Author Archive to Introduce 35 Advanced Statistics Today

The NHL will be introducing 35 new stats on their website today, ushering in a new era in the ways fans, media, and teams can measure the game. Adding to the puck and player tracking technology the NHL introduced at the 2015 All-Star Weekend, which TechGraphs chronicled, the 2014-2015 season may be remembered as the year the NHL left the analytics ice age and joined U.S. pro sports leagues in adopting advanced sports technology.

NHL COO John Collins said of the additions, “You’re going to see a big change in the way we present our stats, in terms of the depth and the utility of how to do it. And that’s before the puck tracking [system].” He later added, “We need to create a digital record of what happens on the ice. That’s standard across the league, and goes much deeper than the current real-time scoring system.”

The two most common advanced stats are Corsi and Fenwick, both of which estimate puck possession. For a primer on advanced NHL statistics check out this primer from Sports Illustrated, or for a deeper dive, take a look at Lighthouse Hockey’s introduction to hockey analytics.

In addition to being used by media and fans, the NHL will begin allowing teams and player agents to use these advanced statistics in arbitration hearings, which will change the criteria for how arbitration eligible players are compensated.

In fact, Jimmy Hascup of USA TODAY wrote an article today about player agent Allan Walsh, who brought up puck-possession metrics in a discussion about the value of one of his clients in a meeting with a general manager. After Walsh told  the officials they were missing an important part of his clients value, Walsh recounted,  “It was kind of like, ‘(expletive), he knows.’ It really brought discussion to a different level.”

But these new metrics aren’t being met with open arms by everyone associated with the NHL. Much like the scouts vs. quants stat wars chronicled in the Michael Lewis book, Moneyball, many in the NHL establishment have been resistant to these new metrics. Josh Gold-Smith from Awful Announcing covered this conflict recently, showing that one NHL columnist compared “analytics folks” to terrorists:

We’ve seen this story before in baseball and we know how it will end. Regardless of the opinions of stats-truthers, the NHL has already won by embracing advances in sports technology, which will bring dividends to the league and their fans for years to come.

(Image via Wikimedia)

Congressional Republicans Reintroduce Bill To Outlaw Online Gambling

Looking at my Venmo app the past couple weeks one might think that sports gambling in the US was legal. Gambling related debts have shown up frequently in my feed in the aftermath of the Super Bowl on the payments sharing app. But with the reintroduction of a bill to Congress that would make all online gambling illegal, bettors might want to start relabeling their Venmo gambling debts as “groceries.”

With sports gambling legal in only four states, the vast majority of wagers are placed with local bookmakers or offshore gambling sites. Mirroring Prohibition-era legislation and the US war on drugs, American gaming laws are puritanical, archaic, and often counterproductive. Some estimate only one percent of sports wagers are made legally and third-party “runners” often place bets at legal sportsbooks to launder money for criminals.

Which makes it odd that a group of Congressional Republicans would reintroduce a bill titled Restoration of the Wire Act (RAWA), named after the 1961 law criminalizing wagers made over wires. The legislation would outlaw online gaming, save for fantasy sports, which is exempted by the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 (UIGEA). Fantasy sports are classified as a game of skill (poker is somehow not), so it is legal at the federal level, with 40 states having laws on the books that follow suit.

You may have been able to surmise RAWA hasn’t been met with unified Republican support given this isn’t its first trip through Congress. In fact, in an interview earlier this year Senator John McCain said about legalized sports gambling, “We need a debate in Congress. We need to have a talk with the American people, and we need to probably have hearings in Congress on the whole issue (sports gambling) so we can build consensus.”

This coming after Adam Silver, commissioner of the NBA, stepped forward in an op-ed for the New York Times, calling for Congress and other professional sports leagues to explore legalizing sports gambling, writing, “I believe that sports betting should be brought out of the underground and into the sunlight where it can be appropriately monitored and regulated.” Quickly getting past the irony of the fact that the NBA was the last pro sports league to have a point shaving scandal, Silver’s stance is more pragmatic than bold.

It turns out that casinos, who stand to benefit the most from a lack of competition, are the influencers behind the reintroduction of RAWA by Congressional Republicans. As Steven Silver of Above the Law Redline wrote, the ringleader behind the casino industry’s push to pass RAWA is Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino owner. Silver, a former sports reporter and lawyer, noted Adelson, “has openly admitted that he would be willing ‘to spend whatever it takes’ to halt the spread of gambling over the Internet.”

Adelson has been using his deep pockets to influence US gaming legislation as well as to finance the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling, which, as the USA Today notes, “warns of children gambling on their smartphones and tablets.” This last bit is nothing more than laughable moralistic cover and obfuscation for the real issue at hand — protection of Adelson’s business interests.

Alison Siciliano, of the Coalition for Consumer and online protection said in response to the reintroduction of RAWA, “casino magnate Sheldon Adelson has relentlessly twisted the arms of members of Congress to pass an ill-conceived ban on Internet gaming.”

With fantasy sports apps like FanDuel and DraftKings predicted to handle more entry fees than all Las Vegas sports books combined by the end of this year, it’s easy why Adelson sees online gambling as a threat to casino gaming. However, with online gambling’s increasing popularity and power players like John McCain and Adam Silver sticking their necks out for legalization, it’s unlikely Sheldon Adelson will have enough firepower to shut down the entire enterprise.

(Header image via flickr)

Under Armour Acquires MyFitness Pal for $475 Milllion

Under Armour has announced they have acquired  MyFitnessPal, the nutrition and calorie counting app that claims more than 80 million users, for $475 million dollars.

The athletic apparel company has also acquired fitness tracking social app Endomondo, which boasts 20 million users, for $85 million.

Eighty percent of Endomondo’s 20 million users are outside the US, which will help in expanding Under Armour’s presence internationally.

“Under Armour’s demonstrated global leadership in health and fitness innovation is greatly enhanced with the addition of Endomondo and MyFitnessPal, as we continue to redefine and elevate the Connected Fitness experience for millions of people around the world,” said Kevin Plank, Chairman and CEO of Under Armour. “Similar to MapMyFitness, Endomondo and MyFitnessPal have established track records of unmatched equity, expertise and passion in the fitness and nutrition space, and they are ideal partners to enable Under Armour to provide data-driven, proactive solutions to help athletes of all levels lead healthier and more active lifestyles.”

Both companies will continue to operate at their headquarters in San Francisco and Copenhagen, Denmark, respectively.

Under Armour previously acquired MapMyFitness, a leader in the exercise tracking app market, in 2013. This series of acquisitions now allows Under Armour to claim they have “the world’s largest digital health and fitness community” with more than 120 combined users, which is about six times more than the Nike+ fitness community’s 18 million users.

(Image via Wikimedia)

Snapchat Launches Content Platform with ESPN and Bleacher Report

Last week Snapchat announced Snapchat Discover, their new content platform featuring partners like Vice, Comedy Central, and Yahoo! News. For the sports crowd, US users of the ephemeral messaging app will be served content exclusively from ESPN, while international users will get sports content via Snapchat’s partnership with Bleacher Report.

For everyone over the age of 25, what this means is that the Snapchat app, which is primarily used to send pictures to friends that disappear after a set number of seconds, is now a full-fledged media platform.

Regular messages sent on Snapchat disappear after 10 seconds or less. However, stories in Discover will appear for 24 hours before being refreshed with a new batch of content.

The ESPN channel has great visuals and the UX will be familiar to Snapchat users (swipe right for the next story, swipe up for the content of said story). There’s no buffering for video and the content loads immediately—there was never a lag when I was reviewing it. Discover is supported by ads, but you aren’t hit over the head with them. You’re able to swipe them away much like you are the editorial content.

One gripe is there wasn’t any unique content developed for the Snapchat audience, something that may change as content providers become more familiar with the platform. With an estimated 100 million-plus monthly active users, there is great opportunity for providers to attract a young, mobile-friendly audience.

Snapchat insists that this isn’t a social media play, saying in a blog post, “This is not social media. Social media companies tell us what to read based on what’s most recent or most popular. We see it differently. We count on editors and artists, not clicks and shares, to determine what’s important.”

This may be true, but if Snapchat wants to get established in the content game they need to provide a reason to use their app over other native content apps. Right now I can’t see a reason why someone wouldn’t just use the ESPN app.

Additionally, one of the big strengths of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter is curation — the individual has the power to select the content they see based on their network. Curated editorial content that is essentially cherry picked from what you can find on the web doesn’t provide enough differentiation or value to set it apart from social media platforms

Snapchat’s Discover also signals further fragmentation in the mobile content landscape, with content providers developing their own apps and social media apps like Snapchat developing content platforms. But with mobile video’s strong growth (it currently makes up 22 percent of digital video consumption), combined with the fact that young people aged 14 to 24 are now watching a majority of their video on screens other than their TV, a land rush for a slice of the mobile video market is an obviously play for a growing behemoth like Snapchat.

Two Tech Partnerships Unveiled During NHL All-Star Weekend

The NHL has long been perceived as somewhat behind the times with their unique brand of legalized fisticuffs, but their latest partnerships with GoPro and Sportsvision could make the NHL the leader of the big four pro sports in player tracking technology.

First, the NHL announced they will broadcast live GoPro footage of its players during telecasts. Previously, GoPro has been relegated to partnerships with extreme sports. This is is their first foray with a major pro sports league. According to Techcrunch, GoPro will receive additional branding opportunities as part of their deal with the NHL as an “Official Partner.” The live broadcasts were a part of the 2015 NHL All-Star Weekend and you can see a clip of some previously shot footage below.

In another announcement, the NHL revealed they would be using player tracking technology in both the Skills Competition and the All-Star Game. The technology was created by Sportvision, which also provides real-time tracking technology for NASCAR and the NFL. To track the players and the puck in real time, Sportsvision has created a puck that contains a microchip and has infrared light tubes around the outside. As Sportsvision CEO Hank Adams explained to Yahoo Sports, “We have infrared cameras up in the catwalks, 10 of them. They see the flash of the puck, which is a unique frequency, and different than the flash of a player tag. And each player tag has a different frequency. We slip it into a pocket of the jersey, and it shines through brightly.”

The puck was the toughest nut to crack, something that took Sportsvision years to perfect. According to the Washington Post, Sportsvision partnered with the NHL’s puck manufacturer to recreate a puck that would play the same way as current game pucks. Adams says, “When you throw the puck on the ice, and the standard puck, they won’t be able to tell the difference,” Adams said. “It’s not livelier, deader, no extra rebound, heavier, it is basically the same puck from their standpoint.”

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman praised the possibilities of the technology, saying, “This is, if I can coin a phrase, in the embryonic stages of a work in progress, but ultimately we are hoping to deliver the kind of data that will create insights and tell stories that avid and casual hockey fans will enjoy. In short, we are attempting to embark upon a journey that hopefully will enable us to create and then maintain a digital record of everything in our game and compile a complete digital history.”

For NHL fans, the technology will provide real-time times stats during broadcasts, including player speed, shot speed, and player ice time, among other information. Below is some footage of the tracking technology in use during the NHL Skills Competition.

The technology will also be used for viewers using a second screen, where fans can follow the game in real time similar to MLB’s At Bat app. Users will able to track in the puck, player position, and ice time in real-time. Below is the second screen software the NHL showed off during All-Star Weekend.

The are plenty more uses for this technology, including the ability to develop advanced analytics like the MLB and NBA, as well as new ways for fans to watch their favorite teams. For the naysayers who remember the glowing puck experiment by Fox Sports in the 1990s all too well, I can assure you this is not a repeat. On the contrary, these new partnerships could provide the NHL an advantage that it doesn’t have over more popular pro sports leagues for years to come.

(Image via gryphon1911)

MLS Joins NFL and NHL In Adopting Concussion Tracking Technology

Major League Soccer has announced they will begin implementing the concussion tracking device xPatch next season in order to further study the effects of head trauma on their players.

The xPatch was recently used in a rugby match by the London-based Saracens (no relation to Friday Night Lights character Matt Saracen, unfortunately). Some in London have dismissed the patches, calling them gimmicky, but Edward Griffith, the Saracens CEO, responded tersely saying, “It is the furthest thing from a gimmick. This is not something we just thought would be good to try out last weekend. This has been nine months in the planning. We have set aside a budget of £350,000 for it for next season funded by the Drake Foundation because we believe wholly in the significance of the research. I don’t want to be visiting these players in 20 or 25 years time in a hospital where they are suffering from dementia or some other neurological condition.”

The xPatch, made by Seattle-based X2 Biosystems, contains a gyroscope and accelerometer that are encased in plastic. They are 1” by 3” and placed on a bone behind the players ear and taped down for games. The xPatch records all of the head trauma a player experiences and sends the information to trainers via an app.

A device like the xPatch may have been able to better track the head trauma former MLS star Taylor Twellman experienced during his career (he retired after suffering his sixth concussion). Twellman has since committed to donating his brain after his death for concussion reasearch and has his own foundation, Think Taylor, to raise money and awareness for concussion prevention.

Further implementation of the device could also help prevent scenarios like the one that occurred during the NFL playoffs on January 3rd, when the Ravens Courtney Upshaw had a rare clean sack of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who’s helmet bounced off the turf when he went down.

Roethlisberger returned to the game five minutes later after having his neck and shoulders tested and going through the NFL concussion protocol. He looked shaky when he returned to the huddle and proceeded to throw an interception on his first snap, causing some to speculate that he returned to the game too soon.

Dr. Matt Matava of the NFL Physician Society explained to the Guardian previously that X2 Biosystems technology, “has allowed us to accurately diagnose concussions immediately following an injury [about six to eight minutes after a hit]. The software also allows us to compare the players’ injury date to their baseline in order to objectively assess changes in mental status.” All 32 NFL teams currently use X2’s concussion management software.

The hope is that the technology becomes unobtrusive enough for players of all contact sports to use during games to detect in-game head trauma and track the sub-concussive impacts a player experiences over the course of his career. Considering the tragic deaths of former NFL stars Junior Seau and Dave Duerson, and the nightmare that the NFL concussion settlement has become, it’s a breakthrough that can’t come soon enough.

(Image via Bay Area Bias)

Whistle Sports Raises $28 Million From Investors Including Derek Jeter and Peyton Manning

Burgeoning digital sports network Whistle Sports announced they closed their Series B round of funding, raising $28 million led by Emil Capital Partners and featuring prominent athletes like Derek Jeter and Peyton Manning as investors.

The network launched in January 2014 and has experienced tremendous growth in only a year, with close to 13 million YouTube subscribers, while gaining 10 million new social followers across their platforms each month. The next closest sports YouTube channel is the NBA at close to six million subscribers.

Their most popular YouTube channel partner is Dude Perfect, the group of Texas A&M alums who got their start making ridiculous basketball trick shots. They have also begun forming content partnerships with professional athletes like Jeremy Lin.

The network’s revenue has been more than doubling each quarter and their videos have been viewed over two billion times. This can be attributed in part to the network’s popularity with the much sought after demographic for advertisers—young males (78 percent of their viewers are male).

Along with pro athlete content partnerships, Whistle Sports has partnered with nearly all major pro sports franchises, including the NFL, MLB, PGA Tour, and NASCAR. In an interview with Forbes, John West, the CEO of Whistle Sports, described the companies relationship with sports leagues, saying, “Each is a true partnership, in which they give us access to their libraries that we use to co-create content, and then we distribute that content on our platforms as well as theirs. Why did they all choose to partner with us? They’re losing young viewers and they have to adapt and evolve—we’re the vehicle to make that happen.”

With nearly 40 percent of their viewers from outside the US, the company has recently opened an office in London and is planning opening another in Latin America this year.

Given their amazing growth and plans to go international, Whistle Sports is now a giant in the digital media space, building in one year what took others like VICE years to do.

(Photo by George Bush Presidential Library and Museum via Flickr)


Researchers Create Computer Program You’ll Never Beat At Poker

David Olson took home $303,909 for winning the 2014 World Series of Poker limit hold’em championship, a feat that simply wouldn’t have happened if a computer program named Cepheus had a say in the matter when it came down to heads-up play.

Researchers from the University of Alberta published a study in Science last Friday claiming to have created a computer program that is essentially unbeatable in heads-up limit hold’em.

Named after the King of Aetheiopia in Greek mythology who left Andromeda chained to a rock to be devoured, Cepheus was trained for 70 days playing matches against itself while considering 6 billion hands per second.

The program started out playing randomly and learned from every loss it suffered, called a “regret value.” The computer would store that regret value for subsequent hands and as matches added up the computer updated its strategy until it approached perfection.

Michael Bowling, the co-author of the study, said, “We’re not quite perfect, but we’re so close that even after a lifetime of playing against it, you wouldn’t know it wasn’t perfect.”

While epic matches in games like checkers and chess have been waged in the past between computers and humans, they differ from poker because it is a game with imperfect information—you only know your own hand and the cards on the table. When IBM’s Deep Blue beat Gary Kasparov in a chess rematch in 1997, the programmers had the advantage of having all of the game’s information displayed on the board.

In the process of programming Cepheus, Bowling and his colleagues were able to confirm some commonly held best practices for heads-up play. For example, the dealer in any given hand has an advantage of .088 big blinds per hand. They also confirmed it’s prudent to raise rather than call in the first move in the vast majority of hands.

Poker geeks can try their hand against Cepheus online. Freelance poker writer Christopher Hall did, and he claims to have come out slightly ahead against the program after 400 hands. While that’s a nice feat for Hall, a creation like Cepheus calls for an epic game against a pro like Phil Hellmuth to show that these researchers have truly solved the game.

(Header image via flickr)


Kentucky Hired an Analytics Director, But Not For The Reason You Think

This offseason, Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari told those who approach basketball from a purely analytical standpoint and have never played the game to “beat it.” So it was mildly surprising when the program announced the hiring of Joel Justus as their Director of Analytics this past September.

In a recent profile of Justus by Ben Herald of the Lexington Herald-Leader, Justus said of getting hired, “[Calipari] wanted someone who would be able to talk ball with him. And I think that’s a little bit of the criticism when you talk to folks in the NBA: ‘All right, you’re giving me all of this stuff, but what does it mean?’”

Basketball analytics hirings aren’t new for the NBA, but the coming out party for analytics positions in the college ranks occurred just over a year ago when Drew Cannon emerged as a driving force behind Brad Stevens’ success at Butler. Cannon has since followed Stevens to the Boston Celtics. With the currently undefeated Wildcats hiring Justus, it’s a trend that is sure to continue.

Basketball analysts can provide all sorts of insight to improve team performance, like optimal lineups, tempo-free stats, and video analysis. But this wasn’t why Calipari hired Justus. Ever the salesman, Calipari hired Justus in order to market his players to NBA scouts. This is because Kentucky is so loaded this year that Calipari is playing two platoons of five players, switching them out like hockey lines.

Calipari revealed his motivations for hiring Justus at a pre-season luncheon. “If you’re playing 20 minutes, what will your NCAA stats look like? Terrible for NCAA stats, so we’re going to have big data stats, per-minute and efficiency stats that we can send to NBA teams.” Calipari later said that he’s never coach a team this way and his change in mindset was to make sure “every one of these kids eats.”

It’s unlikely that the platoon system will become a permanent fixture of the Kentucky program, and Justus certainly seems to understand this. As he told the Herald-Leader, “I’ve got to make sure that [Calipari] sees that I’m valuable. So I have to make sure that what I’m giving him is good.”

As the premier huckster in college basketball (NBA players he has coached have made a combined $820 million in salaries), Calipari has made another canny move for his program, ensuring his players will have a seat at the NBA table for years to come.

(Header image via Tennessee Journalist)

Cable Bills Are Going Up In 2015 Due To Sports Programming

With the seemingly inexorable rise in the price of sports programming, it seemed inevitable that cable operators would have to charge subscribers for the privilege of watching American sports. According to Multichannel News, that time has already come with Time Warner Cable, as they have announced that they will be adding a $2.75 sports surcharge to subscribers’ bills starting in January 2015.

In the announcement, Time Warner cable claimed that the cost of cable sports programming has risen 91% since 2008, and according to Patrick Hruby of Sports on Earth, the average cost of a regional sports network has has risen 52 percent over the past five years. This is certainly conceivable with the types of TV deals being reached in the past few years, like the 9-year $24 billion NBA-ESPN deal in October of this year.

In Forbes, Maury Brown noted the irony of Time Warner’s announcement after their struggle to get distribution for SportsNet LA, the regional sports network they manage. The costs of carrying the channel jumped after they made a 25-year deal worth over $8.35 billion  to broadcast Los Angeles Dodgers games. This led to a standoff between TWC and other cable operators like DirecTV for distribution rights, leading nearly 70% of Los Angeles area residents unable to watch Dodgers broadcasts this past season.

After the Supreme Court’s ruling against cable disruptor Aereo, and with John McCain’s Television Consumer Freedom Act having little hope of passage in Congress, there doesn’t seem to be much hope for governmental intervention in the cable arena. Regardless, speculation of an approaching sports cable bubble persists. However, it will likely take years for this bubble to burst, requiring an increasing rate of cord-cutting and rising prices for cable subscribers.

(Header photo via NewYorkTrendNYC)