MLB in Talks With Legal Counsel on How to Best Proceed Re: FTX Deal – SportTechie
MLB is speaking with its legal counsel to decide how to best proceed regarding its partnership with the now bankrupt cryptocurrency firm FTX, sources tell SportTechie. Sources close to the league indicated that MLB is concerned and closely monitoring the situation.
The history of Major League Baseball dates back to the 1800s, but FTX became the first ever brand to have its logo appear on the uniform patches of umpires beginning at the 2021 All-Star Game in Denver and continuing through the 2022 season. Shortly after MLB signed its reported five-year deal with FTX in June 2021, the league hosted its MLB Moon Blasts Pick ‘Em contest presented by FTX that offered $50,000 worth of Bitcoin to be deposited into the winner’s FTX account. MLB held a similar prediction contest with FTX that promoted a $100,000 grand crypto prize this past season.
As recently as Nov. 5, MLB’s twitter account shared a World Series home run highlight video that was presented by FTX. The Miami Heat have terminated its stadium naming rights deal with FTX while both the Golden State Warriors and Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team have suspended their promotions of the crypto brand. Should MLB eventually decide to end its relationship with FTX, the last time the brand’s logo will have appeared on an MLB field was during Game 6 of the World Series at Minute Maid Park in Houston.
Ironically, the Astros’ ballpark was previously named Enron Field from 2000 to 2002 before the energy company declared bankruptcy amid its notorious accounting fraud and corruption scandal. “Enron was once the Derek Jeter of American corporations — young, dynamic, full of promise,” Edward Wong of The New York Times wrote in 2002 after the Astros prematurely ended its 30-year, $100 million deal with Enron.
That scandal was at the tail end of Web1 and the beginnings of Web2 in the early 2000s. The demise of FTX comes after the collapses earlier this year from fellow crypto brands Voyager and Terra, which spent this past MLB season promoting its worthless cryptocurrency as part of the Terra Club at Nationals Park in Washington DC.
The sports industry’s hopeful embrace of Web3 now must grapple with FTX’s footprint that spans several of the business’s favorite buzzwords. An Instagram post from FTX in June highlighted The Sandbox, Decentraland, and Axie Infinity as the “3 most popular crypto-powered metaverses.” FTX has also made NFT collections for partnered teams such as the Heat, Warriors, Washington Wizards, and Washington Capitals.
The New Jersey Devils have entrusted Smartabase’s performance and analytic platform to serve as the franchise’s athlete management system.
Formerly known as Fusion Sport, Smartabase utilizes software that will allow the Devils to integrate and consolidate data from various third parties to better manage player workloads and better examine player screening and speed-based training. Smartabase’s tracking and analytic results will be studied in aggregate and turned into daily workload and readiness reports that can be reviewed by coaches and team trainers to aid player performance and injury surveillance.
Smartabase’s software has also been utilized by national sporting federations, Olympic committees and other NHL teams such as the Buffalo Sabres and Los Angeles Kings. The UFC Performance Institute adopted the Smartabase platform, as well, allowing MMA fighters to access and view their own data through the Smartabase Athlete App.
Founded in Brisbane, Australia in 2003, Smartabase is also being deployed for military research and in the public and health care fields. The company expects a 100% increase in annual revenue in 2022, and some of its past investors include Australian NBA player Matthew Dellavedova and Sydney-based Equity Venture Partners, who were part of a $5.5 million investment round in 2020.
Smartabase also released a Human Performance Optimization Tech Stack in May, a market report of performance technologies that included dividing more than 300 tech training products into categories.
Connected rowing company Ergatta has inserted calibrated technology into its new Vortex game that allows users to compete against other rowers regardless of their fitness level.
Modeled after the handicap system of golf, Ergatta’s proprietary Calibrated Competition technology democratizes workouts by scoring each member’s performance relative to their personal Intensity Zones and not their specific speed. That way, beginners or pro athletes rowing on the immersive Vortex platform — including Ergatta brand ambassador Colin Kaepernick — can go head-to-head as part of the gamification experience.
Through the calibration, the Vortex scoring system combines a member’s effort and fitness level to calculate their ranking. Users attempt to amass more tokens than their opponents during each timed interval of the competition. A member’s split time, in relation to their fitness category and previous race results, measures how many tokens they collect in a given stroke. Their personal stroke rate also factors in to how often they can receive tokens.
Ergatta was a 2019 graduate of the Indianapolis Techstars accelerator, led by managing director Jordan Fliegel, and recently raised a $30 million Series A that helped lead to its $200 million valuation. The connected at-home rower is equipped with a large tablet that provides live and on-demand digital content, based primarily on a gaming experience.
InspireTek, the Australia-founded mental wellness app, has named Rodney Rapson as its new CEO while founder Annie Flamsteed transitions into the role of executive chair.
Rapson, a former NCAA Division I tennis player at Arizona State and Jacksonville State, was PlaySight’s managing director for Europe and the UK over the past four years. Prior to that, he founded his own tennis academy near Frankfurt.
InspireTek has more than 40 organizational partners, whose young athletes use a mobile app to engage with wellness surveys and content. It also has integrations for biometric data to track sleep, fatigue and other measures. Rapson’s experience in global sales of sports tech will be called upon as InspireTek seeks to expand overseas. Flamsteed, a former competitive gymnast, will focus more of her time on continued iteration of the product as well as mental health advocacy and speaking.
Lockerverse has launched a digital and cultural platform that includes partnerships with Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud and LeBron James’ two basketball-playing sons Bronny and Bryce.
Founded by former Stanford University classmates William A.I. “Trey” McDonald, James Carlos McFall and Marcus Rance, Lockerverse is a community hub and website that features athletes as well as entertainers, artists, designers and brands. Participating fans can not only gain access to the player-related content, but also to merchandise, digital and in real life experiences, gamification and community chats.
Lockerverse will initially feature Stroud, the Heisman Trophy candidate from Ohio State. In addition to Bronny and Bryce James, the company has struck deals with Ohio State wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Memphis University basketball coach Penny Hardaway and various college basketball players from Duke, UCLA, Baylor, Arkansas and Texas.
The company was recently tabbed to be part of the 2022 Disney Accelerator, which held its Demo Day on November 10th. At the time, Lockerverse announced that will collaborate with ESPN on a free digital collectable for the Celebration Bowl to be held December 17th in Atlanta.
Nordensa, a soccer tech startup, is launching a new platform that will crowdfund the starting salary of promising prospects as an investment toward their future earnings. The app is slated to launch in January with the opening of the winter international transfer window.
The stated goal of Nordensa is to support younger players from developing countries who may otherwise have the opportunity to pursue their sports career. The company, which touts its Premier League-level scouts, will identity the talent, primarily from Latin America and Africa, and then helping the place the athletes with partner clubs, mostly smaller ones seeking wider access to players.
Fans can buy shares starting at €30, with the money covering first-year salary and other associated expenses. If the player signs subsequent contracts or gets transferred, those backers receive their initial investment back, as well as monthly dividends. Similar models exist for other sports, such as in motorsports with the Alexander Rossi-backed Evo having launched in 2021.
“We’re beyond excited to bring fans the opportunity to make a tangible impact in the future of both their clubs and the world’s most promising new talent, with a unique model that’s unparalleled in football — allowing fans to have a say in which young players they want to support and give a shot to achieve their wildest dreams,” Nordensa COO Gui Fernandes said in a statement.
“Nothing beats the passion of football fans, and it’s only right that they now get a chance to be an active part of their clubs’ and young players’ destinies. The top-level scouting professionals and the wider team joining us in this venture are also credited for the powerful message we’re sending out to the world of football — and we strongly believe that this is where the future democratization of the planet’s number one sport is heading.”
Manchester United has announced that its first NFT will be given to fans for free. The digital collectibles will be distributed via Tezos, the club’s training kit sponsor and official blockchain partner.
The exact drop date of the NFT was not announced, but Man U said in a release that fans claiming the token on Tezos will own a piece of club history and have access to its official Discord channel. The social community platform will also solicit ideas for events and other collectibles.
Though the first NFTs are being gifted, 20% of all subsequent releases will be donated to the Manchester United Foundation; the first for-sale token is priced at £30. The club positioned this first NFT and Discord channel as foundational to its Web3 vision.
“Having watched the Web3 space closely and consulted with fans for their views on how this unique virtual world should operate, we’ve worked with the Tezos ecosystem teams to apply these learnings and believe that the launch of Manchester United digital collectibles is different to others, providing the option of unique and enhanced engagement opportunities to our incredible fans,” Manchester United’s CEO of digital products and experiences, Phil Lynch, said in a statement.
The Utah Jazz opened the first Shoot 360 training facility in the greater Salt Lake area this past weekend, in a campaign to help develop youth basketball players through artificial intelligence and real-time data tracking.
Located in Lehi, Utah about 30 miles south of Salt Lake City, the high-tech facility lets players rotate through interactive stations and skill cages that provide automated audio and visual instruction about their shot mechanics, ballhandling and passing. Real-time feedback is relayed via AI to a player’s mobile app.
Shoot 360’s technology measures analytics such as shot arc, shooting percentage, left/right differentials and tips on how to improve shot accuracy. The facility’s skill cages are equipped with virtual trainers who analyze a player’s ballhandling and passing metrics with automated moving targets. The experience can also be gamified through shooting contests against participants from other locations.
Shoot 360 technology was designed to democratize basketball analytics to a wider audience, similar to a new smart basketball hoop, called Huupe, which also leans on AI for automated feedback and coaching. In April 2021, Shoot 360 raised a $2.25 million Series B funding round that included investments from basketball stars such as Trae Young and Sue Bird. Other players to invest in the company are Jamal Crawford, Thad Young and Breanna Stewart.
“The [Shoot 360] technology was so far advanced,” Crawford told SportTechie in July 2020. “For example, you could go to one of the shooting cages and do a workout, and they’ll tell you like, ‘Crossover, step back, hesitation, pull up.’ You do it, and they draw it for you exactly.”
Jazz coaches and executives were present for the debut of the Lehi facility on Saturday, Nov. 5, and plan to open two future Shoot 360 youth locations in Kaysville, Utah and Salt Lake County. Shoot 360 also has facilities in Denver, Irvine, Calif., Walnut Creek, Calif., Memphis, Pittsburgh and Charlotte, among others.
Golf+ is adding branded digital clubs and equipment from Callaway Golf and TaylorMade into its virtual reality golf game for Meta Quest 2 headsets. Other updates include a digitally recreated Pinehurst No. 2 course that will be playable in Golf+ starting Nov. 18, while a virtual Pebble Beach will be added Dec. 9.
Tom Brady, Stephen Curry, Mike Trout, Rory McIlroy, and Jordan Spieth invested in Golf+’s $6 million funding round in October. Starting in December, Golf+ will introduce new putting analysis and more than 20 swing feedback metrics collected through sensors in the Meta Quest headset and handheld controller. Golf+ retails for $30 and has reported more than 700,000 users.
“Our belief is that in the next five or 10 years [a virtual reality headset] is one of those technologies that most people have at least one in their house,” Golf+ CEO Ryan Engle told SportTechie. “One of our foundational principles is that we think VR is going to be the next major consumer technology.”
New team multiplayer modes, skins, and match play formats will also be added into Golf+ in time for this holiday season. Pebble Beach and Pinehurst No. 2 join the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, Valhalla Golf Club, and Wolf Creek Golf Club as digital versions of real-life courses available in Golf+, which has a partnership with PGA of America. Callaway Golf, the equipment brand that also owns Topgolf, has an existing Topgolf game mode available in Golf+.
FIFA’s high-performance team, led by legendary former Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger, has developed 11 new advanced metrics that will be made available to broadcast and digital audiences during the World Cup in Qatar.
The new metrics, based largely on player and ball tracking data, will be used to inform fans during the World Cup as well as be used by FIFA for internal uses. They are:
Wenger is FIFA’s chief of global football development, and the high-performance team includes analysts, data scientists and engineers.
The federation said it will conduct developmental analysis to track longitudinal changes in how the sport is played as well as have more objective measures about the physical and tactical demands of the game at the highest level, with an eye toward understanding player development from lower levels. Chyron’s TRACAB provided the optical tracking cameras and algorithms powering electronic performance and tracking systems (EPTS) in the 2018 World Cup.
Golf Guru has raised $290,000 in pre-seed funding to continue developing its mental coaching app for golfers. The startup’s mobile app already streams more than 20 hours of mindfulness and meditation audio content focused on helping golfers prepare for shots, visualize success, and feel calm on the course.
Golf Guru reports that since its app launched for iOS and Android in Aug. 2021, its 7,000+ users have dropped their handicap by 20% in their first month of using the app, and 30% within three to six months. The company’s new funding will help integrate machine learning into Golf Guru’s app to suggest mindfulness content based on a user’s biometric data, and test AI voice generation in the app.
UK-based investment group Capital Pilot Boost Fund contributed to Golf Guru’s pre-seed round. Golf Guru is aiming to raise a seed round in spring 2023 and secure partnerships with major athletes and golf organizations.