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 Facebook.com.
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 sports.yahoo.com 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.