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TechGraphs News Roundup: 3/25/2016

According to the solar calendar, spring arrived in the northern hemisphere this week. According to that regular calendar on your desk with the new Jeopardy! answer to tear off every morning, it’s just another Friday, which means it’s time for the weekly TechGraphs News Roundup, wherein we bring you the sports-tech stories from the past week that we found interesting.

March Madness has been pretty wild this year, with the first two rounds of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament featuring a number of shocking upsets. The Sweet Sixteen tipped off last night, and the Maryland Terrapins, who advanced to that round for the first time since they left the ACC to join the Big Ten conference, lost a tight game to the favored Kansas Jayhawks. A disappointing on-court result for Maryland, to be sure, but not for a lack of technology-driven training off the court, where the Terps have been employing an array of biometric monitoring tools. Much of their technological application surrounds team practices, which begin with readings from the OmegaWave system’s monitoring of central nervous system activity. During practice, they incorporate the Zephyr system for heart-rate and G-force tracking. Coaches keep an eye on all of the data these systems collect in real time and adjust training regimens accordingly. Sure, we’re just talking about practice, man, but, at least in College Park, basketball practice in 2016 looks like it has a lot more A.I. in attendance than it did in Philadelphia in 2002.

The latest chapter in the daily fantasy sports legal saga finds FanDuel and DraftKings shutting down all of their paid contests in New York pursuant to the terms of a settlement agreement with the New York Attorney General’s office. We’ve called Yahoo! the “third wheel” in the daily fantasy marketplace, but it was not a party to that settlement agreement and therefore appeared to be the big winner in the Empire State, at least temporarily. The New York Daily News reported that Yahoo! still was taking paid bets in New York on Monday after FanDuel and DraftKings had ceased such operations, but, on Tuesday, Yahoo! agreed to join its DFS competitors in ceasing paid contests. The legal battle will continue in New York, with further court arguments set for later this year, but, for now, the New York Attorney General’s office appears to have won a substantial victory.

PITCHf/x, the baseball pitch-tracking and mapping technology, has been a major boon to the study and analysis of America’s pastime, and it’s a foundational pillar of much of the crack baseball analysis you’ll find in the pages of FanGraphs. The recently introduced StatCast technology expands beyond PITCHf/x to track batted balls, defensive positioning and movement, and baserunner movement. “But what about cricket?”, you might have wondered. That worldly mixture of baseball, bocce, lawn darts, and fraternity-style hazing now has PitchVision, a camera-driven technology that tracks ball and player movement and can compile and analyze the collected data. PitchVision is designed to be portable and relatively cheap (kits start at around $52,000, if my Rupee-to-Dollar conversion was accurate), and the manufacturer, miSport, is marketing them to cricket training schools and teams.

Even in its offseason, the NFL is never far from the daily news cycle, is it? The league’s owners’ meeting wrapped up this week in Florida, and, among the various rule tweaks and other minutiae announced came word that data from the RFID chips embedded in each player’s shoulder pads last season (which we told you about back in September) will be available to teams beginning in May. What they’ll do with it is anybody’s guess, but you can be sure that Bill Belichick won’t reveal any clues.

Australian researchers have created a prototype of a concussion-monitoring headband athletes can wear to allow coaches and game officials to receive brain-trauma information in real time. The goal with the brainBAND technology is to both facilitate in-the-moment concussion diagnoses that should preclude players from returning to game action and measure the smaller hits that, cumulatively, can contribute to a substantial effect on the brain. So far, the brainBAND has been tested on amateur rugby players in Australia, but it would seem to have obvious applications for other sports, including (American) football as well.

Before Oscar Pistorius became controversial for decidedly wrong reasons, his use of prosthetic legs in conventional running competitions raised deep ethical and competitive questions with which many continue to grapple. Research and development in the area of prosthetic technology, continues, of course, and a new research paper from a university in the United Kingdom proposes guidelines for avoiding competitive advantage where prosthetic leg technology is used in sporting events. The paper’s central proposal is to apply a set of practical testing guidelines, including the use of the “dynamic drop technique,” designed to generate objective data on competitive advantages that can better inform future rules and regulations.

In the moments leading up to a sporting event, athletes commonly don headphones and listen to music as part of a preparatory routine designed to aid focus, eliminate distractions, and, for those of us who really loved Jock Jams, get pumped up to come off the bench in a middle school B-league basketball game. When it comes to headphone technology, most of us just want to make sure we’re getting enough volume to our ears. Now, a Bay-Area startup called Halo Neuroscience actually wants to turn up the electricity in athletes’ headphones in order to improve their athletic performance. Halo’s headphones, which look suspiciously like Beats headphones with scalp massagers attached, actually contain neurostimulating electrodes designed to improve motor function through electrical interactivity with the brain’s motor cortex. The company’s own research suggests that their “transcranial direct current stimulation” can improve physical outcomes, but some neuroscientists are skeptical, and the company’s research has not yet been published in peer-reviewed publications. Still, the possibilities Halo Neuroscience’s headphones present have been enough to draw $9 million in venture capital funding.

That’s all for this week. Whether you plan to spend the weekend hunting for Easter eggs or just watching your team hunt for a spot in the Final Four, please remember to be excellent to each other.

TechGraphs News Roundup: 3/11/2016

The volatile month of March is upon us, and in comes this TechGraphs News Roundup, surely the lion of the sporting blogosphere and the FG family (check out our colors!), to deliver the sports-tech stories from the past week that we found interesting, along with just the right amount of bluster.

The baseball countdown clock’s still ticking, measuring our ever-closing temporal gap between the now and the start of the baseball season. One thing that might happen in the 2016 season is that Mike Trout, extremely good hitter, becomes Mike Trout, even-better-than-before hitter. If that thing happens, it might be due, in part, to his use of a new “smart bat” he helped develop. Our own Bryan Cole has some of the details over at Beyond the Box Score, where he reports that Trout, together with sports sensor manufacturer Zepp and Old Hickory Bats, the company that makes Trout’s in-game bats, have created a bat that houses a Zepp sensor– comprised of gyroscopes and accelerometers– right inside the handle of the bat itself. The idea behind this bat, which will be available for sale to the public this summer, is that increased measuring and monitoring of a player’s swing from the 1,000 data points the bat collects, can be used to help improve a player’s swing. Zepp is seeking approval for in-game use of these smart bats.

Baseball bats are getting smarter, and so too is the way MLB teams are using social media to interact with their fans. For at least a few teams, including the Tigers, Dodgers, and Giants, this digital interaction has expanded to encompass live video streaming during spring training activities. We have covered the live-streaming capabilities of video apps such as Periscope and Meerkat here before, but the MLB teams moving in this direction seem to be favoring Facebook Live, the Facebook-integrated live video app. While Periscope’s ready integration with Twitter means it probably will remain a strong player in the live video streaming space, it also makes sense for teams to bring their content to where most of their fans already exist. For now, that appears to be good old

Baseball fans aren’t the only ones who are into live video streaming, and with less than a month remaining in the regular season, the NHL playoff race is in full swing, making this an especially timely moment for the news that Yahoo’s new partnership with the NHL will include free live streams of real NHL games. Yahoo plans to stream four games each week, and they will make the streams available on and on the Yahoo Sports Tumblr page (which I just had to Google) to out-of-market viewers at no cost. The first such game is tonight’s Flyers-Lightning matchup.

Did you know that the twenty-first season of Major League Soccer just kicked off? It’s true: MLS finally can share a beers with its fans. In addition to a new drinking buddy in the form of an anthropomorphic sporting league, MLS fans also can look forward to implementation of the Audi Player Index, player-tracking technology designed by an automotive company to collect near-real-time movement and secondary statistical data for every player on the pitch. The goal of the Index appears to be to boil all of this data down to a single number for each player that represents the degree to which the player contributed to or detracted from the player’s team’s win or loss. According to MLS, a top individual game Index score could fall between 500 and 1600 Index points, with the highest individual game score awarded to date being 3330 for a player who scored five goals in the game. At the end of the season, MLS will recognize the player with the highest per-game Play Index average. Fans of new and advanced baseball statistics are likely to recognize some principles of WAR and win-probability added at work here, and, depending upon how effective MLS and its broadcasters are at disseminating this information, the Audi Player Index could offer an engaging entry point for new fans.

For the NBA, player tracking is mere surface-level stuff, with player biometric monitoring continually advancing in that sport. While such monitoring soon may push up against ethical boundaries, if it hasn’t already, the teams do not appear to be slowing down in this department. According to a press release issued Monday, Kinduct, a Halifax-based company, has registered the Indiana Pacers as a new client and will be providing the team its “athlete management software . . . to collect  performance and health data for smoother visualization and analysis within a centralized location.” Does Paul George sleep well at night? Team President Larry Bird soon may be able to answer that question with a quick glance at his tablet device.

In case the sudden absence of advertising made you forget, daily fantasy sports remains a thing that exists, and, in a surprising move in light of the nationwide legal landscape, Virginia recently became the first state to legalize DFS via the Fantasy Contest Act. DFS operators badly needed a legal victory, but, like most legal victories, this one comes at a price. DFS may be expressly permitted in Virginia, but it’s not unregulated, and the regulatory costs, which include a $50,000 operating fee and an annual auditing requirement, may be enough to sink some smaller providers. On the other hand, this sort of regime is exactly what larger providers, like FanDuel and Draft Kings, want, because it shields them from both legal challenges (in the Old Dominion, anyway) and upstart competitors that can’t afford to comply with the regulations.

The annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference runs today and tomorrow in Boston, where a number of potentially interesting topics are on tap. The SXSW conference also begins today in Austin, and the conference has its own sports segment, with many events and panel discussions scheduled over the coming days. For those who won’t be on the ground in Boston or Austin this year, check next week’s roundup for any pertinent highlights that emerge from these hip gatherings.

Whether you’re spending this weekend at a sports-tech conference or just trying to enjoy some springtime weather, please do remember to be excellent to each other.

TechGraphs News Roundup: 2/26/2016

The countdown to the 2016 baseball season is on, and Friday brings us one day closer do the action. Before you crow hop into your weekend, catch up on these sports-tech stories from the past week that we found interesting.

Contrary to the wishes of some of our more outspoken readers, it looks like expanded safety netting will be a reality in both MLB and MiLB parks this year. In what should be more universally well-received news, the league released information on this year’s MLB.TV package this week. We’ll cover it in greater detail here soon, but, for now, know that the regular package is available for $109.99 (a reported $20 discount over last year’s rate) or $24.99 per month. The bigger news, resulting from MLB’s settlement of the Garber litigation, is that, for the first time, the league will offer single-team packages. The single-team annual subscription price, $84.99, is not a significant discount from the newly reduced full package price (and one wonders whether the league reduced the full package price in order to deter purchases of single-team subscriptions in a marketplace in which individual team allegiance, rather than broader interest in the sport, may be the driving factor for fan attention), and the single-team offering, like the full package, is restricted to out-of-market games. For real junkies, spring training coverage also is available.

Speaking of baseball spring training and, a popular topic here, biometric tracking, the Yankees may have found the new inefficiency: sleeping in. Recognizing that most actual baseball games occur in the afternoon or at night, the Bombers are looking to sync their players’ biological clocks with regular-season patterns by starting daily spring training activities closer to noon, rather than adhering to the near-dawn-patrol regimens to which the sport historically has been accustomed. This could be bad news for the rest of the AL East, whose batters the New York bullpen already was effectively putting to sleep last year. (Yes, you can hit me with your pillow for that one.)

February, with the Super Bowl and arrival of books like the Baseball Prospectus and Hardball Times Annuals, ostensibly signals the yearly end of football and beginning of baseball. We know that, like rust, the NFL is a probably corrosive force that never sleeps, however, a reality to which inane tweets and sports-talk-radio discussions this week about the NFL combine likely have alerted you. Something of interest for our readers, though? The emergence of virtual reality in professional football scouting. STRIVR Labs is bringing its VR technology to the combine in order to test quarterbacks’ adeptness at reading defensive schemes. Overkill? Maybe, but it definitely seems more on-point than the latest combine subject du jour: QB hand size measurement.

As for that other brand of football, fans of Italian soccer can look forward to the results of a newly announced partnership between STATS, LLC and European Broadcast Development that promises to deliver “advanced performance data to the clubs and media partners of Serie A TIM, the highest tier of Italian football.” This will reportedly include use of the SportVU tracking technology that has been revolutionary in advancing NBA analytics, among other tools.

Technology indeed has been a boon for better analysis and understanding of the dynamics at play in professional basketball, but you may not be surprised to learn that one NBA player, Steph Curry, is breaking the computer: “The Golden State Warriors guard has gotten so good at draining shots that historically have been statistically improbable that the NBA 2K [videogame] team hasn’t found a way to virtualize his skill set without compromising the realism of the game as a whole. ‘To be completely honest, we are still looking for ways to better translate his game into NBA 2K,’ gameplay director Mike Wang told Forbes.”

On the home front, advancements in exoskeleton technology are allowing those suffering from spinal injuries a chance to walk and run again. One such person — Charleston, South Carolina resident Adam Gorlitzky — had been a competitive runner and basketball player before he lost the ability to use his legs in a motor vehicle crash. His goal now that he’s acquired a ReWalk Exoskeleton: complete the 10k Cooper River Bridge Run.

Our goal is to keep you appraised of the latest and greatest in sports-tech news. In order to complete that goal, we provided you with the content above. As you now contemplate weekending, please remember to be excellent to each other.

Expanded Safety Netting: Coming to MLB and MiLB Stadiums Near You

Last summer, Oakland A’s fan Gail Payne filed a class-action lawsuit against Major League Baseball in an effort to compel the league to provide more protective netting at all ballparks, including minor-league parks, seeking class-action treatment for her lawsuit and, among other remedies, “a rule requiring all existing major league and minor league indoor and outdoor ballparks to be retrofitted to extend protective netting from foul pole to foul pole [sic] by the beginning of the 2016-2017 [sic] MLB season.” In October, MLB responded by moving to dismiss the case in its entirety.

Little has changed in the case since last fall. Payne has amended her complaint to add two other named plaintiffs: Robert Gorman, a Charlotte Knights (White Sox AAA affiliate) season-ticket holder who alleges that he and his wife have been hit by foul balls at games and is the author of Death at the Ballpark: A Comprehensive Study of Game-Related Fatalities of Players, Other Personnel and Spectators in Amateur and Professional Baseball, 1862-2007, and Stephanie Smith, a fan who alleges she was hit by a foul ball at a Dodgers game last summer. The Amended Complaint also names each MLB team as a defendant and adds a state-law claim targeting the liability-waiver provisions of MLB game tickets, as well as a simple personal-injury claim by Smith, individually, against the Dodgers. In addition, the revised pleading contains citations to more articles on baseball fan injuries; more (often graphic) photographs of injured fans; more allegations of fan injuries at games in 2015; quotations from current and former players and managers (including Detroit Tigers Justin Verlander, Nick Castellanos and Anthony Gose, former Atlanta Brave Chipper Jones, Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez, and Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon) calling for the expansion of safety netting or attesting to the dangers of sitting in unprotected areas; and an expanded section asserting that MLB failed in unspecified ways to utilize the technology at its disposal– i.e., Statcast– to protect fans, primarily citing Statcast’s ability to determine batted-ball speeds.

The defendants (with the initial exception of the Blue Jays, who later joined the motion once the plaintiffs complied with international service-of-process procedures) again moved to dismiss the case in its entirety, essentially on the same grounds on which they moved to dismiss the original Complaint.

The court was supposed to hold a hearing on the defendants’ motion to dismiss last week, but it has postponed that hearing until late March due to a scheduling conflict with the plaintiffs’ lead attorney’s family vacation plans. At a minimum, that delay offers you plenty of time to read Nathaniel Grow’s analysis of the possible application of the “Baseball Rule” in this case, and why that legal precedent strongly favors the position of MLB and its teams.

While the Payne case is stagnating (surely a relative description in the judicial context) in court, actual developments in safety netting expansion are occurring. When we last checked in on this story, there was some indication that MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred would be discussing the issue at the then-upcoming owners’ meeting. Following that November 2015 meeting, Manfred said it was “absolutely clear” that changes in safety netting would be coming, but he declined to discuss specifics at that time.

Specifics still seem to be lacking, but MLB’s recommendation, issued in December, appears to be that teams provide safety netting for all seats within seventy feet of home plate, beginning with the upcoming season. A report on a minor-league team said to be complying with the new safety directive indicated that the team would extend netting “to the end of each dugout,” referring to the end farther from home plate. (For scale, another minor-league team, the West Michigan Whitecaps, is following suit, with the distance from the center of the backstop to the far end of a dugout reportedly constituting seventy-eight feet.)  That’s what the Royals are doing as well, and that report, which states that the Phillies, Cubs, and Rays also planned to extend safety netting in response to the league’s recommendation, quoted a Royals’ executive, who said that Kansas City’s netting expansion “exceeds all of [the league’s] recommendations.” The Twins are doing the same thing, and the Rangers may be going even farther, with one report claiming that safety netting in Arlington will extend “beyond the team dugouts” (although another report has the netting extending only to the end of the dugouts).

All of the teams installing more nets in advance of the 2016 season look to be doing so to the same extent, lengthwise, but some variance remains with respect to the height of the nets, though no team yet is extending them so high as to offer protection to fans seated in upper decks — which is where Gorman, one of the new named plaintiffs in the Payne case, says he was seated when he alleges a foul ball hit him in the face.

The plaintiffs in the Payne case want the league to mandate netting expansion “from foul pole to foul pole” (presumably they actually mean two lines of nets extending outward from home plate to each foul pole, not across the outfield wall), so the new recommendation doesn’t provide them all of what they’re seeking in that regard, but it’s clear the league is trying to meet them somewhere in the middle, which is where most litigants end up.

The impetus for covering this story at this site was that the coming collision of the new safety regulations, driven at least indirectly by the Payne suit, and the interest of those fans who, unlike the Payne plaintiffs, oppose expanded netting because they believe it will significantly obstruct their view of the game (a number of whom expressed those views in the comments to our initial post on this subject) created a seemingly fruitful opportunity and incentive for innovation in safety netting technology that could increase safety while decreasing visual obstruction.

Preliminary inquiries to netting companies last year and reviews of the minimal technical specifics that made it into news stories on the subject largely were non-revelatory, but now, with expanded netting imminent at a number of MLB and MiLB parks, at least one team is taking steps to address both safety and sightline concerns through the type of netting they’re installing. From the (St. Paul) Pioneer Press report on the new nets at the Twins’ Target Field:

Despite the fact they were safely within industry guidelines set forth this winter, the Twins will replace the traditional netting behind home plate with knotless Dyneema material. They will use a thinner version of that same netting to span the remaining distance to the end of each dugout.

The dugout netting, which will be 7 feet high and require its own system of cables, is 1.2 millimeters thick as opposed to 1.8 mm behind the plate. It will be affixed to the front of the dugout roof, making it “less invasive to sightlines,” according to Hoy, and preventing fans in the front row from brushing against it.

C&H Baseball of Bradenton, Fla., the same company that installed the original netting at Target Field, will handle this project as well. Installation is scheduled for mid-March, well in advance of the Twins’ home opener on April 11, and the Twins say the cost is relatively nominal.

A 2016 C&H Baseball sales brochure describes Dyneema as an “Ultra High Molecular Weight Polyethylene” fiber manufactured by a Dutch company of the same name, whose website describes the material as “the world’s strongest and lightest fiber.” Given C&H’s position in the industry– their customer list touts relationships with many MLB, MiLB, and major college teams, and a competitor has described them as “really the last word on the subject” of baseball netting– and the indication from the Twins organization that the cost of this newer netting is “relatively minimal,” it seems reasonable to expect that more teams will be moving to knotless Dyneema, or something similar, in the near future, in the hopes of satisfying both the entertainment and safety interests at stake.

(At the time this post was published, C&H Baseball had not responded to multiple requests from TechGraphs for comment.)

With Opening Day less than two months out, let us know what changes you’re seeing at your local ballparks, and if you’re reading and commenting on TechGraphs at the game (not not recommended), be sure to keep one eye on the action too.

(Header image via Elvert Barnes)

Super Options For Super Bowl Watching

Super Bowl L50 is nigh. While the NFL missed the opportunity to treat the world to Super Bowl Large, they’re keeping it simple with Arabic numerals, and CBS, which has the broadcast, is following suit: there will be no Megacast on Sunday night, and, really, nothing outside of what has become the ordinary. Truly a Jim Nantz production. Kickoff is set for 6:30 pm Eastern, and your broadcast options are as follows:

  • Traditional television broadcast: CBS
  • Spanish-language traditional television broadcast: ESPN Deportes; can’t keep La Nave Nodriza down
  • Online stream: CBS is streaming the Super Bowl for free through their online player; Roku, Chromecast, and Apple TV users will have access to this feed through their respective CBS Sports apps; USA Today reports that CBS “is working with” Amazon to provide service to Amazon Fire TV users; Windows 10 and Xbox One users reportedly will have access to additional camera angles
  • Mobile stream: the NFL Mobile app, available only to Verizon subscribers with Windows phones, iPhones,  Android phones, or similarly-connected tablets; outside of the usual data charges, there appears to be no additional cost for streaming live NFL games through the NFL Mobile app
  • Radio: CBS-owned Westwood One (find your local affiliated station here) has the terrestrial radio broadcast; the satellite broadcast on SiriusXM will be on the NFL Radio channel; the Panthers’ local radio broadcast will be available only on the Carolina Panther Radio Network’s flagship station, WBT out of Charlotte; the Broncos’ local radio broadcast will be available across the entire Denver Broncos Radio Network
  • Las Vegas-area television broadcast: As of yesterday, CBS; on Thursday, cable provider Cox Communications and area CBS affiliate KLAS-TV resolved an “impasse” that threatened to black out the Super Bowl broadcast to approximately forty percent of area viewers

If you’re more of a Puppy Bowl person, Puppy Bowl XII airs at 3:00 Eastern on Animal Planet. While there is a beta-quality stream of the channel, Animal Planet Live!, reports indicate that it will not be carrying the Puppy Bowl, so you likely will need to find a cable subscriber with a television to catch those little mutts in action.

Finally, if media overload is about to make you crack, I suggest Key & Peele’s completely unauthorized live Super Bowl commentary video feed, which starts a half hour before kickoff and is available online here.

(Header image via NFLRT)

TechGraphs News Roundup: 1/15/2016

2016 already has seen more than its share of changes, so we welcome you back to the regularity and predictability of the TechGraphs News Roundup with this collection of sports-tech stories we found interesting this week.

The 2016 Consumer Electronics Show wrapped up on Saturday. We covered the highlights in last week’s Roundup, but the good folks at Baseball Prospectus assembled a nice summary of some of the baseball-specific applications showcased there. (And don’t miss our own Bryan Cole in the comment section with a video clip of Shaq O’Neal wiping out while testing a baseball swing analyzer.)

Speaking of the future of baseball, the trial in Garber v. Office of the Commissioner of Baseball, a class-action lawsuit against MLB over the league’s television-broadcast policies, starts on Tuesday, and Nathaniel Grow has a preview of the arguments.

While CES featured a number of audio companies promising future development in the wireless headphone space, two, Earin and Bragi Dash, already have retail-ready wireless earbuds. As this thorough review explains, truly wireless earbuds still have some hurdles to overcome, one of which is the fact that our dumb human heads are full of water, an unfriendly medium for the transmission of wireless signals. While it’s apparent that this technology remains in the developmental phase, it will be interesting to see whether it has uses beyond personal fitness and entertainment, such as for communications between football players and their coaches.

Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, among others, has backed Courtside Ventures, a Detroit-based $35 million venture capital fund targeting early stage sports technology and sports-centered media startups. Early indications are that the group is interested in virtual reality and analytical data.

Way back in September, we were one of the first site to tell you about Pylon Cam, which since has become the star of this (NFL and college) football season. After its special seat at the table during ESPN’s multi-platform broadcast of the college football national championship game, it should come as no surprise that CBS will be incorporating the technology into its Super Bowl 50 coverage. Also included: a 360-degree replay view courtesy of thirty-six cameras mounted on the stadium’s upper deck and a camera providing viewers with the on-field perspective of certain players, such as the quarterback.

It seems as if companies make these types of claims every week these days, but a company called VCIS just unveiled a new style of football helmet that they say reduces the threat of head injuries. Putting a dual-shell design into an attractive helmet is no easy task, but th high price ($1,500 a pop) might be a hindrance. VICIS hopes to have the helmets for sale before the coming football season.

Speaking of football, if you happen to fall in the very narrow spectrum of people who don’t care about the Super Bowl, but happen to have a Google Cardboard headset lying around, you’ll be happy to learn that this year’s Puppy Bowl will be broadcast in VR.

Finally, today is the deadline for nominations for the 2016 Sports Technology Awards. If your proposal, development, technology, or product in one of about a dozen categories is good enough, you could earn a trip to the awards ceremony in London this April. Past winners include the All England Lawn Tennis Club (known to most Americans as Wimbledon) in the “Best Technology Partnership” category for their partnership with IBM, something we’ve documented here.

That’s all for this week. Have a mindful Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, and please be excellent to each other.

Sweet Sixteen: The College Football Championship Megacast Strikes Back

The college football season wraps up tonight with the national championship game, which pits #1 Clemson against #2 Alabama. When the game kicks off at 8:30 (Eastern) this evening, ESPN will offer sixteen different ways to follow the action live. Let’s count them:

  1. ESPN/WatchESPN: The traditional television broadcast will be on the Worldwide Leader’s flagship television channel both through TV and online;
  2. ESPN Deportes: Spanish-language traditional television broadcast.
  3. ESPN Radio: The traditional radio broadcast will be on your local ESPN Radio affiliate, as well as through WatchESPN and the ESPN mobile app;
  4. WatchESPN: Clemson’s radio broadcast, with isolated camera shots of Dabo Swinney and Tigers players;
  5. WatchESPN: Alabama’s radio broadcast, with isolated camera shots of Nick Saban and Crimson Tide players;
  6. ESPN2: Film Room, featuring live game analysis from Florida head coach Jim McElwain, UNC head coach Larry Fedora, South Florida head coach Willie Taggart, Pittsburgh head coach Pat Narduzzi, and newly hired South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp, joined by ESPN analysts. This simulcast has been the most well-received alternative broadcast during ESPN’s two previous college football championship Megacasts.
  7. ESPNU: New this year is what ESPN is calling the “Homer Telecast,” overtly biased coverage from Clemson alum (and the school’s all-time leader in passing yards) Tajh Boyd and Alabama alum (and three-time national champion) Barrett Jones, mediated by ESPN/SEC Network’s Joe Tessitore. According to ESPN, other “partisan” guests are expected to join the action, and the broadcast will come from field level, rather than a traditional broadcast booth.
  8. ESPNEWS: Have a few empty spots on your couch? ESPN Voices promises to be a casual, “living room-type” conversation between an assorted bunch of ESPNers, including Michelle Beadle, Jay Bilas, Marcellus Wiley, and Teddy Atlas (sure!).
  9. SEC Network: The Finebaum Film Room, which debuted at last year’s national semifinal game between Alabama and Ohio State, and made a return appearance at this year’s New Year’s Eve semifinal game between Alabama and Michigan State, will make its first appearance in conjunction with a college football championship game tonight. If you’ve never heard or seen the Paul Finebaum Show, this should serve as a good introduction to the program’s host, as well as its many colorful callers, who will be able to phone in during the game.
  10. ESPN Classic: Sounds of the game. Had enough with all the jibber jabber and want to enjoy the game in relative peace? This is the channel for you, featuring nothing but the sounds of the fully enclosed University of Phoenix Stadium. Hear the public address announcer, as well as the full pregame and halftime entertainment programs. Also available on WatchESPN.
  11. ESPN Goal Line: For the true football junkies, this is the “Command Center” feed, with enhanced split-screen action. You’ll see live game action next to replays of every play, isolated feeds of both head coaches, drive charts, and statistics. Over this will play the audio feed from the ESPN Radio broadcast.
  12. WatchESPN: Replay Booth – What purports to be “an authentic recreation of the replay booth experience,” offering viewers the experience of those officials tasked with reviewing every single play and signaling when further review is required. Hosted by replay officials from the ACC and SEC, as well as an ESPN rules expert.
  13. WatchESPN: Data Center – “Significant on-screen graphic content ranging from analytics, real time drive charts, win probability updates, curated social media reaction and more.” Guess you’re just going to have to dial this one in to find out what that means. Hope it works better than the Comcast/Xfinity sports app sidebar. Unclear how it differs from the “Command Center” feed on ESPN Goal Line.
  14. WatchESPN: Student Section – Cameras focused on the student fan sections, bands, cheerleaders, mascots, and, if we’re lucky, a Bojangles outside Spartanburg.
  15. WatchESPN: Pylon Cam – Want the simultaneously best and worst seats in the house? This feed promises to rotate between the twenty-four available end-zone pylon cameras, apparently showing twelve at any one time.
  16. WatchESPN: Spider Cam – Not advisable if you’re extremely susceptible to motion sickness. Fly above the field the entire game with this view. Maybe the spider camera will get nailed by a punted football!

Say what you will about ESPN, and I have, but the Megacast is fun and the sort of thing more of which the network ought to do. Now we just need Bristol to invent a Buffalo-sauce-resistant television remote control. Enjoy the game!

(Header image via Wikimedia Commons)

TechGraphs’ Guide to Watching the College Football Playoff Semifinals: Return of the Multicast?

While shifting technological, media, and economic sands may be signaling the approaching end of ESPN, the Worldwide Leader’s not dead yet, and it’s closing out 2015 with a bang. Along the lines of last year’s inaugural College Football Playoff Megacast, ESPN will be leveraging its multi-channel capabilities to deliver a variety of simulcasts for the two semifinal games taking place tonight, as well as the other four major bowl games– the Rose, Sugar, Fiesta, and Peach Bowls– spread across today and tomorrow. Although there won’t be as many options tonight as were available during last year’s championship game Megacast, it’s good to see the network continuing to take advantage of its resources by expanding coverage of these games. Viewing details on each of the “New Year’s Six” bowls are below.

Peach Bowl:

Teams: #18 Houston vs. #9 Florida State

Time and location: December 31, 12:00 pm, Atlanta, Georgia

Primary television: ESPN

Alternate television: Spider cam feed on ESPN3/WatchESPN

Audio: ESPN Radio, ESPN Radio app

Spanish-language television: ESPN Deportes

Trophy presentation: ESPNEWS, ESPN3/WatchESPN app

Orange Bowl (playoff semifinal):

Teams: #4 Oklahoma vs. #1 Clemson

Time and location: December 31, 4:00 pm, Miami, Florida

Primary television: ESPN

Alternate television: Spider cam feed and home or away audio plus ESPN visual on ESPN3/WatchESPN

Audio: ESPN Radio, ESPN Radio app

Spanish-language television: ESPN2, ESPN Deportes

Trophy presentation: ESPNEWS, ESPN3/WatchESPN app

Cotton Bowl (playoff semifinal):

Teams: #3 Michigan State vs. #2 Alabama

Time and location: December 31, 8:00 pm, Dallas, Texas

Primary television: ESPN

Alternate television: Spider cam feed and home or away audio plus ESPN visual on ESPN3; Finebaum Film Room, featuring in-studio analysts and guests, as well as live viewer telephone calls on SEC Network

Audio: ESPN Radio, ESPN Radio app

Spanish-language television: ESPN2, ESPN Deportes

Trophy presentation: ESPNEWS, ESPN3/WatchESPN

Fiesta Bowl:

Teams: #8 Notre Dame vs. #7 Ohio State

Time and location: January 1, 1:00 pm, Glendale, Arizona

Primary television: ESPN

Alternate television: Spider cam feed on ESPN3/WatchESPN

Audio: ESPN Radio, ESPN Radio app

Spanish-language television: ESPN Deportes

Trophy presentation: ESPNEWS, ESPN3/WatchESPN

Rose Bowl:

Teams: #6 Stanford vs. #5 Iowa

Time and location: January 1, 5:00 pm, Pasadena, California

Primary television: ESPN

Alternate television: Spider cam feed on ESPN3/WatchESPN

Audio: ESPN Radio, ESPN Radio app

Spanish-language television: ESPN Deportes

Trophy presentation: ESPNEWS, ESPN3/WatchESPN

Sugar Bowl:

Teams: #16 Oklahoma State vs. #12 Ole Miss

Time and location: January 1, 8:30 pm, New Orleans, Louisiana

Primary television: ESPN

Alternate television: Spider cam feed on ESPN3/WatchESPN

Audio: ESPN Radio, ESPN Radio app

Spanish-language television: ESPN Deportes

Trophy presentation: ESPNEWS, ESPN3/WatchESPN

The big addition here is the simulcast of the ESPN Deportes Spanish-language television broadcast on ESPN2 for both semifinal games. ESPN also plans “cross-platform coverage” of the national championship game, which it will announce next week. At a minimum, I expect a return of the general “film room” coaching analysis channel, a televised (i.e., not just online) alternate camera feed, and, in the unfortunate event that Alabama topples Michigan State tonight, the SEC Network Finebaum broadcast for the January 11 championship game.

(Header image via Wikimedia Commons)

Imagining a World Without ESPN

Imagine there’s no ESPN.
It’s easy if you try.
No broadcast partner intermediaries to charge us,
above us only direct access to sporting events live.
Imagine all the cord-cutters

living for today[, a day without ESPN].

Today, and for at least the past twenty years, it is difficult to imagine four letters more associated with sports in America than ESPN. Heck, as of 2006, there were at least four kids named ESPN, according to The network invented the concept of a twenty-four-hour sports television channel at a time when ninety-three percent of the television audience restricted its viewing to ABC, CBS, and NBC, all of which still were signing off entirely each night. Part of the invention included SportsCenter, of course, but the network first established its national reputation when it broadcast the entire 1980 NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

While ESPN is thirty-six years old and living the starkly corporate lifestyle these days, its teenage years were wild, at least by broadcast television standards. In the 1990s, the network’s comparatively brash attitude provided it with a cultural identity that existed almost independent of sports. It may be difficult to remember this now, but it’s true: ESPN used to be cool. A selective timeline:

  • 1992: Keith Olbermann joins SportsCenter to host “the big show” alongside Dan Patrick
  • 1993: ESPN2 launches with Olbermann, Suzy Kolber, Stuart Scott, and, later, Jim Rome and Kenny Mayne, who would also work as a SportsCenter anchor; Craig Kilborn joins ESPN as a SportsCenter anchor; the modern era of College GameDay begins; launches
  • 1994: ESPN Presents: Jock Rock Vol. 1 is released, beginning a series of Jock Rock and Jock Jams audio CD releases that featured popular sports-related pump-up songs interspersed with clips of SportsCenter personalities like Patrick and Chris Berman dishing out their catchphrases
  • 1995: ESPN hosts the first X Games
  • 1996: Rich Eisen joins ESPN to host SportsCenter with Scott
  • 1998: The first ESPN Zone opens, in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor; Norm Macdonald hosts the ESPYs
  • 2000: Page 2 launches on, an alternative site that would feature the bylines of Ralph Wiley, Hunter Thompson, Scoop Jackson, and, of course, Bill Simmons
  • 2001: Pardon the Interruption debuts on ESPN
  • 2003: ESPN debuts Playmakers, the network’s first original drama series, about a fictional professional football team

Playmakers was a blend of Friday Night Lights, Entourage, and Hard Knocks, and, aside from the Sunday night NFL game and Saturday afternoon college football games, it was the most-viewed program on ESPN. Despite its wild popularity, the show was on the air for less than three months. Under pressure from then-NFL Commissioner Paul Taglibue, ESPN first restricted promotion of the show and then cancelled it. The NFL didn’t care for the way Playmakers portrayed NFL players — too realistic, it seems — and wanted the show off the air. Mark Shapiro, then the executive vice president of ESPN, defended the network’s decision to adhere to the NFL’s wishes: ”It’s our opinion that we’re not in the business of antagonizing our partner . . . . To bring it back would be rubbing it in our partner’s face.”

Action speaks louder than words, and the cancellation of Playmakers signaled a turning point for ESPN, which began to purge itself of the people and programs that had built its unique identity in the decade from 1993 to 2003. From the viewers’ perspective, it became clear that ESPN was removing anybody whose name had become bigger than the network’s.

That represents an interesting notion of network cohesion, but there really is one explanation for the shift that ESPN executed in the period beginning with the cancellation of Playmakers and running through the termination of Simmons earlier this year: the prioritization of live-sports broadcast rights. Beginning with the 1980 NCAA tournament (and its early agreements with smaller conferences like the Big East), and running through whichever Monday Night Football or SEC volleyball game you just watched, ESPN’s core programming is live sporting events. The network’s adolescent dalliance with original content and individual personalities a thing of the past (what are they doing with Mayne these days?), that live-sports core is almost all ESPN is in late 2015, the remainder largely consisting of an internal #hottake-generating echo chamber.

Live sports is what national sports networks are supposed to be all about, though, right? So where’s the problem? Yes, ESPN has competition now, but FS1, CBSSN, and NBCSN aren’t serious threats to the Worldwide Leader, at least for the moment. Each rival network has tried different approaches, with Dan O’Toole and Jay Onrait’s Olbermann/Patrick Big Show sendup on FS1, and CBSSN and NBCSN attempting to steal ESPN on-air talent (only to see that talent eventually return to the Mothership). But the organizing principle remains unchanged: for a rival to mount a legitimate challenge to ESPN, the accepted view is that those other national sports networks need more live sporting events, and right now, nobody beats ESPN in that department. By both inventing the medium and controlling the market for so long, ESPN has been able to raise the barriers to entry by gobbling up live sports broadcasting rights, starving its competitors of the programming they need to draw eyes to their channels (or the TV Guide to even find their channels) in the first place.

ESPN spends a boatload to make sure its collection of channels remain the go-to destination for live sports events, which are among the most valuable properties in all of television. That’s long been true, but it’s even more true today with the proliferation of advertisement-avoiding DVR technology. In 2015, it’s not unreasonable to begin binge-watching the entirety of The Good Wife, a drama that debuted in 2009, but nobody’s going to start catching up on all of the Vanderbilt baseball games they saved from back in the spring, championship-caliber MLB feeder program that the Commodores are. People watch games live or not at all. That’s why ESPN has unloaded billions of dollars for the right to broadcast live sporting events on their channels. The estimated numbers from FY 2015 provide an illuminating snapshot:

Annual Rights Fee
National Football League
$1.9 billion
Major League Baseball
$700 million
National Basketball Association
$600 million
Major League Soccer
$45 million
$40 million
U.S. Open (Tennis)
$23.3 million
The Masters (Golf)
$25 million
British Open (Golf)
$25 million
College Football Playoff
$610 million
NCAA Championships
$42 million
ACC Sports
$240 million
Big Ten Sports
$100 million
Big 12 Sports
$110 million
Pac-12 Sports
$110 million
SEC Sports
$227 million*
American Athletic Sports
$18 million
Mountain West Sports
$9 million
Little League World Series
$7.5 million
$4.831 billion

* – ESPN splits SEC Network profits with the conference. The SEC received $150 million from ESPN’s primary rights deal, plus approximately $77 million from SEC Network for the 2014-15 season.

By leveraging its capitalization to corner the market on live-sports broadcasting rights, ESPN has insulated itself against serious competition from FS1 and the other national sports networks, to which are left the scraps. Think bull riding, arena football, and auto racing series you’ve never heard of. (Long live SPEED!) In the course of ensuring a low ceiling for its rival national sports networks, however, ESPN has become exposed to competition from another quarter. Rather than worry about its would-be peers, ESPN’s biggest threat now may be its own broadcast partners.

As we have been noting in our regular news roundups here, ESPN has been losing subscribers as a result of cord-cutting, people ditching traditional cable and satellite television providers, and now we have a number: seven million subscribers lost in the past two years. According to parent company Disney, ESPN now is down to 92 million subscribers. Cord-cutting is an obvious problem for the network because of its cost relative to other channels on viewers’ cable and satellite bills. ESPN relies on cost-spreading– everybody with a cable or satellite subscription pays for ESPN regardless of whether they watch it– to make its price more palatable to its actual users, and it relies on its robust portfolio of live sporting events to make itself so in-demand that everyone continues to pay those costs. The other side of that coin, of course, is that ESPN needs all of those subscriber fees to be able to afford its obligations under its broadcast-rights agreements. So far, it’s a model that’s worked very well for ESPN. But what if they lost those broadcast rights that make them a must-have component of every cable and satellite subscription?

ESPN’s programming portfolio, and those of its fellow national sports networks, is increasingly one-dimensional. Is The Doug Gottlieb Show really appointment viewing? Is Scott Van Pelt’s “midnight” SportsCenter? (what time does it start, exactly?) Nah. We’re all tuning in to watch the games. And without the games, would the remnant husks of networks be able to survive?

Perhaps a better question: why are sports leagues still selling off their broadcast rights? The NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL all have their own television channels. (Some collegiate athletic conferences also have networks, although these tend to be more akin to partnerships between the conferences and existing television networks like ESPN and Fox, rather than independent media entities.)  They all have well-developed web platforms, and they all exercise control over the use and sharing of their content online, some more stringently than others. Yes, the NFL received a $1.9 billion check from ESPN last year for the right to broadcast Monday Night Football, but ESPN only cut that check because it knew that its broadcast of that event would allow it to make even more money. Why can’t the leagues eliminate these intermediary networks and realize an even greater portion of the value of their own broadcast rights?

This already is occurring to some extent. There are regular-season NFL games that appear only on NFL Network, and some MLB playoff games have appeared only on MLB Network. Cutting ESPN et al. out of the picture completely would require a not-insignificant capital investment, of course, to expand the leagues’ broadcast capabilities, but the issue merely is one of scale. It isn’t as difficult to create and operate MLB2 when MLB Network’s already up and running. The model exists and is replicable, as the national sports networks themselves have demonstrated. Most importantly, the leagues hold the most valuable asset in the equation. Their products essentially market themselves, and distribution follows demand, which, as everyone agrees, follows the games themselves.

That said, there are reasons why each of the leagues might hold differing views of such a large-scale shift.  For example, while NFL football games may be sufficiently popular on a national level to justify a move to NFL Network-exclusive broadcasting, the NHL might find that its 1,230 games per season are only nationally marketable when bundled with other sports and therefore decide to remain with its regional sports network-based broadcast infrastructure. Still, even if leagues like the NHL and MLB, which have long seasons full of many games that draw only regional interest, wouldn’t be good fits to go 100% national, we still could see them bringing marquee matchups, Winter Classics, and All-Star and postseason games exclusively onto the leagues’ own channels.

Are these the End Times for ESPN? Unless the leagues suddenly and rapidly retrench onto their own platforms, probably not. And if the thought of Roger Goodell, Rob Manfred, Adam Silver, and Gary Bettman executing any changes in their respective leagues that might be described as “sudden” or “rapid” made you laugh, it’s probably because you know that these leagues are conservative institutions that change slowly, if at all. In the end, maybe what ESPN & co. offer the leagues is a product-delivery method that, while not necessarily superior to or more profitable on a transaction-by-transaction basis than a league-owned channel, insulates the risk-adverse leagues from the shifting vagaries of the market, politics, and public opinion, all of which affect the sensitivities of the advertisers and corporate and civic sponsors who ultimately fund the leagues. So viva ESPN, the Worldwide Leader in sports-media insurance coverage.

DFS Losers Seek to Recoup Losses in Class Actions Against FanDuel, DraftKings

Last week, a DeKalb County, Georgia resident, Aaron Hodge, filed two proposed class action lawsuits in federal court in Atlanta against daily fantasy sports (DFS) websites FanDuel and DraftKings in an attempt to recover money he lost playing games on both sites, which, he alleges, amount to little more than “illegal gambling.”

As DFS gained popularity and attention this summer and fall, in large part due to broad advertising campaigns by both FanDuel and DraftKings, users may have noticed that residents of a small number of states– including Washington, Louisiana, Arizona, and Iowa– were not allowed to play games for cash prizes.

While these early restrictions did little to slow the momentum of DFS and its two largest sites, the industry recently has come under more substantial public scrutiny following New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman’s initiation of an investigation of and request for an injunction against FanDuel, DraftKings, and Yahoo!, which also hosts DFS games.

Last week’s suits by Hodge are believed to be the first legal challenges to FanDuel and DraftKings brought by a private citizen. (Hodge’s attorneys have since filed a similar lawsuit in Alabama.) Hodge’s complaints (available here and here) are basically identical. The essence of his allegations is that the DFS games offered by FanDuel and DraftKings constitute unlawful gambling under Georgia law and he therefore is entitled to restitution for his losses at both sites. Hodge does not reveal how much money he lost playing DFS, but he does allege that the aggregated losses of the proposed classes — comprised of “All persons in the State of Georgia who participated in Defendant’s DFS, deposited money in a [FanDuel/DraftKings] account, and lost money in any game or contest” —  exceed $5 million in each case.

Hodge’s complaints allege only state law claims, and the legal centerpiece of these cases is O.C.G.A. § 13-8-3, Georgia’s gambling contracts statute. That law provides that all “[g]ambling contracts are void” and that a loser may recover his or her losses from a winner under a gambling contract:

(a) Gambling contracts are void; and all evidences of debt, except negotiable instruments in the hands of holders in due course or encumbrances or liens on property, executed upon a gambling consideration, are void in the hands of any person.

(b) Money paid or property delivered upon a gambling consideration may be recovered from the winner by the loser by institution of an action for the same within six months after the loss and, after the expiration of that time, by institution of an action by any person, at any time within four years, for the joint use of himself and the educational fund of the county.

Hodge argues that DFS contests on FanDuel and DraftKings are not skill games but rather games of chance; that these sites therefore are doing little more than taking bets on sporting events; and therefore he and the sites are parties to gambling contracts for which the user entry fees constitute the gambling consideration that Hodge is entitled to recover under O.C.G.A. § 13-8-3(b).

Among his other claims, Hodge also contends that the sites violate Georgia criminal laws pertaining to commercial gambling and the advertising thereof, and he argues that the sites’ claims that their DFS contests were lawful games fraudulently induced him to participate.

An interesting allegation Hodge sprinkles throughout his complaints is that both FanDuel and DraftKings “failed to disclose the use of ‘bots’ or fake accounts designed to operate as ‘shills'”:

Upon information and belief, [FanDuel/DraftKings] uses “bots” or fake accounts to act as “shills” in the gambling scheme in order that certain winnings go to the “house” ([FanDuel/DraftKings]), and also creating the illusion to the [FanDuel/DraftKings] user of interacting with a gambler on equal footing. The employment of “shills” (or “bots”/fake accounts) employs a similar concept to those “shills” that are permitted by law in states with casinos such as Nevada, but Georgia does not permit any gambling, never mind the use of “shills” in the form of “bots” or otherwise fake accounts. And regardless, in states where such devices are employed, there is no illusion, nor effort to create the illusion, that the “house” is not winning the losing bets (in the form of monies that are attributed to “shills”) and in the case of [FanDuel/DraftKings], there is no disclosure of the use of “shills” nor any legal basis for doing so in Georgia.

One of the first procedural hurdles Hodge will need to clear to proceed with his proposed class actions in federal court are the sites’ terms of use. He wants to avoid the applicability and enforcement of these terms of use because they contain arbitration, jurisdiction, and venue provisions that would neutralize his ability to maintain these class action lawsuits against FanDuel (terms of use) and DraftKings (terms of use) in court. On one hand, Hodge is arguing that a contract — albeit a gambling contract that’s void under Georgia law — existed between him and each DFS site. On the other hand, though, he argues that the sites’ terms of use are not part of any contract or binding agreement between him and each site.

If Hodge is able to keep these lawsuits in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, where he has filed them, his further success will depend upon his ability to convince the court that the DFS contests FanDuel and DraftKings host really are gambling, not skill games. On this point, in addition to the well-publicized New York AG investigation and Nevada’s determination that DFS constitutes gambling, he may find some in-state assistance as well. Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens now has opened his own investigation into the legality of DFS, and the court in Hodge’s cases could find Olens’ conclusions on the matter persuasive.

Another issue possibly lurking in these cases is preemption, a legal concept based on the supremacy of federal law over state law. In general terms, preemption means that if a federal law and a state law conflict, the federal law controls. On the question of whether their sites’ contests constitute gambling, FanDuel and DraftKings may argue that their contests are permissible under the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA), a federal law that prohibits certain activities and transactions connected with betting and wagering. Part of that Act provides that “[t]he term ‘bet or wager’ . . . does not include . . . participation in any fantasy or simulation sports game . . . in which (if the game or contest involves a team or teams) no fantasy or simulation sports team is based on the current membership of an actual team that is a member of an amateur or professional sports organization . . . and that meets the following conditions:

(I) All prizes and awards offered to winning participants are established and made known to the participants in advance of the game or contest and their value is not determined by the number of participants or the amount of any fees paid by those participants.
(II) All winning outcomes reflect the relative knowledge and skill of the participants and are determined predominantly by accumulated statistical results of the performance of individuals (athletes in the case of sports events) in multiple real-world sporting or other events.
(III) No winning outcome is based—
(aa) on the score, point-spread, or any performance or performances of any single real-world team or any combination of such teams; or

(bb) solely on any single performance of an individual athlete in any single real-world sporting or other event.”

If FanDuel and DraftKings fit within this exception to the Act, because, for example, their contests involve forming “fantasy” teams of selected individual players, as opposed to simply picking an existing team, like the Detroit Lions, to win, the sites may contend that the federal UIGEA preempts the conflicting state laws Hodge argues make their contests illegal and entitle him to recoup his losses. (For what it’s worth, the congressman who drafted the UIGEA, Jim Leach, doesn’t buy any part of this argument. According to the Associated Press, Leach’s view is that “the carve out for Fantasy sports in the [UIGEA] does not provide them with immunity against other federal and state laws that could limit their activities. . . . ‘Quite precisely, UIGEA does not exempt fantasy sports companies from any other obligation to any other law.'”)

Meanwhile, as legal scrutiny over DFS heats up in the United States, FanDuel and DraftKings are hoping to find friendlier regulatory environs abroad. Some wonder whether their expansion into the United Kingdom may come back to haunt them stateside, however. Calling themselves “gambling software” companies, both sites have applied to U.K. regulators for gambling licenses. DraftKings received a gambling license in August, while FanDuel, which applied this month, still is waiting on a decision. DraftKings’ Chief Internal Officer says he doesn’t see a contradiction between the site’s representations in the U.S. and U.K., but American officials, including the judge or judges handling Hodge’s lawsuits, may see things differently.

(Header image via Karsten Bitter)