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MLB Lawyers Ignore, Commissioner Hints at Technological Solution for Fan Safety

About two weeks before the trade deadline, Oakland A’s fan Gail Payne filed a class-action lawsuit against Major League Baseball in which she asked the league to install more protective netting to shield fans from foul balls and bats. This month, MLB responded to Payne’s complaint by moving to dismiss the case in its entirety. (The motion is available here.)

When Payne filed suit, Nathaniel Grow, writing for FanGraphs, estimated that the case had little chance of success, for reasons including the possible applicability of “the so-called ‘Baseball Rule,’ a doctrine historically shielding MLB teams from legal liability for injuries incurred by fans from foul balls or broken bats.”

While I had little reason to be more optimistic than Grow about the lawsuit’s prospects, I wrote here at TechGraphs that, if the case did go forward as a class action, it could present a number of interesting legal and practical questions, such as whether the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, where the case is pending, will apply the Baseball Rule; whether and how the likely large number of dissenting class members might seek to influence the litigation; and, within our subject-matter jurisdiction here at TechGraphs, whether this lawsuit might serve as a catalyst for the development of a technological solution for the the problem posed by the competing interests of fan safety and fan enjoyment at baseball games.

To varying degrees, MLB’s motion to dismiss addressed all of these issues, among others, seeking to poke as many holes as possible in Payne’s complaint. As expected, the league strongly argued for the application of the Baseball Rule in this case, telling the court that, pursuant to a legal doctrine requiring federal courts to apply the law of the state in which they are located in certain circumstances,  it “must” follow that rule because California courts already had adopted it. The motion also included an apparent nod to those baseball fans who don’t share Payne’s desire for expanded protective netting:

Ultimately, Plaintiff’s action for injunctive relief is an overreaching attempt to impose unnecessary and unwanted regulation. Plaintiff’s choice to sit in an unscreened upper-deck section of the Oakland Coliseum, and her alleged fear resulting from that choice, do not justify forcing the majority of baseball fans in all Major and Minor League parks to sit behind netting.

By their nature, motions to dismiss do not come draped in the vestiges of compromise, so it is little surprise that MLB’s first substantive response to Payne’s complaint did not include a proposal for a technological solution to the underlying problem of safety and spectating this suit, however inartfully, attempts to address. The motion does make passing mention of some of the practical difficulties with the scope of the netting extension Payne requested, though, observing in a footnote that extending netting down the foul lines still would leave Payne, whose seat is in the upper deck, susceptible to the sorts of fly balls that might enter her seating area.

MLB’s lawyers may not have engaged in a discussion about actual steps for improving baseball fan safety, but that doesn’t mean the subject isn’t on MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred’s mind. Eric Fisher, who covers baseball and technology for SportsBusiness Journal, reported this week on the Commissioner’s comments that changes to protective netting at ballparks will be the subject of “a big presentation” to the teams early in the offseason:

Even if Payne’s lawsuit is too flawed to deliver reform in the judicial arena, Manfred’s recent remarks suggest she nevertheless may succeed. Whatever happens, this moment remains one of great opportunity for technological innovators to develop a means for delivering greater degree of baseball fan safety while minimizing visual obstruction.

(Header image via Tony)

TechGraphs News Roundup: 10/23/2015

As the World Series approaches– quick question: does StatCast display in metric for Blue Jays fans?– and sports dreams become reality, the tech beat, in which robot dreams become reality, marches on. What follows are some of the sports-tech stories from the past week that we found interesting.

First Gatorade, now head safety. The University of Florida football program has its priorities in chronological order, announcing this week that it is the first (collegiate, we suspect) team to test HITS sensors in its helmets. HITS stands for Head Impact Telemetry System, and the idea is to develop a better picture of the cranial contact football players receive during games for the purpose of improving safety.

Speaking of robot hats, IBM is turning the attention of its Watson computer to a number of sports-related applications, including player safety, through wearable technology monitoring; golf, though a “personal caddy” app that provides swing feedback; and hockey, through a program being used by the Pittsburgh Penguins to analyze fan data to improve the fan experience at home games. Still no word on that song Watson and Dylan are supposed to write together, though.

Feeling overwhelmed by all of these new wearable sports tech products? We’re only on the third story of this roundup! The NFL Players Association understands, though. Yesterday, the union filed a grievance against the NFL, claiming that use of sleep-monitoring sensors on players by “several” teams– including the Seahawks and Eagles– violates the collective bargaining agreement, because the technology is used outside of practices and games. This grievance is but the latest chapter in what is likely to be an ongoing battle over the scope of wearable biometric technology in professional sports.

In good news for the environment and most smartphone users, a significant segment of the secondary sports ticket market is going paperless. SeatGeek has introduced a mobile app through which the site will deliver a barcode for scanning when you enter the venue. Unfortunately, it does not have a ticket-sharing feature, but the company says that’s in the works.

It has been a somewhat contentious week in the world of online sports media. First, Deadspin and SB Nation resumed sports-GIF tweeting following account suspensions in response to Digital Millenium Copyright Act claims against them by the NFL (and not the MLB, as some initially suspected, based on a recently announced GIF-sharing crackdown by that league). The media entities appear to be preparing for a more combative approach in the future, arguing that their GIFs and Vines constitute constitutionally-protected speech. Meanwhile, ESPN and YouTube seem to be squabbling over YouTube’s new premium service, YouTube Red, which allows users to watch videos advertisement-free, in exchange for a ten-dollar monthly payment. ESPN shut down many of its YouTube channels, but it is too early to tell with certainty whether that decision was the result of a disagreement with YouTube policies or concerns over the legal rights to the sports footage often incorporated in ESPN videos.

Finally, still more drama in the e-sports world, where the coach and two members of a South Korea-based professional StarCraft2 team have been arrested on match-fixing charges. Authorities believe those involved manipulated the results of five matches this year, for which they received between $4,400 and $17,600. (If you want an even smaller amount to ogle, a professional League of Legends player was fined $556 for flipping the bird at one of his competitors. (Also, if you haven’t checked lately, take a look at that dollar-Euro exchange rate.)) Here, the magnitude of the government’s response, rather than the sum at stake, speaks to the growing global interest in competitive video game competitions.

That’s it for this week. Shake it off this weekend, and be excellent to each other.

How to Stream the 2015 MLB Playoffs

It’s early October, which means it’s time to start making some mental notes for the approaching decorative gourd season while enjoying some playoff baseball. You’re on your own for the former, but we can help with the latter. The MLB playoffs start on Tuesday, beginning with the American League Wild Card game. Here’s how to watch:

  • Traditional television: For you squares (like me!) who still want to make use of that giant box around which your living rooms are oriented, all of these games should be available to you. In general, look for the AL games on Fox and the NL games on TBS (somebody maybe tell Ted Turner the Braves didn’t quite make it this year), although you’ll need ESPN, MLB Network, and Fox Sports 1 (now being rebranded as simply FS1) for some of the early action. Here’s a helpful schedule.
  • Gameday: This old standby makes you feel both seriously plugged-in, by virtue of its integrated PITCHf/x and StatCast data, video clips, and social media streams, and seriously devoid of a human experience, by virtue of the fact that, say, Prince Fielder and Don Kelly do not really have the same body types. Free for anyone with a computer and an internet connection. Compare MLB At Bat app for mobile users.
  • MLB’s premium, web-based service brought you live streams of all out-of-market television broadcasts during the regular season for a non-negligible fee. Due to the exclusivity of MLB’s playoff television broadcast rights agreements, however, you should not expect this service to be available in the postseason, with the exception of Gameday Audio, which the fine print indicates will remain available to subscribers. Instead, things shift to what the league calls, which will allow subscribers to view “live alternate video feeds,” but not the main television broadcast feed. This will set you back $9.99 for the entire postseason, and does require you authenticate with you TV provider. But if you already pay for TV, the next two options might be your best bet.
  • It is not exactly clear what TBS will be offering this year in terms of playoff baseball streaming, but, in 2014, live streams were available to cable subscribers on and through the Watch TBS mobile app, giving us every reason to believe the same will be available in 2015. TBS is also available to Sling TV subscribers.
  • Fox Sports Go: It’s the same story for Fox, which does not appear to have announced the scope of its playoff streaming, but we assume that, at a minimum, live streams will be available to cable subscribers through the Fox Sports Go app and at, as they were for the 2014 postseason.
  • Terrestrial radio: ESPN Radio will have every game. Find the dial location of your local ESPN Radio affiliate here. ESPN Radio also provides iOS and Android apps.
  • Satellite radio: SiriusXM. A subscription is required, but they almost always are offering free trials.

Enjoy cold weather baseball!

(Header image via Keith Allison)

TechGraphs News Roundup: 9/25/2015

Before the drones assume full command of our last vestiges of leisure, we wanted to provide you with this News Roundup, which highlights the sports-tech stories from the past week that we found interesting.

First, with dispatches from the very cutting edge, our own Brice Russ was in New York City Tuesday for the On Deck Sports and Technology Conference, scoping out upcoming developments in fan-oriented technology, including MLB’s StatCast, NBA in-arena tech, localized sports networking, and more. Look for additional reports on this event from Brice in the coming days.

It’s late September, which means MLB rosters have expanded in anticipation of the playoffs. Managers’ toolkits are expanding too, as teams now are permitted to use iPads (and other companies’ tablets, presumably) in the dugout during games. The unsurprising catch is that the tablets cannot be connected to a network, and all data– such as batter spray charts and pitcher video– stored on them must be downloaded to the devices no later than three hours before game time. Also, while the devices are allowed in dugouts, bullpens currently remain off-limits, probably because bored relievers are highly susceptible to gaming addiction. So far, reports indicate the Reds and Cardinals are using iPads to some extent in their dugouts. MLB previously restricted use of Apple Watches in dugouts, and the blanket ban on cell phones remains in place. That doesn’t apply to us fans, though, which is neat because a company called Scoutee is developing an app that will turn your smartphone into baseball radar gun.

“Cord-cutting”– the process of disentangling oneself from the expensive morass of packaged cable and satellite television services– is a popular subject around these parts. While new media technology is making this beneficial transition a reality for more and more consumers, the shift is not without its human costs. As people are learning, one of the priciest television channels is ESPN, which, alone, accounts for more than $6.00 of cable and satellite subscribers’ monthly bills, regardless of whether they watch the channel. With cord-cutting on the rise, however, the Worldwide Leader may not be able to sustain its operation by spreading its costs across a broad pool of cable and satellite customers. According to a recent report, ESPN is losing “millions” of subscribers and, in light of the billions of dollars it has committed to broadcast rights for live sporting events, “is gearing up to lay off hundreds of employees to trim costs.” The move away from traditional television services isn’t a total job-killer, though: the linked story quotes John Brillhart, a Minnesota man who works full-time as a “cord-cutting consultant,” and whose name may be the secret identity of Minnesota resident and TechGraphs Managing Editor David G. Temple.

We love science at TechGraphs, and here we find a report on work by some Swedish researchers who set out to discover whether athletic success breeds further success. The study examined professional golfers and compared the performances of the last person to make the cut and the first one to miss the cut at a particular tournament– two very similar golfers– in subsequent tournaments: “In other words, they were asking, if you just happen, largely by chance, to make the cut in tournament A, does that change your odds of making the cut in tournament B?” The result was a strong “yes,” as the researchers found that the golfer who just made the cut in tournament A was much more likely to make the cut in tournament B.

I’ve long contended that the NBA offseason is more exciting than the NBA season itself, and while that contention may merely be a reflection of my personal taste, there’s no doubt that the fairly public tug of war between the Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Clippers over DeAndre Jordan was one of the wildest basketball stories since the release of the last AND1 Mixtape. The modern twist on this saga was that the public largely was able to follow the developing story in real time thanks to an emoji battle on Twitter set off by Dallas’ Chandler Parsons. Now comes news that the whole thing was an accident, and that Parsons’ opening salvo actually had nothing to do with Jordan at all. Whatever you think about emojis, or even if you just read that word for the first time in your life, this story clearly illustrates the relative practical merit of New Criticism over traditional authorial intent.

In the least surprising news of the week, the NFL’s got drones now. This letter from the FAA proves it.

Yesterday, we told you that daily fantasy sports site DraftKings has expanded its offerings to include esports (i.e., competitive video game playing). Not to be left in the e-dust, DraftKings rival FanDuel responded simply by buying another site, AlphaDraft, that already offered daily fantasy contests for esports, for an undisclosed amount under $25 million. I’m as tired of the DraftKings and FanDuel advertisements as everyone else, though, so my request to the two competitors is that they not bother me until I can play daily fantasy sports daily fantasy contests. If I can bet on people playing a video game like League of Legends, I should be able to bet on somebody playing DraftKings or FanDuel.

On that metanote, we bid you a good weekend and respectfully request that you be excellent to each other.

TechGraphs News Roundup: 9/11/2015

After a laborious break, the News Roundup is back with the football sports-tech stories we found interesting this week.

Tennis may be slower to embrace technology than other sports, but if the All England Club can get web-savvy, you know the game is catching up to the curve. For recent evidence of that, we look to Damien Saunder and mapping software company ESRI. Saunder has been using data from Hawk-Eye, the camera system in place for the purpose of line-call challenges, and other sources to develop data visualizations of entire tennis matches. With counting stats (e.g., “How many aces did Serena hit in her last match?”) still dominating the tennis analysis conversation, Saunder believes his visualizations, and the practical information derived from them, can provide qualitative context to the whens and wheres of events that drive results in a sport in which timing and location matter. (And speaking of Hawk-Eye, this new Wall Street Journal interactive site lets you go eye-to-eye in a line-call test with the Hawk itself.)

With the NFL regular season kicking off last night, a lot of us have had football on the brain. We’ve recently covered concussions, NFL Sunday Ticket alternatives, and television streaming devices. Now comes news that Fox will be streaming live NFL games this season through its Fox Sports Go app and online at Although this is a good step for fans of NFC teams, it’s a small step for the network. Access still requires a paid television-provider subscription (Dish Network users currently don’t have access), and while this does permit mobile viewing on a tablet, smartphone viewing is not supported. Finally, coverage is restricted to the game your local Fox affiliate is carrying, so if you’re an NFC North fan living in the NFC South, you’re going to need a longer Ethernet cable.

Meanwhile, Comcast is trying to improve the television viewing experience– and maybe keep your eyes off some other, non-Comcast-connected device– with a new, on-screen football app that provides interactive statistical data about players and teams in action. Use of this app requires a Comcast X1 subscription.

CBS and ESPN have been testing “Pylon Cam,” which is what it sounds like, and probably very expensive, so stop using the pylons as golf clubs. (Also from that story, New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin expresses skepticism about the utility of using drones at training camp, and all players’ shoulder pads will contain RFID tags for on-field movement tracking.)

Not to be left out, the NFL itself is expanding its digital offerings. For example, the league’s new video network, NFL Now, will be available on its redesigned mobile app, creatively dubbed NFL Mobile, as well as online and on a number of other popular platforms, all without a subscription. Additionally, all Verizon users can stream Thursday, Monday, and in-market Sunday afternoon games on connected Android and iOS smartphones, but not tablets, at no additional cost. (Sorry, BlackBerry PlayBook users.) Sure, the NFL may be turning into a mind-melting mixture of golden-age prizefighting and professional wrestling, but at least we have little excuse for missing a second of it.

It’s looking like there will be some fresh faces in the 2015 MLB playoffs, and with less than a month to go in the regular season, the race for those final postseason spots is hot. Also hot: all that internal data the Cardinals nabbed from the Astros. Remember that? Baseball is big business, and as big data becomes an increasingly important part of that big business, data industry actors are counseling baseball teams to behave more like sophisticated corporations with intellectual property worth stealing and protect themselves accordingly.

Finally, included in Apple’s live-action data dump community theater show Wednesday was news about a new MLB At Bat app for Apple TV. The app offers plenty of features, including split-screen viewing of two live games and on-screen statistics. An NHL app also is reported to be coming to Apple TV in 2016.

That’s all for this week. While you’re streaming football straight into your domes this weekend, don’t forget to be excellent to each other.

MLB Fan Lawsuit Seeks Technological Remedy

Last month, 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:

The Plaintiff and the Class are entitled to injunctive relief requiring Defendants, among other things, to adopt corrective measures regarding the implementation of: (1) 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 by the beginning of the 2016-2017 MLB season; (2) a rule requiring any newly constructed ballpark intended to house major or minor league baseball games, to include at a minimum this amount of netting; and (3) a program to study injuries and the rates of injuries amongst spectators, including the type and manner of injury and at what locations in ballparks they occur, in an effort to continually reevaluate whether additional measures should be taken, so that precautionary measures can continue to evolve as the sport continues to evolve.

As Nathaniel Grow wrote for FanGraphs, Payne’s lawsuit has a relatively low likelihood for success, due to the “several strong legal defenses” available to MLB and the possible applicability of “the so-called ‘Baseball Rule,’ a doctrine historically shielding MLB teams from legal liability for injuries incurred by fans from foul balls or broken bats.” (Payne attached to her complaint a “sample list of injuries suffered to spectators located in the unprotected areas along first and third base between the foul poles, during official play” that identifies about eighty-five such injuries since the early 1900s.)

If the case does go forward, though, it could present a few interesting questions. One is whether the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, where Payne’s case is pending, will apply the Baseball Rule. Last summer, the Georgia Court of Appeals refused to do so, affirming a trial judge’s rejection of a request by the Atlanta Braves (joined by the office of then-MLB Commissioner Bud Selig) to apply the rule and dismiss a lawsuit brought on behalf of a child whose skull was shattered by a foul ball at a Braves game.

A second question arises out of the procedural nature of Payne’s complaint, which seeks class-action treatment, and involves the means available to dissenters in the proposed class for challenging Payne’s position. Unlike the more popularly familiar “opt-out” class-action lawsuits, for which you may have received a coupon because you purchased overpriced energy drinks or music CDs, Payne’s proposed class action will proceed, if at all, under a different rule as a “mandatory” class action. Practically, this means that, if the court certifies Payne’s case as a class action, the final result of the case will bind every member of the class, which Payne broadly defines as all MLB season-ticket holders with seats “in any unnetted/uncovered area between home plate and the foul plates [sic] located at the end of the right and left field lines . . . .” As Grow suggested in his FanGraphs post, if the court grants her request for class certification, Payne could find herself with some unhappy fellow class members, as it seems likely that many MLB season-ticket holders with seats in what Payne’s complaint dubs “the Danger Zone” prefer their completely unobstructed views of the action and do not agree with Payne that the league should extend netting all the way to each foul pole. Because the proposed class is of the mandatory variety, though, dissenting class members could not simply opt out and control their own legal destinies. While yet another rule may allow those season-ticket holders who don’t want additional netting requested to intervene in the case and make their objections known, they must take affirmative steps to do so, and they must act in a timely fashion. A possible alternative, which Grow mentioned, is that MLB itself may point to this probable intra-class division in the course of its anticipated argument that the court should not allow the class action to proceed, thus relieving the dissenting class members from the need to do so. (On this point note that, on Monday, MLB filed a routine Disclosure of Interested Entities, which listed only the league’s thirty teams and their owners as among those entities having “a financial interest in the subject matter in controversy [or] having a non-financial interest in that subject matter . . . that could be substantially affected by the outcome of this proceeding.”) MLB’s answer to Payne’s complaint is due on October 2, 2015.

Third, and the reason for taking a look at this case over here at TechGraphs, Payne’s complaint raises a question of practical technology: How can we keep baseball fans safe while affording them the best available opportunity to enjoy baseball games? While the response from Payne’s legal and ideological opponents is that the fans themselves (and alone) bear the burden of ensuring their safety, an increase in fan-protection measures of some sort seems likely. MLB teams, including the aforementioned Braves, already employ extended netting during pregame activities, and further severe fan injuries could mobilize popular sentiment and personal injury lawyers to target MLB’s pockets, rather than merely its conscience.

To some, the pushback against increased safety netting should sound as a cry for technological innovation. As attitudes about netting change, a manufacturer who could produce stadium nets with reduced visual obtrusiveness seemingly would find himself or herself well-positioned to enter the market. (I contacted representatives for multiple MLB teams and netting manufacturers in connection with this story. None offered substantive comment, although one, Tex-Net, Inc. owner John Scarperia, indicated that he thought that the nets in use today already were as unobtrusive as possible while still providing the requisite degree of protection.)

And attitudes are likely to change. In 2002, thirteen-year-old Brittanie Cecil died as a result of injuries sustained when a deflected hockey puck struck her in the head during the course of an NHL game between the Calgary Flames and Columbus Blue Jackets. Three months later, the league, having completed a study of the issue, decided to significantly expand fan safety measures in its arenas by installing large safety nets at each end of the ice.

Image via Wikipedia
Image via Wikipedia

As Yahoo! hockey blogger Greg Wyshynski recalled in a post marking the tenth anniversary of Cecil’s death, negative fan reaction to the netting in 2002 was substantial and precisely in line with the remarks from 2015’s opponents to increased baseball netting. From the article announcing the new nets: “Some Blackhawks season ticket-holders said during the season that they would oppose having netting installed because it would interfere with their view of the game.” From a (oddly illuminated) contemporary editorial:

If spectators paid attention to the game, safety wouldn’t be a concern.

At the MCI Center in Washington, D.C., 122 fans were injured in 127 games, most of them weren’t serious, according to a report by two emergency room doctors. Meaning spectators were trying to be heroes by catching the puck and cutting their hand or something minor.

Don’t try to be heroes when the puck is traveling at 100 miles per hour; just duck.

The nets are good news to some people, such as the architects that build new arenas and stadiums. Now, with the nets, spectators will be able to see ice rinks where there are only 15-20 rows of seats behind the end zones and the rest near center ice. Taller and wider stadiums will be built as soon as the word gets out that no one can see through the nets.

Even Doug MacLean, then the general manager for– of all teams, the Blue Jackets– received angry mail: “It was shocking to me. When we put the nets up in Columbus [where Cecil was killed], I had some unbelievably nasty letters from season ticket-holders asking me how I could do that to their sight-lines.”

Wyshynski, who admitted he too was an early opponent of the netting, revisited the story ten years later not so much to chide or mock those early opponents but to observe just how much of an afterthought the netting had become since the initial outcry over its installation: “The purists bristled at the end of a tradition. Debates raged … and then a decade later, yesterday’s hot-button debate is today’s societal norm.” Should MLB ultimately follow the NHL in mandating new safety netting, it isn’t too difficult to imagine that, ten years down the road, your favorite baseball writer on whatever future version of TechGraphs exists at that time will have something similar to note.

(Header image via Rob Bixby)

TechGraphs News Roundup: 7/17/2015

A “day without sports” does not a week without sports-technology news make, so here are the sports-tech stories we found interesting this week.

Scientists in Switzerland announced the inaugural Cybathon, an international competition for bionic athletes. Unlike the Paralympics, the overriding emphasis of Cybathon is less on athletic achievement and more on encouraging the development of new robotic technologies that will aid those with physical limitations in their daily lives. The first Cybathon will take place in Zurich in the fall of 2016.

Audience streams for gaming tournaments have by and large been only in the first-person view. But a new company called Super League Gaming is hoping to bring a bigger, world view to their tournaments. They are partnering with major movie theater chains to display a broader view of the game’s environment on the big screen.

In case you had any doubts about the health of the daily fantasy industry, popular DFS site FanDuel just raised another $275 million, and is now valuated at a cool billion.

NHL 15, while still really fun to play, was a bit of a letdown in many areas. EA is making a push to improve the experience with their next offering, and offered a video showing some of the improvements coming to the game. It’s slated to drop on September 15.

We cover plenty in the way of wearable athletic technology in this space, but when it comes to golf, you probably already have an effective one in your pocket. Well-known golf instructor and former Tiger Woods coach Hank Haney has an active Twitter account, and all you need to do to receive expert analysis of your game is tweet Haney a video of that Tasmanian-Devil mess you call a golf swing and wait for him to respond with some advice, which he dishes out in his spare time.

Football season looms ever closer, and with it the danger of traumatic brain injuries. Doctors at the University of Miami, together with software company Neuro Kinetics and involvement from the U.S. Department of Defense, have developed concussion-detecting goggles, which they are testing on Hurricane athletes this summer. One of the practical advantages of the goggles is that they are portable: the apparatus fits in a backpack, meaning it’s easy to bring them to away games too. The university was one of the winners of the NFL’s second Head Health Challenge, an incentive program to support the development of brain-protection technology, and the $500,000 award has provided the bulk of funding to date for the development of the goggles.

Hawk-Eye for the masses? While nobody’s proposing a populist archery revival (to our knowledge), a French company is developing Mojjo, a camera-based tennis analysis system designed to be used by amateur players. While a relatively inexpensive, single-camera system like Mojjo won’t compete with the most advanced, multi-camera systems the pros use, it still appears capable of providing amateur players with plenty of insightful feedback.

And finally, to put this one on ice, rumor has it that some NHL teams have begun to use the player-tracking system the league debuted at the All-Star Game earlier this year. Unlike the NBA’s SportsVU system, which requires the installation of an array of cameras in each arena, the NHL’s Sportsvision program works by tracking specialized equipment each player wears under his uniform, which also can transmit biometric data like heart rate.

Like your work week, this News Roundup is ending. Have a good weekend, and be excellent to each other.

Jason Pierre-Paul Didn’t Start the Fire: How Athletes Could Lose Control Over Their Health Data

Like many of us, NFL defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul spent last weekend launching fireworks in the course of celebrating America’s birthday. Unlike most of us, hopefully, Pierre-Paul injured himself in the course of his combustible activities. While the extent of his injury, reported to be to one of his hands, initially was unknown, that quickly changed on Wednesday afternoon, when ESPN’s Adam Schefter posted a photograph purporting to be of a Pierre-Paul medical record, which indicated, among other things, that doctors had amputated one of the football player’s fingers.

The news of Pierre-Paul’s digital truncation would have come out before long– it’s difficult for linemen to hide severe hand injuries– even if Schefter’s source didn’t leak it, but in an era of ostensible medical privacy, Schefter’s tweet still was a bit stunning to see. Though laws such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act do not apply to journalists, Schefter’s actions still cross a line of decency and ethics.

One of the central concepts here is authorization, and as we move away from a time in which the bulk of athlete health information exists in conventional medical records and into a reality in which people, including those involved with sports teams, are embracing wearable athletic technology with the capability of pervasively gathering vast amounts of biometric data, authorization may become a moot issue for the monitored athletes. Seeing Pierre-Paul’s records pop up on Twitter struck some as “creepy” and “invasive,” but we may not be far from a situation in which athletes are indirectly pressured or directly asked to authorize broad disclosure of their health information.

In examining the “explosion of data and data collection” in the NBA for an ESPN The Magazine last fall, Pablo S. Torre and Tom Haberstroh wrote that

The boom officially began during work hours. Before last season, all 30 arenas installed sets of six military-grade cameras, built by a firm called SportVU, to record the x- and y-coordinates of every person on the court at a rate of 25 times a second . . . .

But to follow this logic to its conclusion is to understand why the scope of this monitoring is expanding, and faster than the public knows. Teams have always intuited that on-court productivity could be undermined by off-court choices — how a player exhausts himself after hours, for instance, or what he eats and drinks. Now the race is on to comprehensively surveil and quantify that behavior. NBA executives have discovered how to leverage new, ever-shrinking technologies to supervise a player’s sleeping habits, record his physical movements, appraise his diet and test his blood. . . .

“We need to be able to have impact on these players in their private time,” says Kings general manager Pete D’Alessandro. “It doesn’t have to be us vs. you. It can be a partnership.”

A lovely sentiment, at least in theory. But how long will it be until biometric details impact contract negotiations? How long until graphs of off-court behavior are leaked to other teams or the press? How long until employment hinges on embracing technology that some find invasive?

Baseball fans benefit from the deepening analysis of the sport by writers at places like FanGraphs, who can easily query in-game data troves like PITCH/fx and Statcast to support their work, and recent work on this site highlights the leading edge of wearable technology designed for baseball applications. Will data from players’ heart-rate monitors and FitBits ever be publicly searchable on BaseballSavant? Probably not. Will they be leaked when the player is in the midst of contract negotiations, as Pierre-Paul is, like drug test results and Wonderlic scores already are? The mere existence of the data certainly allows for that possibility.

Reports indicate that Pierre-Paul still plans to play football this season, although it’s unclear whether he will do so as a New York Giant. Even a strong season, wherever he winds up playing, is unlikely to make him the most accomplished nine-fingered performer in recent memory. As we sit on the cusp of the “explosion of data and data collection” in sports, though, we nevertheless may remember the leak of Pierre-Paul’s medical records as marking an important transition point on the path toward the more all-encompassing biometric-data-gathering world. And also the part about blowing off his finger with fireworks.

(Header image via maf04)

All England Club Dot Net: Wimbledon in the Royal Age of Technology

Generally regarded as the most formal of tennis’ Grand Slam tournaments, Wimbledon– pardon, The Championships, Wimbledon– famously features players tarnishing the courts’ grass surfaces in mandated all-white apparel and an only recently lifted requirement that the participants bow or curtsy in deferential acknowledgment of attending members of British royalty.

The 2015 tournament is underway, and so too is the eldest Slam’s grappling with technological developments. Perhaps most visible is the tournament’s improved website. The homepage, links to a live blog, which consists of a stream of updates including summarized match results, video and images from social media, and player comments. Live video and radio streams are available directly through the site, as is a video archive, and current weather, time, and ticket queue information appear on the face of the landing page. (Live video streaming also is available to cable subscribers from ESPN3/WatchESPN.)


Behind the scenes, longtime tournament partner IBM has driven these updates to and informational mobile apps (for iOS and Android users), which will have an offline mode to permit ongoing operation where wireless service is unavailable. IBM also is leveraging its Watson computing technology in an effort to deliver analytical information to fans with greater speed.

While official digital coverage of Wimbledon appears to be at an all-time high, fan-generated content is a different matter. Wimbledon’s tournament directors, including Alexandra Willis, Head of Digital and Content, have taken a more actively-hostile stance toward the use of mobile streaming services like Periscope, although Willis admitted that her team would be experimenting with the technology. Willis’ focus is less on the technology’s ability to sidestep conventional broadcast channels– like others, she does not view it as a viable threat in that regard– and more on protecting the live experience for attending fans and players. The prohibition on video streaming is a natural extension of the preexisting rule against mobile telephone use during matches, which, in case anyone thought this somehow would fly, includes selfie sticks too. And speaking of flying, drones aren’t allowed either. Police already have seized one and released a statement explaining the legal basis for their action.

What effect will these mobile technology restrictions have on spectators? Automotive manufacturer Jaguar may be able to deliver at least a partial answer. By equipping some fans with wearable biometric monitors (focused on heart-rate variability), installing atmospheric sensors around the courts, and tracking social media activity, their hope is to be able to measure emotion, excitement, mood, and energy. The results are charted in real time to an interactive graph on What value, if any, this meta-analysis provides remains unknown, of course, but it is nice to see one of sports’ most buttoned-up events stride into the digital realm without infringing upon the simple elegance that makes Wimbledon a perennial classic.

(Header image via scohoust)

TechGraphs News Roundup: 6/26/2015

Here comes the News Roundup, back with a fresh batch of sports-tech stories we found interesting this week.

The Women’s World Cup is well-underway across Canada, where the quarterfinals begin today. While Americans generally haven’t been on fire for their successful team to this point, in contrast to their comparatively middling men’s squad, the playing surface sure feels like it has. The widely panned artificial turf distributes rubber pellets to the players faster than the referees can issue yellow cards, and there is some limited evidence suggesting that these pellets, which might remain embedded in the players’ clothing and bodies for longer than some teams’ tournament runs, present health risks to the players. When still a part of the turf, the pellets’ capacity for heat-absorption can render the playing surface extremely hot. (Female footballers’ male counterparts, meanwhile, play on natural grass.)

Lexus claims to be making substantial progress toward a “real, rideable” hoverboard. Prototype testing remains ongoing, which is okay for now; the automobile manufacturer still has a few months to prepare the world for Marty McFly’s arrival.

With the Sprint Cup series in Sonoma, California this week, Microsoft announced a multi-level partnership with NASCAR. One of the most immediately visible aspects of this partnership will be Microsoft’s primary sponsorship of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s ride at this Sunday’s race. The timing is coordinated with the release of Windows 10, which will become the official operating system of both NASCAR and Hendrick Motorsports, the race team for which Earnhardt drives. Last year, Microsoft developed a mobile inspection app for NASCAR officials, the use of which led to significant decreases in time spent inspecting vehicles prior to races.

Before NBA arenas were outfitted with arrays of motion-tracking cameras and smart analysts spoke in terms of player efficiency ratings and usage rates, there was Harvey Pollack. Pollack, who died this week at the age of ninety-three, began working in the NBA in 1946, the league’s inaugural year. As the director of statistical information for the Philadelphia 76ers, he played a leading role in developing the sport’s statistical foundation on a granular level, eventually providing the basis for today’s tech-driven approach to player evaluation. Along the way, he reportedly coined the term “triple-double,” and he employed a rudimentary piece of technology to help create one of the sport’s most memorable images.

Daily fantasy sports site DraftKings had an up-and-down week. While the site scored a victory in striking an exclusive agreement with ESPN to become the official daily fantasy sports provider for all of the Worldwide Leader’s platforms, it missed out on a potential $250 million investment from Disney, the sports network’s parent company. Daily fantasy rival FanDuel, meanwhile, has been busy snapping up exclusive partnerships with NBA franchises.

The week is almost done, and so is this News Roundup. Enjoy the weekend, and, in the readily typeable words of our Managing Editor, David G. Temple, be excellent to each other.