Friday Grab Bag: R.B.I. Baseball available in April?

Reports are emerging that R.B.I. Baseball 2014 will be available just in time for the start of the MLB season. According to a tweet from Darren Rovell the long-awaited renewal of the once popular game will be available on April 10.

The game will be available on a wide number of platforms including PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, iOS, and Android devices. This is MLBAM’s first move into the video game space and while it has had a great deal of success with online games the video gamers are a significantly tougher crowd to please.

A bonus from MLB’s new analytic approach
You do not have to be a stat head to be driven insane by inane commentary by baseball “analysts” that describe a play that in no way resembles what you just witnessed. I think everybody has seen an infielder break the wrong way on a pop up and then manage a miraculous catch followed by effusive praise by the broadcaster for the player’s great reactions.

With the new tracing system that the MLBAM announced just weeks ago, this blather could hopefully be a thing of the past and as a bonus the technology will show how some baseball “analysts” really just do not know what they are talking about.

Internet a game changer for sports broadcasting?
The success of broadcasting the just concluded Winter Olympics not just over the traditional airwaves but also over the Internet and to digital devices via specific apps has broadcasters taking a harder look at the appeal of Internet Protocol television, or IPTV.

What broadcasters that own the rights to sporting events like about IPTV is that it enables them to leverage an investment onto new market segments as mainstream viewing declines and there is also a decline in pay TV interest.

ESPN forms content unit called Exit 31
ESPN has combined three of its existing properties: ESPN Films, Grantland and FiveThirtyEight into a new entity called Exit 31 in what it calls an effort to produce creative storytelling beyond the traditional area with experiments in subjects, editorial approaches and platforms.

ESPN says that this will complement its already expansive storytelling abilities. If talking about Tim Tebow is an example of its existing expansive abilities I will pass. If you are curious as to what Exit 31 is, it’s the exit you take off of Interstate 84 to reach ESPN’s Bristol headquarters.

MLS season opener sees huge ratings increase
For those of you who did not notice the Major League Soccer season has started, beginning with a match between the Seattle Sounders and Sporting Kansas City. Viewership on NBCSN was up 283 percent over last year’s opening.

Now the numbers are still very small when compared to other major US sports, with only a .23 rating compared to last year’s .06. Still that is a positive note for the league and with World Cup interest starting to grow as that tournament nears, expect to see strong ratings continue.

Latest version of Fanatic sports app has enhanced features


The Fanatic sports app, from the same named company has some simple tools and an easy to use interface but its purpose is even more basic; it is designed to unite fans who are seeking sporting experiences with similar minded fans. However even simple ideas can be improved on, and that is what the company has done with its latest release.

The idea makes a lot of sense, particularly for people who travel a great deal and find themselves in a strange city yet want to watch their favorite team. You simply access the app, available for both Apple iOS and Android devices, and find a local sports bar that is highly rated for supporting a specific team so that you can watch in a comfortable atmosphere rather than having to worry about if your allegiance could create backlash from rival fans.

The company has built on this base and added or enhanced a number of features that most fans probably want such as the ability to organize a viewing party at a venue using social media.

The addition of a Live Score feature addresses a shortfall in the original program. Fans do not just want to know the score of the game they’re watching, and it always seems that the moment you look at the television the scores have finish scrolling and you miss the numbers for other favorite teams that might be playing simultaneously.

The news feed has been improved with a more robust and filtered feed that helps eliminate the chaff from the wheat. It has a private chat feature that enables chat before, during and after the event and includes a push notification so that you can quickly respond to comments.

Its core service, to find favorite team bars in different cities has gained an improved search function as fans using the app have increased the number of bars that are rated as well as expanded the geographical reach of the program.

The app can find bars for a wide number of sports and leagues including the NFL, NBA, NCAA, MLB, NHL and MLS, along with the top European soccer leagues, including the English Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga, Ligue 1, Serie A and the UEFA Champions League, and the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

Friday Grab Bag: Super Bowl prop bets, anyone?

Sure you have purchased a square or two in the office pool and made a friendly wager on the outcome of the game, but that is scratching the surface. Did you know you can bet on how long the National Anthem will be or if the singer will wear gloves? Will the game go overtime?

A look at which are good and bad can be found in a number of places but I liked the ones published in SportsOnEarth and one that was in Football Outsiders as they give some context to what you should and should not do.

Is the Super Bowl a boon on the local economy?
Every year we see a number of time-honored myths rolled out about the Super Bowl. Top day for avocado consumption. No. Top day for spousal abuse. No. That it is a financial boon to the host city/area. Maybe no as well.

A piece in the New York Times points out that since past predictions of prosperity by the NFL were destroyed once the methodology was public the same might be true now. The current estimate, between $550 million and $600 was determined in secret, they will not say who did it or how they arrived at that number. However advertisers are flooding the host city so that they can be seen prior to the event so maybe they know something they are just not telling us.

Winter Olympics broadcast schedule
In case you actually can watch the games from the comfort of your sofa or a cozy corner pub here is a complete viewers’ guide to the events, when they will be broadcast. It should be noted by figure skating fans that the first events take place prior to the opening ceremony.

For a breakdown on what will be interesting as well as the challenges that the broadcaster NBC could face look over to Sports Illustrated and a piece by Richard Deitsch. Will the network let possible bad news from the surrounding area taint its broadcasts?

Why no respect for American soccer players?
With the World Cup now looming on the sports horizon ESPNFC did a piece on why it seems that European based leagues do not value American players and why increasingly that feeling is being reciprocated.

The nice thing about the piece is that it does not jump to a conclusion but points out how different development systems, short earning window and other factors all play in the decisions that players make in where they want to play.

Another black eye for Sochi?
The upcoming Winter Olympics in Russia has received a series of bad news with intolerance, corruption and potential terrorism issues rising to the forefront. Now a recent piece from ABC shows that there could be another piece of bad news on the horizon.

They are saying that one of the key figures in helping Russia win the games over Austria and South Korea was a man named Gafur Rakhimov. The trouble with Rakhimov is that he is considered by U.S. authorities to be one of the top four or five people in the heroin trade and is under indictment in Uzbekistan.

Friday Grab Bag: ESPN pushing its World Cup coverage

ESPN is expecting to see growing interest in the upcoming World Cup in terms of audience numbers, and is working to fan the flames with strong pre-tournament coverage prior to the 2014 games, the last it will be broadcasting for some time, having lost the rights to the 2018 and 2022 tourneys to Fox Sports and Telemundo.

But for now ESPN has been pushing to alert fans that it will have the games and has even spun off its very popular 30 for 30 series to now include Soccer Stories in advance of the games. A benefit for ESPN is that the World Cup time zone in Rio is only one hour ahead of the East Coast and so fans will not be forced to watch tape delayed games or watch matches starting at 3 a.m.. At least in the U.S.

One additional World Cup note from ESPN is that the network hired Gilberto Silva, the Brazilian who helped his team win the World Cup in 2002 and former Dutch star Rudd van Nistelrooy as studio analysts. They will work on pre-match, halftime and post game shows.

Time change for 2022 World Cup?
However the winner of the rights going forward, Fox Sports, may be a bit upset these days by a move coming from the World Cup. The event, which is held in the summer every four years is being moved to the winter for the 2022 games. That is prime NFL time for Fox and while the World Cup is increasingly popular in the U.S. it does not come close to rivaling football, at least not currently.

The reason is obvious — the heat. The games are to be held in Qatar, where temperatures an soar above 120 degrees during June and July when the games are traditionally held. The nation was supposed to build a series of climate controlled arenas to host the event, but there appear to be issues. Still no final decision is expected until next year.

More NFL games on Thursday
It looks like the NFL is shopping additional games to be broadcast on Thursday night, creating a new Thursday night package that would be part existing games and part additional games that the NFL plans to add, despite its recent denials that it was looking to do so.

According to Awful Announcing, the current slate of 13 games, at least the last 2 years, would be expanded to 16 games and then part of that would be offered out to bid. The NFL is looking for approximately $800 million in a 1-year deal. Currently the Thursday Night games are carried by the NFL’s own network.

MLB expands instant replay for 2014

MLB has been slowly expanding its instant replay over the last few years and now it looks like it is going in whole hog with a massive expansion of the program in a move that will also allow stadium scoreboards to show close plays, even when they are not reviewed. I am sure the umpires will love that.

While balls and strikes will continue to be excluded from the replays, which is about all that the new system will exclude as almost everything else will now be reviewable. Hopefully it will not lead to NFL style delays.

USA Today gets into sports-event ticket business


I think fans everywhere agree that there are a huge number of sporting events that they would be interested in attending, at least once in their life, but finding out how to apply for tickets much less working your way through the red tape will always be an impediment.

Now leaping to the (possible) rescue is USA Today Sports Media Group which has teamed with QuintEvents to launch a joint venture called USA Today Sports Events that promises access to the biggest sports events.

The effort seeks to establish USA Today Sports as the go-to site for fans looking for tickets and packages to events such as the NFL’s Pro Bowl and Super Bowl, Kentucky Derby and the NBA All-Star game, among others.

It does not just offer tickets but much more in some cases such as access to players and coaches, the ability to walk a field or arena prior to an event, hospitality tent and parties access, and other amenities. The packages it offers are not third-party ones that cobble together hotels, seats and transportation but ones from the official sponsors of the events.

A look at the website shows it is offering tickets for the upcoming Super Bowl next year, with a clock counting down the days, hours and minutes. It has a link to different ticket packages, then a second to extras that can be added to your package, then a seating chart and so on. Currently tickets max out at $11,799 each.

The Level White Package starts with seats at $5,899 and has seats in the corner of level 100 at MetLife Stadium. The amenities include a $100 In-Stadium Super Bowl XLVIII merchandise coupon, preferred on-location parking (for an addition fee for the actual parking) and access to the NFL On-Location venue.

It does seem that all but well-heeled fans are increasingly phased out of the modern sports picture and while I like the idea of this and if I had the cash might actually try and use the service but increasingly fans of teams are the last that get served by the leagues when the biggest events come around, forcing them to try all sorts of maneuvers to get tickets. Maybe USA Today can also start a business finding bargain seats for real fans who aren’t loaded with cash?

Ruckus Scores Wi-Fi Deal for Soccer Stadiums in Brazil — But Will Wi-Fi be Missing in Action at Brazil’s 2014 World Cup?

The curious wording of a press release out today is making us wonder: Will in-stadium Wi-Fi be missing in action during the soccer World Cup next year in Brazil?

The thing that got us asking this question is the release today of news from Wi-Fi gear vendor Ruckus Wireless, which trumpets a deal for more than 360 Ruckus wireless access points, to be deployed in two of Brazil’s biggest soccer stadiums. But the release doesn’t mention the World Cup at all, and there is no date given for when the equipment may be installed.

While our guess (we are waiting for word back from Ruckus) is that there is some World Cup wireless rights deal that precludes supplying vendors like Ruckus from using the term “World Cup” in any announcements, the press release got us looking to see if any of the other stadiums that will be used in the month-long tourney already have or have plans to get Wi-Fi before the soccer starts. So far, we haven’t been able to find anything concrete that spells out whether or not Wi-Fi will be available at any of the 12 venues across Brazil. Our short history in covering this market tells us that if there isn’t a press release saying that Wi-Fi will be available, you can bet that it probably won’t be.

For the sake of the thousands of futbol fans who will no doubt be traveling to Brazil for the matches, we hope we’re wrong. But the best info we have found in a limited bit of Internet searching are a few articles from ZDNet’s Brazil Contributing Editor Angelica Mari. For the most part, the information seems to come from hopeful press releases, like this one about a plan for Sao Paulo to invest $22 million in a free Wi-Fi project, something Mari notes has been promised and not delivered many times before. In July Mari reported that the World Cup said it would have free Wi-Fi at all matches, but again, there were no specifics about deployments and her cautionary line, “But the actual ability of mobile providers to deliver is questionable,” should probably be taken as a pretty good warning that not all is well when it comes to Wi-Fi at the games.

For Ruckus, the deal to put wireless access points into two of Brazil’s biggest stadiums — the 71,000-seat National Stadium, also known as Estádio Nacional de Brasília, and Arena Octávio Mangabeira (also known as Arena Fonte Nova, depending on who you ask), a 50,433-seat facility in the city of Salvador — is another international win, and proof that Ruckus gear is passing the test when it comes to dense public facilities. But whether the gear be active in time for World Cup action is still unknown. UPDATE: Ruckus has confirmed that the gear is scheduled to be working by next June. Apparently we were also correct in assuming there is a rights deal that precludes the use of the term “World Cup” in any such announcements.

Unlike the London Olympics, which were amazingly the most un-wired games in history, the 2014 World Cup is looking like it might be a bit of a communications nightmare, given that local citizens like Mari routinely note that the country’s cellular infrastructure and services leave much to be desired.

Another possible scenario is that the Ruckus deal is just part of a bigger deal, where Ruckus would be one of several providers to the consortium of Latin America telecom providers (Claro, Oi, Telefónica, and TIM) who are in charge of World Cup communications. That might explain why a Ruckus release didn’t say World Cup, or mention other stadiums. Word on the street is that press announcements for World Cup infrastructure are being kept tight to the vest, so maybe we’ll hear more soon.