Kentucky Derby app adds more content for version 2.0

Call it a content-focused refresh — the Kentucky Derby app developed for Churchill Downs by VenueNext will add several new features for race-day fans, including live odds and betting tips.

The mobile app, which debuted at last year’s race, will once again offer the ability to place bets from within the app, so the new content may help produce more winners if the betting tips are correct. Also new to this year’s version of the app are a “today’s events” section which will detail what is happening at the racetrack throughout the Kentucky Derby weekend, as well as a “Derby News” section which will, in the words of Churchill Downs, provide “racing, lifestyle & equine information in one place.”

Like last year, the app will also support mobile ordering for in-seat food and beverage delivery or express pickup, but only in certain selected sections of the venue, which will see somewhere near 170,000 attendees over the race weekend. Last year, the track made delivery available to 500 seats in its Turf Club section, and express pickup available to another 15 sections of seating areas. We don’t have any details yet whether or not those services expanded for this year’s race, but stay tuned.

We’ll also be watching to see if this year’s wireless activity surpasses last year’s totals of 12.2 terabytes of cellular data for Derby Day and 20.15 TB for the weekend, numbers from the combined traffic of AT&T and Verizon Wireless customers.

Belmont, Saratoga race tracks to get VenueNext app in 2017

Screenshot of what the Saratoga app might look like. Credit: VenueNext

Screenshot of what the Saratoga app might look like. Credit: VenueNext

Operators of the famed Belmont Park and Saratoga Race Course horse-racing tracks have signed a deal with VenueNext to bring that company’s mobile app platform to both venues in 2017, with features including online betting integrated into the mobile app.

In an announcement Monday, the New York Racing Association (NYRA) said it will use VenueNext’s platform and mobile app to provide a set of features to race-day fans including the ability to store digital tickets, to purchase food, beverage and merchandise and have those items delivered to seats, to have wayfinding maps to help fans find their way around the facilities, and to view live and archived content.

The VenueNext apps will also integrate the functionality of the NYRA Bets system into the app, so that fans can place wagers directly from their mobile devices, according to the companies. The VenueNext app will be available first at Belmont Park in the spring of 2017, followed by a summer rollout at Saratoga, the companies said.

What will be interesting to watch is whether or not either track updates its connectivity ahead of the app deployment; according to the Belmont website, that track does have free fan-facing Wi-Fi, but only in the clubhouse areas with limited access in the grandstands. The Saratoga list of amenities for fans does not include any Wi-Fi information.

“VenueNext has a proven track record for delivering innovative fan experiences to sporting venues across the country and we’re proud to partner with them,” said NYRA President & CEO Chris Kay, in a prepared statement. “This partnership is yet another step in our efforts to continuously improve the guest experience through the use of technology. By leveraging VenueNext at Belmont and Saratoga Race Tracks, integrating our new NYRA Bets wagering platform and our new HD Video mobile app, NYRA will create a new standard for the horseracing industry and provide the New York fan base that is so passionate about Belmont and Saratoga the very best experiences possible.”

VenueNext, the stadium app development company created to build the stadium app platform for the San Francisco’s Levi’s Stadium, now has seven announced customers for its various stadium-app and stadium-app management systems, including the Orlando Magic, the New York Yankees, the Dallas Cowboys, the Minnesota Vikings, and Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby. VenueNext also provided the stadium app for the recent Super Bowl 50 at Levi’s Stadium.

Churchill Downs picks VenueNext for new Kentucky Derby app

Screenshot of new Kentucky Derby app built by VenueNext for Churchill Downs.

Screenshot of new Kentucky Derby app built by VenueNext for Churchill Downs.

Fans at this year’s Kentucky Derby will be able to find their way around historic Churchill Downs and place bets on races via a new venue mobile app, designed by VenueNext, the app developer for Levi’s Stadium and other football, baseball and basketball teams.

Most of the standard features of the VenueNext app platform, including interactive wayfinding and digital ticketing support, will be available to all fans for the May 7 Derby Day, according to Churchill Downs Racetrack general manager Ryan Jordan. Additionally, a small number of premium-seat ticketholders will be able to order food and drink for delivery to their seats via the app, a sort of “beta test” of one of the other VenueNext app services that Jordan said Churchill Downs plans to expand for future races.

“We’re very excited to roll this app out” on Derby Day, said Jordan in a phone interview. Though the racetrack has previously had some mobile apps, Jordan said they were mainly focused on the social element of the event, with links back to the Derby website. The VenueNext-powered app infrastructure, he said, “really translates well to our venue and we think will significantly improve the fan experience at the Kentucky Derby.”

Ryan Jordan, general manager, Churchill Downs

Ryan Jordan, general manager, Churchill Downs

For VenueNext, the big-name deal is its first outside of stadium sports, and the sixth app deal overall, following deals for apps for the San Francisco 49ers, the Dallas Cowboys, the New York Yankees, the Orlando Magic and the Minnesota Vikings. VenueNext also designed a special Levi’s Stadium app for the recent Super Bowl 50.

Wayfinding, betting, and more

One of the top features from the VenueNext app package that “excites” Jordan is the app’s ability to use a beacon infrastructure to support a live interactive wayfinding map, where app users can track themselves in “blue dot” fashion similar to Google maps for driving. Since Churchill Downs is an old, sprawling facility, Jordan said that helping fans find their way was always a challenge.

“There’s been 142 years of building this place out, and it’s not like a bowl stadium where you can just keep walking in a circle to find things,” Jordan said. “To be able to use a mobile app to find your seats, find your car after the race, and find amenities like betting windows is very exciting. We have lots of signage, but there are lots of different buildings and signs, and it can be hard to find your way around.”

For several years now, the Derby has been building its own mobile betting app, which allows fans to place bets from anywhere at the track. That app, called Twinspires, is now also integrated within the new VenueNext app, which means that fans don’t have to exit and find another app to place wagers.

Wayfinding map screenshot

Wayfinding map screenshot

To make sure fans can stay connected anywhere on the grounds, Churchill Downs and partners Mobilitie and AT&T upgraded the venue’s DAS again this offseason, adding more capacity for AT&T 4G LTE services. Though Churchill Downs does have a small amount of Wi-Fi for the main buildings like the clubhouse and the towers, Jordan said that service is mainly for race days other than the big event.

“For regular race days [when fans are mostly in the main buildings] we may have 10,000 to 20,000 people here,” Jordan said. “For the Derby, we will have 170,000.”

Starting slow with food delivery

Also included in the app is the ability for fans to order food and drink to be delivered to their seats, or to be picked up at an express window at a nearby concession stand. Jordan said that during the offseason Churchill Downs retrofitted several kitchen areas to support the delivery and express pickup options, but that the track will start small with the service and expand from there. In addition to the Turf Club and its 500 seats where delivery will be an option, another 15 sections of seats will be able to use the app for express pickup orders, Jordan said.

“There’s a lot of employee training and infrastructure [for deliveries] that’s new to us,” said Jordan, explaining the start-slow approach. “The good news is, there’s lots of opportunity to keep expanding as we go.”

(more app screenshots below)




MLB delivers daily fantasy game in partnership with DraftKings


In the past Major League Baseball once denounced daily fantasy baseball games as gambling, implying that no skill was involved, but that has changed as baseball has teamed with fantasy sports contest provider DraftKings for an offering that launches with the upcoming season.

The Official Mini Fantasy Game of is a free one-day fantasy league that can be entered daily and offers fans the ability to win tickets to regular season games, the 2014 All-Star Game and a 2014 World Series game. There are a total of four grand prizes, two each to the All-Star and World Series as well as a number of other prizes.

Players get a $50,000 salary cap and then select from a field of players that has 10 position players who can accumulate points (or lose them) by accomplishing select actions such as +5 points for a stolen base and +2 points for each strike out a pitcher earns. There will be several different offerings including a daily Official Fantasy Contest and a weekly Friday Home Team contest among others.

DraftKings specializes in creating what it calls daily leagues, ones that you can play and then quit, none of this following a fantasy baseball team for a season trying to convince a fellow owner to trade his star starting pitcher for your broken down LOOGY.

Its system is simple and has the potential to be lucrative for users. It has both free and paid contests in which participants select individuals to make up a team, watch how they perform that day and if they perform the best you can win cash. DraftKings is currently running several contests including a March Madness one. It offers contests in five major sports: MLB, NHL, NFL, NBA and the PGA. It offers a wide variety of contests from head-to-head to qualifiers.

This will be interesting to see how this pans out on many levels. Lotteries have tried to have sports offerings and most of the major league teams have fought against them. States, led by New Jersey, have then fought back, so far unsuccessfully. Now a league is endorsing it as a skill event and that could lead to an easing of other leagues’ dislike of this type of activity.

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.

NFL analytic app for fans, IronRank, comes to Android


There has been a huge upsurge in using advanced statistical analysis in all aspects of pro sports, with baseball leading the way, but football is rapidly catching up. IronRank has developed an app that allows fans to take advantage of the current generation of analysis.

The company has developed a method of ranking players and teams based on the standard Elo rating system and then takes the numbers it gets from the analysis and assign them to each team, which in turn is used to predict the score.

The program does an analysis on the entire team but also does separate ones for both the offense and the defenses of each team as well evaluating how teams do in the red zone, passing yards, touchdowns and other related categories. For a full look at how it does its analysis look here.

If the Elo system sounds familiar that might be because it has been used for evaluating tennis players as well as chess matches and has been found to be very accurate. IronRank said that the program so far has been successful picking winners 65% of the time and as the season progresses and more statistical information become available it increases its accuracy.

The program provides predictions on each game and ranks teams based on their division as well as their offensive and defensive capabilities. It features all of the stats that a fan could wish for and also provides past game results and provides a solid overview of a team’s performance as the season progresses.

The company now has an app available for Android devices and is working on one for iPhones. It also has a web site that has been up and running for some time. You can also follow the site at Facebook, Twitter and Google+.

There has been plenty of sports betting apps that have been released over the past few years, and few have had much staying power. However what appears to be different here is that the program uses a widely recognized, and successful system and simply applied it to the NFL. It will be interesting to see how IronRank does over the next season or two.