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?

Friday Grab Bag: MLB to live stream World Series

Taking its digital game up a notch MLB’s Advanced Media has announced that it will start permitting subscribers to its MLB.TV using its At Bat app to watch both the All-Star game as well as well as the entire World Series on their registered mobile devices and computers.

The games will be broadcast over the air by Fox Sports and some details still need to be worked out as Fox’s broadcast partners will be involved in some manner in the vetting process. Still this is a great move by MLB opening up the games to more viewers. Think it will go back to day games for the Series? Me neither.

Samsung teams with Mandalay Sports Media on second screen content
Samsung Electronics America will be working with Mandalay to develop new and original second screen content that will then be made available on select Samsung products. The content will be built around Samsung’s Automatic Content Recognition (ACR) technology platform to enable complementary and supplementary content experiences for TV programming.

The programs will initially be distributed on Samsung’s 2012, 2013 and 2014 Smart TVs as well as select tablets and smartphones. No word yet on what types of shows will be developed under the program.

NFL to add two more playoff teams in 2015?
The NFL has hinted that it is looking at adding additional playoff teams in the future because, well the owners will make more money. The rumors appear to be picking up steam and the Washington Post has reported that it will happen in 2 years.

This is interesting in that in the last postseason the league had issues selling playoff tickets and the addition of more teams will dilute the value of the regular season and possible create even more issues in selling playoff tickets.

ESPN talks about ESPN
There used to be an adage in reporting that “You reported the news, you are not part of the news.” Well that message has never sunk in at ESPN as the latest round robin of repeating itself has taken on comic qualities.

After one of its analysts reported that he would not take Johnny Manziel as a QB for his team, ESPN’s talking heads then discussed this comment endlessly for the next day or so. Awful Announcing does a great job in dissecting how much coverage the network gave to a comment made by one of its own people.

Can 120 Sports find a niche in sports streaming video market?

Without any examples of what they will do, it’s hard to guess where the new sports streaming video concern 120 Sports will fit in. But with content partners that include Sports Illustrated, Major League Baseball, the NHL, NBA, NASCAR and major colleges, it’s a good bet sports fans will find something to watch among the two-minute clips that give the site its “120” moniker.

Our pal Todd Spangler has a great writeup of the details of the 120 Sports launch over at Variety, but I wonder how (especially without any football content) the new site will make a name for itself, with its obvious competition being the worldwide leader, ESPN. With the technical chops of MLBAM behind it, 120 Sports is probably going to look great and perform well online. And as long as it’s free it will get some eyeballs. But if you read the press release you see there is talk about the “premium” version for pay somewhere down the road. That’s where 120 Sports will face its real test and right now I don’t see a compelling reason to pay for yet another sports outlet.

What I do foresee in the near future is some real shakeout between teams, leagues and broadcasters, because right now it seems like some leagues — the NFL mainly — are in danger of alienating their big-bucks TV contracts with their league-owned digital plays, like NFL Now. In the early days many sports fans will no doubt pay to see what’s on, but I don’t think there is a limitless budget for anyone when it comes to viewing sports. At some point (like what’s happening now with cell phones) sports fans are going to pick winners and losers, and my bet is that whoever has rights to live action and/or replays is going to be the big winner.

I like the idea behind 120 Sports, as short clips are definitely the way to go when it comes to online video. But do people really want a mix of features and other etcetera from a wide range of different sports? Or are they going to go to sports-specific or team-centric sites first? I just don’t see how 120 Sports is going to be significantly different from what’s available now but maybe they will show us when content is actually live.

SendtoNews inks digital distribution deal with PGA Tour

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Cloud-based digital sports media distributor SendtoNews has another feather in its cap as it has signed an exclusive multiyear deal with the PGA Tour that gives SendtoNews the rights to distribute PGA digital video to U.S. local news sites.

This continues a slow and steady expansion of the multimedia digital sports distributor. It had signed a Canada-only deal to distribute NFL video and signed deals with the LPGA Tour and NASCAR last year to joining a growing list of partners that include major names such as the English Premier League, and Formula 1 as well as lesser known sports leagues such as Rugby Canada, the American Hockey League and the World Archery Federation.

The deal with the PGA Tour will enable SendtoNews to serve as a centralized distribution point for PGA tournament highlights, player interviews, commentary and other video content that it will make available to its partners via its digital News Partnership Network.

The company describes its News Partnership Network as one that is comprised of comprised of thousands of top national, regional and local sports broadcasters and publishers. It provides the highlight videos and other packaged products and its partners share advertising revenue.

The videos can be seen on members’ web sites, and increasingly popular method for getting news for fans as opposed to print editions. It would be interesting if SendtoNews could find a way to directly access fans. It would certainly be nice to do something such as subscribe to a NASCAR feed that provided me with all of the highlights and interviews since I imagine that its partners pick and choose what they broadcast. A driver that is not a fan favorite but has something interesting to say is probably shut out currently.

Friday Grab Bag: $1 Billion for perfect March Madness bracket?

Every year you hear, usually third hand, about somebody who correctly picked all of the winners in the NCAA’s March Madness basketball tournament. A side note is that they won an office pool with maybe a few hundred dollars in it.

Well Warren Buffett is changing the stakes to the game, along with Berkshire Hathaway and Quicken Loans. They are offering an award of $1 billion for the person that correctly selects all 63 winners. You can ask for that in either $25 million a year over 40 years or a lump sum of $500 million. Such tough choices.

More Thursday night games from NFL
Remember those games that the NFL said it was not going to be playing on Thursday nights. Well the networks have all started bidding on the rights to broadcast the games that will start this upcoming September and the deal is expected to be for one season.

In the mix are CBS, Fox and NBC and the rumored amount is in the $400 million and is expected to be for eight games. However it appears that the deals are not exclusive but rather the NFL will also broadcast the same games on its NFL Network.

More NASCAR changes coming
NASCAR does not seem to want to leave good enough alone and is once again altering the rules that establish who wins the championship each season. The sport has been tinkering off and on with changes since it established the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

More teams seem to be the answer, at least according to NASCAR, which is trying to recapture its former broadcasting ratings glory. SportsOnEarth does a very nice job tearing down the proposal and pointing out how the sports executives seem bent on destroying the unique nature of the sport.

MLB Advanced Media honcho looks into the future
MLBAM has gotten a lot of news so far in this young year, deals streaming the new WWE online channel and a relationship with Sony that will leverage the MLBAM’s technical know-how for its back end technology.

Now its CEO Bob Bowman is talking about where he sees streaming video going and what impact the recent high profile deals will have on MLBAM

X Games have started
The prelude to the Winter Olympics has begun with ESPN’s annual X Games, hosted in Aspen, Colo. Just prior to the start of the Winter Olympics. However it looks like a few big names will not be seen at the events.

One is 13-time gold medal winner Shaun White, who said that he needed the time to prepare for the Sochi Games. The other is Red Bull, one of the top sponsors for the event. Monster Energy has replaced it and Forbes speculates that this could be the start of Monster establishing itself as a rival to Red Bull in the sports action market.

Sharp goes big in tablet spaceIf the current generation of tablets, now edging out to 13-inches, is too small to meet your needs then you might want to take a gander at the latest from Sharp, the RW-16G1, that boasts a 15.6 inch display.

The tablet runs Windows 8.1 operating system and is seen as a tool for those looking for a powerful tablet to replace a desktop or laptop computer. Among its features are 128GB storage, 3200 x 800 screen resolution and is powered by an Intel Core i5 processor with 4GB RAM.

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