NBA TV goes over-the-top to offer live games and original programming to cord cutters

Cord-cutting basketball fans now have a new option for their non-stop hoops coverage. NBA TV is officially launching a direct-to-consumer subscription service today, making it the first linear TV sports league network to go over the top. The service, which will be available both on the web at NBA.com and through the NBA app, will include more than 100 exclusive, out-of-market live games, original programming and on-demand video for $6.99 per month.

You can also pay the annual price of $59.99 for a small discount.

The launch won’t impact customers with pay-TV subscriptions, as they’ll still be able to watch NBA TV by authenticating with their TV provider.

NBA Digital, which is managed jointly by the NBA and Turner Sports, recently announced a new franchise called “Center Court” where it will experiment with viewing enhancements, including new camera angles, live on-screen group chats with celeb influencers, in-depth analytics and statistical graphics, and more.

These games (a list is here) will also be featured on NBA TV through the main Center Court broadcast as well as on the web and mobile, where fans can find the enhanced “frontcourt” and “backcourt” streams. The “frontcourt” streams will incorporate the alternative audio options with rotating groups of NBA influencers, while the “backcourt” streams will feature the Second Spectrum technology, including the statistical overlays.

Center Court coverage will be available through the 2019-2020 season.

In addition to the enhanced games, NBA TV promises more than 100 nationally televised out-of-market games, plus other live games from the WNBA, NBA G League and NBA Summer League. The service also has original programming that includes studio shows and reporting, magazine-style shows like “Beyond the Point,” talent franchises like “Shaqtin’ a Fool,” a pre-game show, “The Warm Up” and nightly shows like “NBA Crunchtime” and “NBA Game Time.”

New shows that focus on social conversations, legends and current players include “The List,” “#Handles,” “Say What,” “High Tops” and “Basketball Stories.” And the service includes 24/7 access to classic games, the NBA Finals from 2000-2019 and other archival content.

NBA TV subscribers also will be able to buy an NBA League Pass, the premium subscription to all NBA games, from the same NBA app and website where they can buy or add on NBA TV, starting today.

Once subscribed, NBA TV can be watched via the web, mobile or through connected TV devices and game consoles.

“Innovation has always been at the core of our NBA Digital partnership and the launch of this direct to consumer product, paired with new content initiatives, will provide NBA fans even greater opportunities to engage with NBA TV and our collective portfolio of brands,” said Tina Shah, executive vice president and general manager, Turner Sports, in a statement. “As sports consumption continues to evolve, we will continue to develop new opportunities for fans to access and engage with premium NBA content.”

Access to live sports is one of the areas that stop fans from fully cutting the cord with traditional pay TV. But a variety of resources have cropped up over the years to make that transition easier, including those dedicated to particular sports — like the MLB’s over-the-top offering MLB.TV — or live-streamed games across social media and elsewhere, as with the NFL’s games on Amazon Prime Video. There are also entire services, like fuboTV that grew out of sports’ fans needs for a more comprehensive live sports offering.

But even with new ways to watch, blackout restrictions often keep fans tied to pay TV, perhaps using a friend’s account to log in and authenticate…or even turning to VPNs. NBA TV won’t solve this problem, either, but it can help fans view more games and NBA content.

YouTube founder secretly building sports fan game GreenPark

Chad Hurley is hunting for what comes after fantasy sports. He envisions a new way for fans to play by watching live and cheering for the athletes they love. Beyond a few scraps of info the YouTube co-founder would share and his new startup’s job listings revealed, we don’t know what Hurley’s game will feel like. But the company is called GreenPark Sports, and it’s launching in Spring 2020.

“There is an absence of compelling, inclusive ways for large masses of sports fans to compete together” Hurley tells me. “The idea of a ‘sports fan’ has evolved – it is now more a social behavior than ever before. We’re looking at a much bigger, inclusive way for all fans of sports and esports teams to play.”

GreenPark Sports Chad Hurley

 

Hurley already has an all-star team. One of GreenPark’s co-founders Nick Swinmurn helped start Zappos, while another Ken Martin created marketing agency Blitz. Together they’ve raised an $8.5 million seed round led by SignalFire and joined by Sapphire Sports and Founders Fund. “With this team’s impeccable track record and vision for the future of fandom, this was an investment we had to make,” said Chris Farmer, founder and CEO of SignalFire.

It all comes down to allegiance — something Hurley, Swinmurn, and Martin truly understand. Everyone is seeking ways to belong and emblems to represent them. In an age when many of our most prized possessions from photographs to record collections have been digitized, we lack tangible objects that center our individuality. Culture increasingly centers around landmark events, with what we’ve done mattering more than what we own.

GreenPark could seize upon this moment by helping us to align our identities with a team. This instantly unlocks a likeminded community, a recurrent activity, and a unified aesthetic. And when reality gets heavy, people can lose themselves by hitching their spirits to the scoreboard.

Rather than just tabulating results after the match like in fantasy sports, GreenPark wants to be entwined with the spectacle as it happens. “We’re going to be working with a mix of ways to visualize the live game – from unique gamecast-like data to highlight clips. The social viewing experience can be much more than just the straight live video” Hurley explains.

GreenPark Sports Logo

He came up with GreenPark after selling assets of his video editing app Mixbit to BlueJeans a year ago. Hurley already had an interactive relationship with sports…though one that’s reserved for the rich: he’s part owner of the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Football Club. Meanwhile, Swinmurn co-founded the Burlingame Dragons Football Club affiliated with San Jose’s team, and is on the board of Denmark’s FC Helsingør.

Those experiences taught them the satisfaction that comes from a deeper sense of ownership or allegiance with a team. GreenPark will give an opportunity for anyone to turn fandom into its own sport. “We shared a love of sports and set out to look into opportunities around legalized sports betting in the US” Hurley tells me.” But quickly they found “it was obvious the regulated space wouldn’t allow us to innovate as quickly as we wanted” and they saw a more opportunity amidst a younger mainstream audience.

“We’re not ready to disclose publicly the exact detailed gameplay yet” Hurley says. But here’s what we could cobble together from around the web.

GreenPark Sports lets you “Destroy the other teams’ fans” to “climb the leaderboards”, its site says cryptically. According to job listings, it will pipe in live game data, starting with the NBA and expanding to other leagues, and offer cartoon characters with facial expressions and full-body gestures to let users live out the highs and lows of matches. Don’t expect trivia questions or player stat memorization. It almost sounds like a massively multiplayer online fan arena. 

As with blockbuster games Fortnite or League Of Legends, GreenPark is free-to-play. But a mention of virtual clothing hints at monetization, where you could spruce up avatars with digital team apparel. Hurley tells me “We are in the perfect storm of the thirst for innovation at the traditional league level, the next level of maturing for esports, investment in sports betting and overall dire need to better understand today’s largest populace of sports fans – Millenial / Gen Z.” The closed beta launches in the Spring.

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There’s a massive hole to fill in the wake of the Draft Kings / FanDuel marketing sure a few years ago. Most apps in the space just carry scores or analysis, rather than community. “What’s amazing about being a fan of a team or player is the common bond you have with other fans” Hurley explains, “where even if you don’t know the other fans of your team – you are all in it to win it – together.”

Publications like The Athletic have proven there are plenty of fans willing to pay to feel closer to their favorite teams. The most direct competitor for GreenPark might be Strafe, that lets you track and predict the winners of esports matches.

People already spend tons of time on building fictional worlds like Minecraft and money outfitting their Fortnite avatar with the coolest clothes. If GreenPark can create a space for sports’ fan self-expression, it could create the online destination for legions of IRL enthusiasts that see who they root for as core to who they are.

Source: Nike has picked up Russell Wilson’s Tally/TraceMe in a rare acquisition

Nike has long been synonymous with premium sneakers and other sports gear, but now it seems that the company could be extending its brand into another area — digital media — thanks to the rumored acquisition of a Seattle-based startup.

TechCrunch has learned from a source that the multibillion-dollar sports giant has acquired TraceMe, which originally built an app to let fans engage with sports stars and other celebrities before later pivoting into a service called Tally, a platform aimed at sports teams, broadcasters and venues to help fans engage around sporting events.

TraceMe was originally founded by Russell Wilson, the champion quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks, who was the executive chairman of the startup. The company had raised at least $9 million from investors that included the Seattle-based Madrona Venture Group and Bezos Expeditions (Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ fund), as well as YouTube co-founder Chad Hurley and others, and it was last valued, in 2017, at $60 million.

Our source said the deal closed in recent weeks and that “it was a good outcome” for the company and investors. It involved both IP — the main interest, the source said, was in TraceMe’s tech rather than Tally’s — and the team.

Indeed, at least eight of them, including TraceMe’s CEO Jason LeeKeenan, an ex-Hulu executive, are now listing Nike as their place of employment. LeeKeenan describes his new role as the head of Nike Seattle. Others on the team now have taken roles that include software engineers, head of product and product designers.

No one at TraceMe and Nike that we contacted has responded to our requests for comment, but just a little while ago GeekWire (which likely had the same tip we did) published a post noting that it had a source that confirmed the deal.

The athletic footwear giant Nike is no stranger to the world of technology: it has been a longtime collaborator with the likes of Apple to develop apps for its devices and has been an early mover on the concept of bringing and integrating cutting-edge (yes, possibly gimmicky) tech into its footwear and other gear. And that’s before you consider Nike as an e-commerce force.

But while the dalliance between sports, tech and fashion is well established, this deal opens up a different frontier for the company. It’s very rare for Nike to make an acquisition, but it makes sense that if it were going to do some M&A, it would be in the area of digital media and picking up engineers to execute on a wider vision in that area.

The company is best known, of course, for its shoes and related sporty clothes, which it has for a long time created in co-branding with the biggest sports stars and has more recently started to extend to a wider circle of celebrities and hot brands in a spirit of sporty street style. These have included the likes of so-cool Supreme, Travis Scott and seemingly tentative forays into music culture.

Nike overshadows all other sports shoe brands in size, with its current market cap at nearly $117 billion, more than twice that of its closest competitor, Adidas . But Adidas has been stealing a march when it comes to partnerships with a wide network of celebrities (even if Drake prefers checks over stripes).

While it isn’t clear yet how and if Nike will be using the startup’s existing services, you could see how a deal like this could help Nike start to think about how it might leverage the collaborations and endorsements it already has in place into experiences beyond shoes, advertising and athletic performance. In this age of Instagram and influencers playing a massive role in shifting consumer sentiment (and dollars), this could give Nike a shot at building its own media platform, independent of these, on its own terms.

This is a bigger trend that we’re seeing across a lot of digital media. Consider how companies like Spotify have extended beyond simple music streaming, investing in building tools to help artists on its platform with marketing and expanding their brands: selling shoes means selling a concept, and that concept needs to have a foothold in a digital experience. 

The future of sports tech: Here’s where investors are placing their bets

Sports have always been the ultimate unifier — transcending geographic borders, rising above partisan politics and enabling multiple audiences (and generations) to find alignment — the little-known secret behind this global unifier? Technology.

Technology influences how athletes train and compete, how fans engage and consume content and how world-class venues are constructed. Technology has been quietly transforming the world of sports for years, with investment in areas like esports continuing to rise, surpassing a total of $2.5 billion in VC funding in 2018 — and some estimates predicting the sports tech sector will reach $30 billion by 2024.

With the 2020 Tokyo Olympics less than a year away, a massive amount of investment and innovation are pouring into the sports technology industry ahead of this globally unifying event. But which technologies are making the biggest impact? Where are investors placing their bets? Which sports are at the forefront of the technology revolution and which factors are holding the industry back?

In an attempt to pull the curtain back on the sports tech industry, we conducted a survey, The Current State of Sports Technology, of industry experts, including investors, founders and professionals from teams, leagues and media properties, to answer these very questions. Below you’ll find some key takeaways from our findings, pointing to the areas we believe the industry is headed in the year to come.

Fan engagement technologies, including live streaming and esports, are set to make the largest impact on sports in the next 12 months

When asked about which technologies would make the biggest impact on the sports industry in the next 12 months, an overwhelming 78% selected fan engagement technologies, such as live streaming, esports and content platforms, compared to technologies related to athlete performance (16%) and stadium experience (6%). Respondents also believe that this will hold true for the upcoming 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

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“Anticipating the next fan engagement trend is critical, whether you’re a team, brand or media company,” says Tom Masterman, global head of Publisher Sales at Genius Sports Media, a leading provider of sports data and technology solutions. “Tokyo 2020 will be a make-or-break event for startups as well as incumbent technologies.”

Having worked on two Olympics at previous digital media companies, Masterman is aware of how quickly the Games come and go. “Among the questions that will keep many of us up at night include, ‘Will fans adopt my tech? Is my sponsorship integration a good experience? Did I choose the right channel partners?’ ”

Top three technologies for investment: Media and content-related platforms; measurement platforms for data, analytics and biometrics; and esports

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From an investment perspective, media and content-related platforms, esports and measurement platforms for data, analytics and biometrics were among the top three areas of interest. Other notable areas include athlete tech and performance optimization, in-venue technology, gambling and gaming and recovery health and home fitness. This is a powerful indication of where venture capital funding focus is trending, given that more than 50% of respondents, coming from a wide array of areas in the industry, identified themselves as investors.

“As investors, we see cyclicality in every industry except sports, which has the biggest consumer ecosystem. Sports had been a very traditional industry powered by legacy tech, but now with the advent of streaming, sports content media distribution is decentralized via social media platforms,” says Gayatri Sarkar, managing partner at Hype Capital, who offered her take on this investment trend. “The sports market has the opportunity to be a multitrillion-dollar ecosystem with technological advances such as 5G, digital collectible trading and the rise of esports, which will fuel new market and social behavior. As the infusion of deep tech continues in smart venue, gambling, performance biometrics and many more sub verticals where data is the engine, we’ll naturally see more and more deep tech investors entering the sports investment landscape.”

Basketball and esports are at the forefront of technology

While esports is a likely leader in the use of technology, with 79% of respondents placing it in the top three category, basketball remains the top pick, with 87% placing the traditional sport at the forefront of innovation.

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As a former NBA-er*, this comes as no big surprise. The league has always been known as a thought-leader in technology and innovation, and their dominance is what is driving the sport’s tech-savvy DNA on a global level.

When talking to Tom Hunt, EVP, Business Operations at the Sacramento Kings about his take on innovation in the NBA, he placed technology as a top priority. Golden 1 Center is one of the most technologically advanced and connected indoor arenas in the world, and serves as our 21st Century communal fireplace,” said Hunt. “We’ve been at the forefront of leveraging technologies such as AI, AR, blockchain and esports (Kings Guard Gaming/NBA 2K) to deepen connections to our brands while customizing and personalizing frictionless fan experiences remains core to our mission.”

That being said, I’d make a bet that baseball-related technology will catch up very quickly. We’ve seen several startups currently working with baseball clubs — enhancing everything from a player’s cognitive reactions to the ways in which your food is delivered to you at ballparks.

What’s holding back sports tech adoption?

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Respondents cited several factors holding back sports technology adoption, with the top three reasons, similar to many non-traditional technology sectors, being unqualified decision makers, risk aversion and cost.

While there’s plenty of blame to go around (and everyone can assume a degree of responsibility), startups in the space need to validate their business model outside of a core sports stakeholder. They need to realize revenue from more than just sports teams, leagues and properties — organizations that have historically reinforced the leading responses to this question. More importantly, relationships with these audiences require long sales cycles and traditionally represent “cents on the dollar” in comparison to partnerships with other industry (e.g. brands) and non-industry (e.g. military, retail, airline, etc.) opportunities.

Parting thoughts

The sports tech industry has and continues to suffer from massive amounts of fragmentation. Whether it be by geography, industry area of focus or funding stage, sports tech startups are missing the community that it has enabled others to realize.

There is a historic opportunity to bring this community together, and when we do, the legacy that we create will be one of continued growth and opportunity — perpetuating the current influx of capital into the space and reinforcing the notion that sports are truly the ultimate unifier.

*I worked for the NBA for more than four years in Global Business Development.

Fantasy football startup Sleeper nabs VC funding to take on ESPN

Sleeper is looking to take on fantasy league apps from major players like ESPN and has amassed venture funding from Silicon Valley investors to take down them down.

The Bay Area startup is aiming to treat a fantasy football league more like a social platform than a loose jumble of league mechanics, distinguishing itself as a simple and free, ad-free option.

Sleeper has done limited press as it has been ramping up its apps over the past two seasons, but the team has been courting the interest of investors to scale the product, raising over $7 million from VCs to date. The company closed a $5.3 million Series A late last year led by General Catalyst. In early 2017, the startup also closed a $2 million seed led by Birchmere Ventures with participation from Uber co-founder Garrett Camp’s startup studio Expa.

There isn’t much in terms of monetization options at the moment, CEO Nan Wang tells TechCrunch that the focus right now is “amassing a large base of users and making it the stickiest and highest engagement product in the category.”

Wang says the app’s users spend 50 minutes per day on average during the season, numbers he calls “Instagram-like.” The main contributor to that number seems to be that chat is always a swipe away and that all of the actions that are happening during the season show up inside chats to encourage engagement.

This unifies the experience for users, many of whom have had to piecemeal their experience by using a WhatsApp or GroupMe group in addition to the other fantasy league apps that they’ve been using. Sleeper’s more differentiated UI seems to be largely popular among early vocal users as well as the up-to-the-minute notifications that deliver league updates.

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Poaching users from other platforms is definitely a priority, but Wang says the team has really been looking at how to nab users who have stayed away from the convoluted confusion of fantasy leagues as well. Taking on the leading apps from ESPN, Yahoo and NFL can be daunting, another stress for the younger startup is just how tight the user acquisition window is, though things compound quickly if you can create one loyal user that brings their entire league to the platform.

“The user acquisition window for fantasy football leagues is strongest from the second week of August until the first week of September. Historically, we’ve seen that about 70% of users create their leagues in that three-week window,” Wang tells me.

The funding has been used to build out its team, which is still just 10 full-time employees, as well as expand their ambitions beyond fantasy football alone into other sports including basketball and soccer.

Roku expands its free, live TV selection with 5 more channels, including fubo’s Sports Network

The Roku Channel continues to expand beyond ad-supported movies and premium subscriptions, with today’s announcement of the addition of several more live TV channels available to anyone with a Roku streaming device or Roku TV. The company says today it’s adding five free live TV channels to this offering, including most notably, fubo’s Sports Network.

The fubo Sports Network is streaming service fuboTV’s first-ever TV channel designed for distribution outside its own platform.

Soft-launched this June, fubo produces content for the channel, including original programming, event coverage, behind-the-scenes, and other exclusives. The network is already available to a few streaming platforms, including XUMO, Samsung TV Plus, and LG Channels (powered by XUMO.)

However, distribution to Roku’s popular entertainment hub is a big win for the new channel, given that Roku is now the top streaming device platform in the U.S., with a 39% share of streaming boxes and sticks and a 33% share of smart TV operating systems.

Other new networks arriving to The Roku Channel today include the ACC Digital Network, USA Today, Now This (news), and Comedy Dynamics.

In addition, The Roku Channel now offers the Sports Illustrated streaming service, SI TV, to any interested subscribers through its Premium Subscription lineup.

Roku has been rapidly expanding its Roku Channel hub since it first launched in September 2017 with a focus on free, ad-supported movies — similar to Vudu’s “Movies on Us” or Tubi, for example. But shortly after, the channel began to roll out more content like newssports, TV shows, and other entertainment offerings both from traditional studios and digital networks. This pushed the channel to become one of the most-watched on its platform.

And this year, Roku launched its own premium subscriptions alongside its free content, allowing The Roku Channel to become not just the place to find free entertainment, but where you tune in to your favorite shows as well. Today, its paid lineup includes top premium networks like HBO, Cinemax, Showtime, Starz, EPIX, and many others.

The decision to invest in its own content hub gives Roku a powerful selling point for its devices — and that appears to be paying off with consumers and in terms of the company’s bottom line.

Roku recently closed out its second quarter with 30.5 million active accounts, up by 1.4 million from the prior quarter, and average revenue per user up from $19.06 in Q1 to $21.06 in Q2. Revenue was also up 45% year-over-year to $252.5 million.

 

Watch a Tesla Model 3 play chess against the top-ranked player in the U.S.

Tesla cars can now take on human players in a game of chess, thanks to a software update it pushed out to vehicles earlier this month. Its programmers likely didn’t imagine they were designing a chess program to take on the best players in the world, however: U.S. no. 1 ranked chess player Fabiano Caruana (also currently ranked no. 2 in the world) played a Tesla Model 3 in a recent match… but Deep Blue vs. Kasparov, this was not.

Caruana bests the vehicle in just under five minutes of playing time, and he’s not particularly stressing the time, plus he’s offering a running commentary. The car makes some questionable moves, but to be fair, it’s not a super computer with deep artificial intelligence, and Caruana is one of the world’s best. He also gives it credit at the end, calling the game “challenging” and you can hear it’s probably more than he was expecting from a car’s infotainment system.

The car would probably beat me, but I’m unranked and haven’t played a game of chess in probably 15 years so there’s that.

How skate legend Per Welinder finds an investing niche amid US-China trade tensions

Months of tit-for-tat trade negotiations between China and the United States have damaged cross-border investment interest between the superpowers, especially in areas that involve deep technology and intellectual property. But one sector has so far stayed relatively intact: lifestyle.

That’s what got Per Welinder, the legendary skateboarder-turned-entrepreneur who recently moved into venture investing, to look towards China for opportunities. In early 2018, Welinder teamed up with Chinese venture investor Curt Shi — a skateboard amateur himself — to launch early-stage angel fund Welinder & Shi Capital, focusing on bringing western lifestyle brands to China.

So far, Welinder & Shi has deployed all of its first fund into five consumer brands with the potential to capture China’s increasingly sophisticated middle-class, among whom Welinder observed a “growing individualism away from collectivism that is positive for lifestyle brands,” Welinder told TechCrunch in a phone interview.

Rather than taking the “spray and pray” approach, the fund picks a smaller number of companies compared to many other venture capital firms because it focuses on brands, which take time to build.

“There has been a headwind when you talk about cross-border opportunities with China in general. However, lifestyle is usually not a national security threat to either Chinese or to the U.S.,” Welinder observed. “Yes, there may be tariffs here and there, but it’s not a national threat to consume a pair of pants by a cool brand originating from the U.S.”

Per Welinder, a former skateboarding legend who is now hunting for western brands that can appeal to Chinese consumers / Photo: Per Welinder

That being said, Shi, in a separate interview with TechCrunch, admitted that trade tensions have in recent times generated doubts from limited partners on the fund’s methodology to help overseas portfolio companies “slingshot to China.”

“China and the U.S. can’t afford a real economic fight with each other… I believe once China and the U.S. reach a consensus, the investment between them will be booming again,” Shi noted.

Unlike a successful venture capital investment in tech that can generate a 200x type of exit, the return in brand investment is less lucrative. The appeal is that even if a portfolio company goes south, there remains some value in the brand, whether it’s the trademark itself or graphics.

“When you use branding as a differentiator, you may get pennies on the dollar even on the bad investment. But it will not go to zero like so many tech investments do, so we feel that is a somewhat less risky formula,” Welinder said.

The portfolio counts the likes of a Swedish electric off-road motorbike startup called Cake and premium gin manufacturer Wilde Irish Gin. Welinder makes a deliberate decision to back premium brands because even when tariffs are on the high side, the extra costs generally don’t have an obvious effect on consumers who like to treat themselves to the really good things in life.

When it comes to identifying potential investments, Welinder leans on spotting what he calls a “movement.” He cited his personal experience in the 80s and 90s when skateboarding became a movement. First, he started to see other people getting hooked on either participating or watching skateboarding. With the help of VCRs, DVD players and gaming consoles, skateboarding-culture blossomed into a global commerce phenomenon.

“And people got excited and then said, hey, mom and dad, can I have a skateboard? Can I have a T-shirt? Can I have a pair of shoes? That’s the kind of the way we like to look at things. Where do we see movements, what technology can be leveraged to really speed up that movement, and is that movement big enough for more than just one player.”

‘Robot umpires’ make independent league baseball debut

Four months after being announced, so-called “robotic umpires” have made their debut in baseball’s Atlantic League. The addition is one of several tweaks currently being piloted in the independent league in an attempt to update some fundamentals of America’s pastime.

The system utilizes TrackMan radar to determine whether a pitch is a ball or strike, a Doppler-based system that’s already in use at 30 Major League Baseball Stadiums and many more minor league parks. Information from the system is relayed to a human umpire via an iPhone and earpiece.

The system isn’t replacing home plate umpires entirely, and for now the human ump is required to monitor pitches as a kind of fail-safe. They can also ultimately override TrackMan’s calls. Among other things, the system isn’t set up to detect checked swings — when the batter stops a swing midway to let the ball pass.

“Until we can trust this system 100 percent,” the game’s umpire Brian deBrauwere told ESPN, “I still have to go back there with the intention of getting a pitch correct because if the system fails, it doesn’t pick a pitch up, or if it registers a pitch that’s a foot-and-a-half off the plate as a strike, I have to be prepared to correct that.”

Robo umps are one of a number of features currently being tested in the Atlantic League, with the intention of potentially bringing them to the majors, should things go well. Other changes include adjusting the mound’s distance from home plate and a three-batter minimum for pitchers.

MLB Ballpark app adds Apple Business Chat-powered concierge experience for All-Star game

Just in time for tonight’s Home Run Derby, Major League Baseball is rolling out a new feature on its Ballpark app that utilizes Apple’s Business Chat feature for a customized in-person experience. MLB says it’s the first league to roll out out the feature, letting users ask location specific questions. Though Apple Business Chat has been used for things like drink orders in the past.

Clicking into the Indians section will bring you Progressive Field, the center of this week’s festivities, where you can access the new All-Star Concierge feature. Developed alongside New York-based AI startup Satisfi Labs, the feature is designed to answer simple questions.

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From there, it will either answer straight away or open the appropriate app, like Maps and Calendar. In the case of this week’s events, that could mean something as simple as the start time for the derby or something more specific like where to pick up a shuttle to a specific hotel.

The feature is being rolled out to start with tonight’s Home Run Derby and tomorrow’s All-Star game, but it should start arriving in more parks after the All-Star break as different stadiums begin to implement it. MLB has been experimenting with a number of different features to enhance the ballpark experience via smartphone, including, notably, the addition of an AR stat feature.