be able to take home more money.

Ads on U.S. pro team uniforms has been contentious — MLB has talked about it for more than a decade and in a game in Japan rolled out the look to wide displeasure but it seems inevitable. Teams are always looking for additional revenue and this looks to be money just left on the table.

NFL to have official to official communications
According to MMQB the NFL will equip all NFL on-field officials with a microphone, earpiece and a radio pack so that during games they can communicate wirelessly over an encrypted system to each other for a more efficient game.

I wonder in this day when people can hack into store accounts how long it will take for some person or persons to hack the communications between officials and either broadcast it somewhere or interfere with the chatter?

Buffett wants bracket changes for tournament
If you are like everybody else I know your March Madness bracket was blown up during last weekend’s round of major upsets but not everybody was unhappy — Quicken Loans and Warren Buffett’s offer to pay $1 billion to anyone that picked all winners will go uncollected this year.

However they are not gloating and Buffett, who said that they plan to offer the $1 billion next year, wants to change it so that it will be easier to win. However he has not yet worked out how that can be done.

You can still win millions if you Beat The Streak
March Madness is not the only game in town as with the start of the MLB season there s also the launch of the 14th annual Beat The Streak fantasy contest, this year with a $5.6 million prize, and hopefully someone will finally win this very hard to attain prize.

The Beat The Streak sponsored by Dunkin Donuts game itself is very simple; all a fan has to do is select two players every day and hope that one gets a hit, for 57 consecutive games, breaking baseball’s historic single season hitting streak. Good luck.

Maryland’s departure from ACC gets even more acrimonious

Maryland is one of the many schools that has shopped for a better deal in its collegiate alignment and announced 2 years ago that it was departing from the ACC for the Big Ten in search of its pot of gold. The ACC responded by suing to collect an exit fee.

Now Maryland is striking back and has subpoenaed 10 conference schools and ESPN claiming that the ACC violated its own rules on exit fees and that along with ESPN it tried to lure Big Ten schools, according to the Washington Post.

Friday Grab Bag: 14 New ESPN Channels — mainly online

ESPN is launching 15 virtual networks for users of Apple TV and Roku boxes that provide Internet connectivity to their televisions as part of its ongoing WatchESPN initiative. The new channels’ programming will be culled from related conference programming from the network’s existing portfolio that includes ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPNU and others.

Some of the programming will include select live events including college basketball. Others such as college football will only be available via on-demand broadcasting. The channels will feature the ACC, America East, Atlantic Sun, Big South, Big West, Horizon, Mid-American, Metro Atlantic Athletic, Missouri Valley, Northeast, Ohio Valley, Southern, Sun Belt and Southland conferences. In addition there will be a combined channel featuring coverage of historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) and conferences including the Southwestern Athletic Conference, Mid-Eastern Athletic and Central Intercollegiate Athletic conferences.
Fox Sports 1 has new MLB show
Fox Sports will be broadcasting a new slate of games this year, with a preference for teams that have regional Fox broadcast deals, and it will have the opportunity to highlight its games with its new MLB Whiparound show.

Airing Monday-Friday at 10 pm ET (but 12 midnight on Wednesdays) the program will be up against one of ESPN’s flagship programs Baseball Tonight and the MLB Network’s MLB tonight, all of which start at the same hour.

The Raiders to Portland?
There are a few fans in Portland, Ore., who are running a campaign to get the state to encourage the Oakland Raiders to move north to Portland, a city that lost its Single A baseball team a few years ago due to lack of support.

While the Raiders’ owner has said that the team would look to move if Oakland does not solve its stadium issue (it wants a new one) it seems highly unlikely that Portland would be its first choice with Los Angeles open. However the mix between Portland hipsters and die hard Raider fans would be great to watch.


NBC had to provide make-good ads for Olympics

Advertising Age is reporting that the broadcast giant has to provide make-good ads to some of its Olympics customers because while it won the broadcast bragging rights for virtually every night it fell short of the projected ratings.

However the network feels good about the overall results and is optimistic about its next Olympics broadcast, the 2016 Summer games in Rio. It has already started to sell ads for that event.

Minor League Baseball team has selfie promotion
One of the great things about minor league baseball are the interesting promotions that many of the teams engage in. What is possible the first of the upcoming season comes from the Kalamazoo Growlers.

They are having a promotion centered around selfies called the Salute to Selfie Night this season. The event calls for fans to take pictures of themselves and submit them, from which the team will make a jersey with the images reproduced in collage form. So practice your duck face now!