Archive for March, 2015

Controlling The Narrative – The Players’ Tribune and Brady Aiken

When Brady Aiken announced last week that he underwent Tommy John surgery to repair the torn UCL in his left arm, he didn’t Tweet it, he didn’t Instagram it and his agent didn’t issue a press release. Rather, the 2014 first overall pick in baseball’s first-year player draft used The Players’ Tribune to publish a column in his voice and to get in front of the story. A strange story filled with little facts, a lot of conjecture and an ending which seemingly screams “I told you so.” It’s the ending that Aiken and his agent want to change. So they did, with the help of Derek Jeter’s digital baby.

Jeter created The Players’ Tribune as a platform for “athletes and newsmakers to share information” as he’s quoted in the About section. On Thursday, David Ortiz used the outlet to complain that he’s the most tested player in baseball for substance abuse. It created enough of a buzz that the New York Times printed an article about the inner workings of the website and how the Ortiz story came about. Read the story if you want to know the details, as it’s a great article. Spoiler alert – the athletes don’t write the story themselves. Also, Santa Claus is your parents.

My interest in this “digital venture” of Jeter’s, as the Times called it, is the idea of controlling the narrative. Michael Wolff succinctly summed up this idea for USA Today:

Among the most prevalent and up-to-date phrases in business, politics and savvy American life is “controlling the narrative.”

That is, telling it your way, before someone else gets to tell it — and possibly tell it better — their way. And getting the public to relate to you on a more intimate level: In a social-media world, being impersonal is being out of it.

And when it comes to the Tribune, an athlete can do all these things with the cleanest image of any super star athlete of any time standing behind him or her. For those athletes with questionable credibility, the hope is Jeter’s iconic integrity can muffle the distractions one brings to a story and allow the reader to really hear the athlete’s voice.

Richard Sandomir’s Times piece echoes the sentiment:

The roster of athletes (and former players) featured on the site is lengthy and has included Jason Collins, Danica Patrick, Billie Jean King, Paul Pierce, Larry Sanders, Tyson Chandler, Eric LeGrand, Elena Delle Donne, Chris Long, Andrew McCutchen and Sue Bird. The accumulated message is that athletes, with help from a website overseen by an image-conscious superstar, can freely tell their stories and share their views as if they were credentialed writers. If they ultimately cannot bypass the ravenous news media in locker rooms or the digital hordes of social media, at least they can better set their own agenda.

When I first read that Aiken posted the news at the Tribune I rolled my eyes. Well, first, my story-idea radar perked up, but then I rolled my eyes.


Maybe I’m just being cynical. But how could this in any way keep the media and fans from slapping Jeff Luhnow and the Houston Astros on the back after Aiken and the Astros couldn’t agree to terms because the Astros feared the risk of Aiken’s almost UCL-less (or almost) elbow? Ludnow was crucified and the Astros public perception trampled after the general manager fumbled negotiations and ultimately lost fifth-round pick Jacob Nix as well. As Houston Chronicle reporter Evan Drellich, who has superbly covered the saga, tweeted last week “what Brady Aiken wrote should be taken as a press release.”

To my surprise, it’s kind of worked.

Know this – Aiken’s agent is Casey Close, the same as Jeter’s. Close constantly used the media to try and gain leverage over the Astros during negotiations last summer. Close voicerfously banged the “My client isn’t injured” drum, painted Ludnow as the villain and once the signing deadline expired, appeared to have won the public relations war.

Close recognized that any elbow injury to Aiken would erase everything. Ludnow and the Astros would come out as smart, right and justified. And Close would take the blame as to why Aiken didn’t sign a $5 million offer on the final day of negotiations (down from the $6.5 million initial offer, but up from the $3.1 million low-ball offer), missed a year of pitching development and a probable first-round slide in June’s 2015 draft.

So Close reaches out to his best client ever, Jeter, secures space for Aiken to break the news, and does it his way. Frank Sinatra surely would be proud.

Since last summer, a lot of people have wondered how I could have turned down a multi-million-dollar signing bonus after being picked first in the Draft. Now, I know they’ll probably be wondering about it again. I can honestly say I don’t regret not signing. It was a very difficult decision, but it also was an informed decision based on circumstances only a few people know the truth about. My family and I planned for all the possible outcomes. We weighed the pros and cons, talked with friends and mentors and doctors whose opinions we value and discussed it over a number of family dinners. This wasn’t a decision we made lightly.

Brady Aiken, The Players’ Tribune, March 26, 2015

Close and Aikens attempt to tackle the pending issues head on. First, they spell out why they don’t regret the decision not to sign. And in doing so, they jab the Astros with a quick left to the jaw. “The money wasn’t the only factor to consider,” Aiken wrote. “I wanted to play somewhere I felt comfortable, with a support system I felt would lay the groundwork for a successful and long career. Making sure I had that in place was worth the frustration of not being able to get on with my career sooner.”

Second, the Aiken camp has solely focused on preparing for the 2015 draft. Aiken said he was throwing harder and better, his workouts were his best and he was looking towards the future. The message is that Aiken was ready to be another top five pick in the draft. In fact, he may be a better pitcher than a year ago, despite not playing competitively.

And his final point, he’s just a human being. Just like the fans. He’s hit an obstacle, he’s going to work hard, and God willing, he’ll come out on top.

I already have a plan in place to rehab my arm, and I plan to come back better than ever. I also know God has a plan for me. Injuries are part of the job, but so is coming back. I can’t wait to get back on the mound. I can’t wait to compete again.

And to my surprise, this whole thing kind of worked. Unless I missed it, Houston hasn’t thrown the Astros and Luhnow a parade (which I would’ve done if I was in the GM’s seat). Astros blog The Crawfish Boxes chronicled tweets from media following the news. Drellich wrote the most pro-Astros tweet when he said there wasn’t any doubt that this validates the Astros concern. But then a day later he penned this lede: “If you think Brady Aiken’s Tommy John surgery proves the Astros right about the unsigned draft pick, you’re wrong.” Jim Callis of took a more even, rational approach. This does add some credibility back to Luhnow, but no one “won” this.

To each side’s credit, since the Aiken story was published, Close and Luhnow have remained quiet. It’s the smart thing to do, to avoid us hating either one of them more. In the end, this is a story about a gifted teenager caught up in the middle of finances and an ugly negotiation played in the media who has suffered a setback and can’t fulfill his dream of pitching professionally for 16 more months. Aiken isn’t an asset, he’s a young man with a family, dreams and a face – not just a high-priced arm. And had Drellich or Ken Rosenthal or any other baseball reporter broke this story, I think this aspect of the story would’ve been lost.

Players and agents can’t control the media. How boring would that be? SO MANY CLICHES! And just because a player gets in front of their story, doesn’t mean everything is peaches. The media digs, it follows up and it talks to other people in the story, whereas the athlete is giving his or her view. And a good reporter can crush a poorly-handled article “written” by a player, thrashing the credibility they were hoping to gain.

But in this instance, it’s helped. The Players’ Tribune allowed us all to listen to Aiken’s voice first. He set the tone. And unless Close or Luhnow speak up to add to it, this is what the story is. While it may not be the exact ending Aiken and Close hoped for, it’s certainly far better than the one I envisioned — the one where Luhnow wakes up the next morning in a Houston mansion naked in a bath of champagne, monkeys smoking cigars and a “I told you so” tattoo on his bum.

Building a Retrosheet Database — Part 3 (The Easy/Mac Way)

I’ve worked in technology pretty much all my life, but my first job was on the support desk of a software company. It was consumer software, too, so anybody and everybody called in — professionals, novices, little kids, people who wanted to learn, people who wanted us to do their work for them, and people who didn’t understand how computer mice worked. It was challenging. But I think the hardest part was that our department didn’t have remote software. This meant that every time a person had a problem, they had to just explain it to us. We couldn’t see what was happening, so we had to trust what the person was saying was accurate. Everybody sees a computer screen differently. Very rarely did a customer see it in the same fashion I was used to seeing it.

When I published the first two parts of this Retrosheet series (Part 1 | Part 2), I did not monitor the comments well enough. I apologize for that. Some people had legitimate questions and I wasn’t there to answer them. I also learned that I was making all of you trust my explanations of things. I was making you see everything through my eyes, and some people got a little confused. This stuff happens. I’m hoping to fix that here.

I also promised a way for Mac people to have access to this, so I’m doing that as well. This article/video is for:

1. Mac (and Linux) users

2. Windows users who had trouble with the first two parts

Some caveats for Windows users looking to use this method:

1. The whole point of the first two parts was to show how the SQL files can get made using Chadwick. The idea being that you could grab the 2015 (and all subsequent season) data when that became available. The method mentioned in this article involves installing one flat file. That means that you’ll need to delete all the data and reload it for 2015 next season. I have no problem making this file for you folks, and will continue to do so as long as TechGraphs and I are around. It’s not a big deal, it’s just a different approach and I wanted to be transparent about that. Mac users basically have to do this method since the Chadwick tools aren’t available for OSX.

2. The video walks Mac users through installing and setting up a MySQL database. Your method differs, and it was explained in parts one and two linked above. I try to make it clear about when I’m dealing only with Mac users, but I wanted to give you a heads up on that.

Everyone using this method will need to download this file. Just save it to the desktop. The video will walk you through the rest.

You will also need these two lines of code. The video will tell you how to do it.

cd /usr/local/mysql/bin

./mysqladmin -u root password ‘password’

I will be monitoring the comments more closely, so let me know if you have any questions. Thanks, and good luck.

FIFA’s Looks to Reach Out to Fans with New YouTube Programming

Soccer is a massive business. Not just club level play, but international events such as Euro events, Gold Cup, and of course, the World Cup are massively popular and thus massive money makers. Despite the popularity of soccer itself, FIFA has a deservedly wretched standing with many fans. It seems as though the governing body of international soccer has recognized this, and is making veiled attempts to reconcile with fans.

From the outcry of fans regarding Russia’s anti-gay laws while they prepare to host the 2018 World Cup to the thousands of migrant workers who have died building Qatar’s 2022 stadiums, let alone the various corruption charges, FIFA had some serious bridges to rebuild. Perhaps it was the FBI’s investigation to countries bidding for the 2022 World Cup or the drop of major sponsors in Emirates, Sony, Castrol Oil, Johnson and Johnson or Continental, but it appears as though FIFA is attempting to re-brand their image.

On January 29 of this year, Major League Soccer announced their sale of the popular KICKTV YouTube channel to London based Copa90. Last week Copa90 then sent out a press released regarding a joint partnership as they joined forced with Pitch International, just three days after Pitch International sent out a press release saying they partnered with FIFA. The FIFA/Pitch International pairing will consist of PI airing the new show FIFA Football. The show will launch in May and according to Niclas Ericson, FIFA director of television, the show is about all aspects of the game.

FIFA Football is about giving fans a real insight into the game, on and off the pitch. Football is a truly global game and there are so many great moments to celebrate and fascinating stories to share from around the world. We hope this show will help to inspire the next generation to play, engage in and enjoy the world’s most popular sport.

Aiming at the younger generations — not just as players but also fans — by acquiring and partnering with YouTube channels seems to be a savvy move by FIFA. The NFL catered to fans in January by putting sanctioned game clips and highlights on YouTube. Given the amount of heat put on the NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell in the wake of several poorly-handled decisions, throwing service to fans, possibly in a bit of a distraction ploy, was an interesting tactic. Similarly for FIFA, their new partnerships do nothing to apologize for past (and present) missteps by soccer’s most influential organization, however reaching out to fans is at least a positive step for a company not well known for positive press.

(Header image via Facebook)

Vine Improves To High Definition

As incredible as GIF(V)s and HTML5 videos are at capturing highlights, sometimes video alone does not do a moment justice. When an occasion calls for audio and video, Vine has filled that niche very well. Until today all Vines were recorded in 480p, however now iOS devices are able to record in 720p. The blog states an Android app update will follow shortly, however no word on Windows devices just yet.

After partnering and covering the NBA so successfully — the NBA Vine account has over 381 million loops — with both regular season and All-Star game coverage, at least one league is embracing the technology. On the other hand, arguably the best soccer league in the world, the Premier League seems set against sharing goals and highlights. In an interview prior to the season, Dan Johnson, director of communications for the Premier League was quoted

“You can understand that fans see something, they can capture it, they can share it, but ultimately it is against the law. It’s a breach of copyright and we would discourage fans from doing it, we’re developing technologies like gif crawlers, Vine crawlers, working with Twitter to look to curtail this kind of activity. I know it sounds as if we’re killjoys but we have to protect our intellectual property.”

Killjoys indeed. It is worth noting while the Vine official blog post does have a Premier League goal in it, Chelsea versus Crystal Palace, it is from the 2013 season and takes place before Johnson’s remarks.

Despite 720p not being particularly earth shattering on mobile devices these days, seeing Vine working to improve their overall user experience, is good for everyone, particularly sports and esports fans.

(Header image via Facebook)

What Periscope and Meerkat Might Mean for Sports

Periscope and Meerkat are both apps that do pretty much the same thing. They allow a smartphone user to broadcast live video. People can already do that, but these two apps tap into the power of social media, mainly Twitter. Periscope was actually bought by Twitter before it even launched. These apps provide users a way to instantly share immediate video. Think Vine, but without time limits and in the moment. This can be used for frivolous things like people broadcasting themselves eating breakfast, or serious things like streaming video of an explosion in New York City. These apps are only a few days old, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see them branch into sports very soon.

Meerkat and Periscope might be that perfect bridge between live and televised sports. At home, you get all the camera angles and slick replays and a comfy seat and cheaper beer. But there’s obviously something about the game that draws people to see it live. Nobody goes just to overpay for hotdogs. There’s an electricity at live games — there’s a feeling of being part of a shared experience. Teams sell expensive box seats to try and bring the feeling of the living room to the game. Meerkat and Periscope might be able to bring the feeling of the game to the living room — for free.

Say you have some kind of brain damage so you’re watching the Houston Astros on purpose. You’ve been watching the whole game on TV, and now the Astros have managed to mount a comeback in the ninth inning. George Springer is up to bat. You lean in a little closer to the TV when you get an alert on your phone. An Astros fan you follow on Twitter is at the game and is streaming the at-bat from the stands. You click. On TV, you can see the pitcher sweat. On your phone, you can hear the crowd roaring. On TV, you see Springer take a monster swing. On your phone, you see everyone in the stands rise to their feet, jumping and giving high fives. On TV, you see Springer round the bases. You can hear fireworks from both.

Meerkat and Periscope will not replace the feeling of being somewhere. But nothing will, so that’s not the point. These apps are trying to digitize shared experiences. I’m still not sure how or if it will work. But sports seem like the perfect arena. Baseball season is starting. NHL playoffs are around the corner. The Sweet Sixteen is in full swing. The testing space is there, Periscope and Meerkat just need the lab rats.

New Tablet and Second Screening Numbers Released

For tablets with data plans — and thus excluding Wi-Fi only variants — Compass Intelligence released numbers for the five largest wireless carriers from last year. More than 19 million tablets were sold with wireless activations in 2014 according to the information. For overall tablet numbers it should come as no surprise to see Verizon and AT&T lead the way, with 35.1% and 30.4% of the activations respectively. Sprint and T-Mobile are nearly tied, with U.S. Cellular and other companies rounding out the chart.


Tablets have certainly found more than just a niche fan base over the years and their sales as well as usage numbers have climbed. Sports leagues and networks have taken notice, particularly as the second screening experience grows more popular. Statista released a survey conducted about second screening in June of last year. A reported 44% of sports fans utilized another screen last year for live scores of other games currently being played, and 1-in-5 fans watched clips or highlights or was talking with a friend about the games. Somewhat surprisingly fewer than 1-in-7 claimed they utilized their screens for social networking or watching a separate live game.


Currently in the midst of March Madness, four games are slated today, however two games will overlap each other. Tip off times for 7:15 and 7:45 eastern as well as 9:45 and 10:17, thus ensuring those without multiple TV’s will be forced to either swap between channels or utilize a second screen. With baseball season just around the corner, games happen concurrently every day, though MLB.TV does allow watching four games at once with their picture-in-picture feature. Similarly, NFL Sunday Ticket allows the user to view eight games simultaneously

Presuming the tablet market continues to grow, something the trends suggest would be a safe assumption, count on seeing even more sports fans make the jump to second screening. Already broadcasts are inundated with suggested hashtags, plugs for apps and commercials displaying the best features of online subscriptions. Eventually sports broadcasts may reach the point where second screening is the norm.

(Header image via Digital Trends)

You Too Can Buy a Piece of Andrew McCutchen’s DNA

Andrew McCutchen’s dreadlocks are dead locks, people. The Pittsburgh Pirates superstar cut off his famous coils of matted hair and kicked off an online auction today to raise money for Pirate Charities. The current high bid at the time this post was published is $300. The winning bidder will also receive an autographed baseball and the ability to create an army of McCutchen clones. But Dr. Ian Malcom would probably just poo all over that brilliant idea.

There are ten available locks, which will be MLB authenticated along with the autographed ball. Funds raised by the auction and his personal charity, Cutch’s Crew, will be dispersed throughout the Pittsburgh community.

In case you wondered, Mrs. McCutchen approves.

Let’s hope someone compares McCutchen’s MLB StatCast times from 2014 and 2015 – dreads versus no dreads.

For conspiracy theorists that don’t believe he ever had real dreads in the first place, McCutchen’s got you covered.

View the auction and bid here. The minimum bidding increment is $10. Bidding will end on April 2 at 10 p.m. Eastern. Shipping rates apply and will be added to final bids, so be sure to check that out.

Is YouTube Creating a New Rival to Twitch?

For all of the various competitions getting streamed via TwitchTV, it is unfortunate to see the platform itself does not have any major competition. Yes, ESPN3 has shown esports in the past, Major League Gaming TV is making strides, and Azubu is still a thing, but without another titan to battle, TwitchTV holds all the cards as streaming’s primary go-to website. Cue the whispers of YouTube preparing to re-launch a gaming centered live-streaming platform in this Daily Dot piece.

The rumor mill has an acute sense of things given the recent Twitch password issues. While it isn’t on the same scale as Sony storing user passwords in plain text, on Tuesday certain TwitchTV users were hit with the a concerning email. A subject line of “Important Notice about Your Twitch Account” immediately caught the eye of channel owners as the body of the email revealed that unauthorized access within accounts may have taken place:


As a relatively long-time Twitch user — my account registration is dated January 1, 2012 and the company officially split from JustinTV in June of 2011 — I can even remember the JustinTV days and the issues that have hampered the streaming platform back then. From out of sync audio and video to levels of lag that turned videos into slideshows, Twitch seems to take one step forward and two steps back in terms of being the best available. Now offering the ability to at least report issues on hand with a few simple clicks, Twitch has nonetheless introduced other problems.


From a sub-par VOD catalogue that lacks a basic search function to their music policy that causes large areas of previous VOD’s getting muted (as indicated by the warning and large red bars), many — myself included — have expressed frustration with the platform.


Hopes are high that a rival service will end with the companies bringing out the best in each other for the consumers. Google previously showed interest in purchasing the Twitch platform before backing out, but if you can’t join em, beat em.

(Special thanks to the GSL and TakeTV channels)

Check Out MLBAM’s Ridiculous Launch Schedule for 2015

MLB Advanced Media, or the biggest media company you’ve never heard of, is about to embark on a video streaming expedition the likes of which the internet has never seen, supporting five launches in the next month alone, all while providing video streaming infrastructure for CBS Sports, ESPN, and WWE.

Take a look at this list put together by TechCrunch’s Matthew Panzarino:

  • 3/18 – Sony’s PlayStation Vue
  • 3/18 – March Madness streaming for Turner
  • 3/29 – Wrestlemania
  • 4/6 – MLB Opening Day
  • 4/12 – HBO Now debut with Game of Thrones

That launch calendar would be great if it occurred in a year’s time, but MLBAM is doing it in one month. If they nail it, MLBAM will be in prime position to do what has been speculated for months — spin off into their own digital entertainment company. As our esteemed managing editor, David Temple, noted, “Through some forward thinking, some early investments, and a little bit of luck, a sports league has ended up being a giant in one of the biggest tech industries around.”

As was previously reported by TechGraphs, HBO Now is being launched with an exclusive partnership with Apple TV, which created whispers that Apple is looking to start their own over the top streaming service like Sling.

In his interview with TechCrunch, Bowman responded to a question about the possibility of MLBAM supporting Apple in these efforts by saying, “I have no idea. We’d be honored to be part of anything, really… What people forget is how long they’ve been together, and how well they’ve been running the company. I think everybody would do a lot of things to be partners with Apple, but it’s hard to imagine there’s anything technologically we could bring to Apple.”

Continuing with the Apple theme, Bowman gave an update on the At Bat app launch for the Apple Watch, saying, “We obviously built a whole interface, when it launches in April and people sync their phones, [sic] obviously, the interface is different. Every piece of hardware has to look different… Hopefully, it looks cool and neat and — the watch itself, there’s ways to dig deeper. When you move it, you might just get an update, but when you punch it a couple times, it’ll dig a little deeper.”

Right now is 85 percent of MLBAM’s business, but obviously that number is likely to fall given all off the business they’re taking on. When asked pick a competitor for MLBAM, Bowman responed, “I think the biggest competitors that we have are inertia.”

(Image via Ming-Yen Hsu)


Wilson, SportIQ Team Up to Produce “Pro-Quality” Smart Basketball

Look close at Wilson’s Wx “connected basketball,” and it’s hard to tell what’s so different about it until you spot the Bluetooth logo by the inflation valve.

“That is not something we usually deal with,” Wilson’s Vice President of Innovation Bob Thurman chuckled.

The ball was presented, along with an accompanying mobile app, at last month’s Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston. Wilson developed the basketball in partnership with SportIQ, a Finnish company whose player tracking solution combines wearable sensors with synchronized video to help coaches analyze their teams’ performance.

When asked, SportIQ CEO Harri Hohteri (pictured above) was reluctant to talk about the “secret sauce” behind his company’s basketball. But he was quick to differentiate it from other smart sensor basketballs like 94Fifty’s.

“[The 94Fifty ball] was designed around shooting mechanics as a training tool,” Hohteri said. “But the first thing for us is the consumer side of things. We wanted to develop a professional-quality basketball.”

Hohteri, who played four professional seasons in Finland’s Korisliiga, insisted the feel of the basketball was of the utmost importance to players. “I can’t tell the difference between this and a game ball,” he said.

The quality of the basketball is further underscored by SportIQ’s partnership with the Korisliiga. For the third straight season, Finnish players are wearing the company’s sensors (and using its basketball) in league games. The data is used to automatically tag events in a synchronized video that Hohteri says coaches are using to track the efficiency of their offensive sets. And because it relies on sensors, the system doesn’t need the extensive camera setup used by STATS’ SportVU tracking system.

“It’s about doing things more efficiently,” Hohteri said. “That’s the whole idea. We can do the whole thing in real time with less manpower than teams are using now.”

But for those of us who aren’t running a professional basketball league, Wilson’s connected basketball is launching this year. The demo at the conference included a smartphone app (projected onto a television) that showed players their accuracy from various distances on the floor. A machine learning algorithm in the app detects makes and misses without the need for an additional sensor attached to the net, unique among smart basketball systems. Each distance stripe was color-coded, according to the percentage of shots made from anywhere in that arc.

SportIQ’s partnership with Wilson started in August 2012, when SportIQ first began its relationship with Finnish basketball. Because Wilson is the official basketball of the league, Hohteri approached Wilson’s innovations department about developing a smart basketball.

“At the same time, our business director was asking us for a way to measure makes and misses in the driveway to keep kids in the game,” Thurman said. “So we agreed that we would help engage them on tracking the basketball, and they would help us with this make/miss aspect.”

Thurman hopes the partnership between their companies will combine SportIQ’s intelligence with Wilson’s broad user base to “gamify” practice and inspire the next generation of basketball players.

“We want to activate 12-15 year old kids, to get them off the video games, and get them back in the park, to be more active,” Thurman said.