Veo raises $25M for AI-based cameras that record and analyze football and other team sports

Sports have been among some of the most popular and lucrative media plays in the world, luring broadcasters, advertisers and consumers to fork out huge sums to secure the chance to watch (and sponsor) their favorite teams and athletes.

That content, unsurprisingly, also typically costs a ton of money to produce, narrowing the production and distribution funnel even more. But today, a startup that’s cracked open that model with an autonomous, AI -based camera that lets any team record, edit and distribute their games, is announcing a round of funding to build out its business targeting the long tail of sporting teams and fixtures.

Veo Technologies, a Copenhagen startup that has designed a video camera and cloud-based subscription service to record and then automatically pick out highlights of games, which it then hosts on a platform for its customers to access and share that video content, has picked up €20 million (around $24.5 million) in a Series B round of funding.

The funding is being led by Danish investor Chr. Augustinus Fabrikker, with participation from US-based Courtside VC, France’s Ventech and Denmark’s SEED Capital. Veo’s CEO and co-founder Henrik Teisbæk said in an interview that the startup is not disclosing its valuation, but a source close to funding tells me that it’s well over $100 million.

Teisbæk said that the plan will be to use to the funds to continue expanding the company’s business on two levels. First, Veo will be digging into expanding its US operations, with an office in Miami.

Second, it plans to continue enhancing the scope of its technology: The company started out optimising its computer vision software to record and track the matches for the most popular team sport in the world, football (soccer to US readers), with customers buying the cameras — which retail for $800 — and the corresponding (mandatory) subscriptions — $1,200 annually — both to record games for spectators, as well as to use the footage for all kinds of practical purposes like training and recruitment videos. The key is that the cameras can be set up and left to run on their own. Once they are in place, they can record using wide-angles the majority of a soccer field (or whatever playing space is being used) and then zoom and edit down based on that.

Veo on grass

Now, Veo is building the computer vision algorithms to expand that proposition into a plethora of other team-based sports including rugby, basketball and hockey, and it is ramping up the kinds of analytics that it can provide around the clips that it generates as well as the wider match itself.

Even with the slowdown in a lot of sporting activity this year due to Covid — in the UK for example, we’re in a lockdown again where team sports below professional leagues, excepting teams for disabled people, have been prohibited — Veo has seen a lot of growth.

The startup currently works with some 5,000 clubs globally ranging from professional sports teams through to amateur clubs for children, and it has recorded and tracked 200,000 games since opening for business in 2018, with a large proportion of that volume in the last year and in the US.

For a point of reference, in 2019, when we covered a $6 million round for Veo, the startup had racked up 1,000 clubs and 25,000 games, pointing to customer growth of 400% in that period.

The Covid-19 pandemic has indeed altered the playing field — literally and figuratively — for sports in the past year. Spectators, athletes, and supporting staff need to be just as mindful as anyone else when it comes to spreading the coronavirus.

That’s not just led to a change in how many games are being played, but also for attendance: witness the huge lengths that the NBA went to last year to create an extensive isolation bubble in Orlando, Florida, to play out the season, with no actual fans in physical seats watching games, but all games and fans virtually streamed into the events as they happened.

That NBA effort, needless to say, came at a huge financial cost, one that any lesser league would never be able to carry, and so that predicament has led to an interesting use case for Veo.

Pre-pandemic, the Danish startup was quietly building its business around catering to the long tail of sporting organizations who — even in the best of times — would be hard pressed to find the funds to buy cameras and/or hire videographers to record games, not just an essential part of how people can enjoy a sporting event, but useful for helping with team development.

“There is a perception that football is already being recorded and broadcast, but in the UK (for example) it’s only the Premier League,” Teisbæk said. “If you go down one or two steps from that, nothing is being recorded.” Before Veo, to record a football game, he added, “you need a guy sitting on a scaffold, and time and money to then cut that down to highlights. It’s just too cumbersome. But video is the best tool there is to develop talent. Kids are visual learners. And it’s a great way to get recruited sending videos to colleges.”

Those use cases then expanded with the pandemic, he said. “Under cornavirus rules, parents cannot go out and watch their kids, and so video becomes a tool to follow those matches.”

‘We’re a Shopify, not an Amazon’

The business model for Veo up to now has largely been around what Teisbæk described as “the long tail theory”, which in the case of sports works out, he said, as “There won’t be many viewers for each match, but there are millions of matches out there.” But if you consider how a lot of high school sports will attract locals beyond those currently attached to a school — you have alumni supporters and fans, as well as local businesses and neighborhoods — even that long tail audience might be bigger than one might imagine.

Veo’s long-tail focus has inevitably meant that its target users are in the wide array of amateur or semi-pro clubs and the people associated with them, but interestingly it has also spilled into big names, too.

Veo’s cameras are being used by professional soccer clubs in the Premier League, Spain’s La Liga, Italy’s Serie A and France’s Ligue 1, as well as several clubs in the MLS such as Inter Miami, Austin FC, Atlanta United and FC Cincinnati. Teisbæk noted that while this might never be for primary coverage, it’s there to supplement for training and also be used in the academies attached to those organizations.

The plan longer term, he said, is not to build its own media empire with trove of content that it has amassed, but to be an enabler for creating that content for its customers, who can in turn use it as they wish. It’s a “Shopify, not an Amazon,” said Teisbæk.

“We are not building the next ESPN, but we are helping the clubs unlock these connections that are already in place by way of our technology,” he said. “We want to help help them capture and stream their matches and their play for the audience that is there today.”

That may be how he views the opportunity, but some investors are already eyeing up the bigger picture.

Vasu Kulkarni, a partner at Courtside VC — a firm that has focused (as its name might imply) on backing a lot of different sports-related businesses, with The Athletic, Beam (acquired by Microsoft), and many others in its portfolio — said that he’d been looking to back a company like Veo, building a smart, tech-enabled way to record and parse sports in a more cost-effective way.

“I spent close to four years trying to find a company trying to do that,” he said.

“I’ve always been a believer in sports content captured at the long tail,” he said. Coincidentally, he himself started a company called Krossover in his dorm room to help somewhat with tracking and recording sports training. Krossover eventually was acquired by Hudl, which Veo sees as a competitor.

“You’ll never have the NBA finals recorded on Veo, there is just too much at stake, but when you start to look at all the areas where there isn’t enough mass media value to hire people, to produce and livestream, you get to the point where computer vision and AI are going to be doing the filming to get rid of the cost.”

He said that the economics are important here: the camera needs to be less than $1,000 (which it is) and produce something demonstrably better than “a parent with a Best Buy camcorder that was picked up for $100.”

Kulkarni thinks that longer term there could definitely be an opportunity to consider how to help clubs bring that content to a wider audience, especially using highlights and focusing on the best of the best in amateur games — which of course are the precursors to some of those players one day being world-famous elite athletes. (Think of how exciting it is to see the footage of Michael Jordan playing as a young student for some context here.) “AI will be able to pull out the best 10-15 plays and stitch them together for highlight reels,” he said, something that could feasibly find a market with sports fans wider than just the parents of the actual players.

All of that then feeds a bigger market for what has started to feel like an insatiable appetite for sports, one that, if anything, has found even more audience at a time when many are spending more time at home and watching video overall. “The more video you get from the sport, the better the sport gets, for players and fans,” Teisbæk said.

How esports can save colleges

A few months ago, I wrote a piece about esports and the Olympics after sitting on a panel discussing whether, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, esports had an opportunity to work with the International Olympic Committee. After careful consideration and research, my conclusion was basically, “I think that the Olympics need esports a whole lot more than esports needs the Olympics.”

I was surprised by some of the data I uncovered in the course of researching the Olympics piece, specifically on audiences for international, professional and collegiate sports. I observed that while the esports model isn’t as mature as in traditional sports, esports actually garnered close to the same level of viewership, and the audience was growing astronomically. I couldn’t help but wonder how long this phenomenon would go unacknowledged by the institutions that might benefit most from it.

Enter colleges’ and universities’ flirtation with esports: There are currently more than 170 collegiate varsity gaming programs in NCAA Division I, and the number of clubs is even higher. So even as institutions investment in esports, there are still many misunderstood and overlooked aspects of the potential to drive value (and even revenue) in the collegiate esports space.

College in the 21st century

The college experience today is very different than it was 50 years ago. The pace of change outside of institutions is ever-accelerating, often leaving colleges struggling to keep up. Technology, students’ interests, evolving economies and workplaces, and changes in cultural norms have left colleges and universities in a place of less relevance than at many points in the past.

The same can be said of college sports: Outside forces have eroded a once-near-hegemonic source of collegiate pride, cultural power, recruitment, alumni engagement and, in some cases, revenue.

I did a quick review of the audience for the biggest NCAA events in the world; the Football Bowl Subdivision Bowl Championship and the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament.

pre-championship viewers FBS bowls

Image Credits: Brandon Byrne

post-championship viewers

Image Credits: Brandon Byrne

Look at the average viewership of the big bowl games before the championship system went into effect in 2015, as well as after. Above, you see the trend line for viewership for the various big bowl viewership as well as an average. While there are certainly occasional spikes, the best case you could make here is that the product is flat — when you isolate the trend line for both, here is the result:

average viewership all bowls

Image Credits: Brandon Byrne

In the aggregate, the trend seems mostly downward.

Look at the same trends in viewership for the NCAA Final Four — the early semi-final, the late semi-final and finally the championship game.

final four viewership

Image Credits: Brandon Byrne

They look rather similar. So, while collegiate sports still have a massive following, there are two concerning issues here. First, the audience isn’t growing at all; in fact, it appears to be slightly contracting. Secondly, the audience is aging, making collegiate sports less relevant to younger people. While an older audience is still a valuable source of alumni donations and ancillary revenue, it doesn’t exactly align with another core target demographic: potential college students.

Now despite this, there is data that suggests that schools with elite academic departments do enjoy a phenomenon known as the “Flutie effect,” named after Doug Flutie, a quarterback for Boston College whose exciting performance on the gridiron was credited with boosting BC applications. An article in Forbes breaking down an HBS study goes into the phenomenon more deeply than we can here.

Granted, much of the data is from a few years ago, when college sports were perhaps more relevant, but the point is broadly the same: Having an elite program in an activity students enjoy benefits the institutions that sponsor and promote them. But what happens when enthusiasm for those activities among the student body is waning? One idea is to explore involvement in what the students of today are interested in.

As a comparison to FBS football (maxed out at 35 million viewers) and the NCAA Final Four (maxed out at 28 million), Riot Games’ Mid-Season Invitational event for League of Legends had a total viewership of 60 million people. In second place is the Intel Extreme Masters tournament in Katowice with 46 million people. While precise demographic data isn’t readily available, it stands to reason that the latter two events skew younger than the former two.

A few caveats, as these are not precisely apples-to-apples comparisons: These esports events are broken up over a number of days and encompass a significant number of matches — comparable to March Madness, perhaps — and the content is consumed in different ways. Much of the NCAA’s content is presented on television, some of which is on paid, premium channels. Esports events are broadcast on Twitch and YouTube via streams for free.

But the thing to understand is that esports audiences are growing at a 15%-16% year-over-year clip and it commands a worldwide audience, meaning its total addressable market (TAM) is MUCH bigger. The NCAA events are not likely to draw serious audiences outside of North America.

COVID-19

In the context of the pandemic, colleges are hamstrung by students’ inability to engage in a college experience in-person, which is one of the primary reasons one goes to college. Networking, developing new friends and having new experiences are all a part of the collegiate draw, none of which work as well from students’ parents’ living rooms. Similarly, collegiate sports as we know them have essentially ceased to exist, along with their functions of institutional pride, marketing and revenue. The NCAA Tournament was canceled in March of 2020 and there is no sign that it, or any other sport, will be back anytime soon.

Esports, on the other hand, are thriving in this context, thanks mostly to their ability to offer remote competition and viewing. Esports tournaments can isolate audiences, teams and even referees to allow for safe content creation and consumption.

Esports and college

Believe it or not, esports is a better fit for college than it is for the pros. I won’t go into all of the details here, but I actually wrote a separate article about why the pro sports model is NOT a good one for esports. In this article we talk about intellectual property, who owns the league in esports and how all of the entities make money. The biggest problem is, in pro sports, the teams own the league and can then act in the best interest of all of the teams. In esports, the league is usually owned or regulated by the publisher of the video game, meaning you have hands in the monetization pie in a way that pro sports doesn’t have.

The interesting thing about this is that college athletics actually has the same problem and has found a way to mitigate that. The athletes get their scholarships, and the schools, their athletic conference, and the NCAA itself all own a piece of the pie that gets packaged and sold for distribution to the ESPNs and Fox Sports of the world.

This is a much better model for esports. It’s unlikely that any group that “owned” football IP would tell the Dallas Cowboys how to market their team, what their cut is and how it will be distributed. This process happens all the time in college, though. In fact, in order for everyone to get their seat at the table, you HAVE to work all of this out so that the schools make some money (equivalent to a team), the conference makes their money (equivalent to the league) and the NCAA makes their money (equivalent to the publisher themselves). If the chain breaks down at any point, then the whole process grinds to a halt and nobody makes money.

I mention this in my article about the Olympics. The IOC is used to having full autonomy over how the Olympic Games are broadcast, which events are part of the games, who is eligible and who isn’t, etc. There is no chance this would be the case if the Olympics took on esports. The publisher would absolutely wield an incredible amount of influence over how the games are portrayed, broadcast, judged and the like. The IOC isn’t used to that. In college, that’s just a typical Saturday afternoon.

College admission is down and not just because of COVID-19. Even before the pandemic, colleges were trying to find their footing with potential students as people reevaluate the college experience. Forbes wrote back in 2019 that college enrollments were down two million students in that decade. Add onto that the preliminary data we are getting on the effect of COVID on colleges, we could see enrollment in 2020 down anywhere from 5%-20%.

Student enrollment at US colleges has been declining since 2011

Image Credits: Brandon Byrne

The outlook

For colleges, it’s not great. Revenue is massively down, with even stalwarts like Harvard University hemorrhaging cash. With enrollment down before the pandemic, we have reached a point where colleges and universities have to adapt to survive.

The good news is, I believe that esports could be an opportunity to do just that. Colleges are diving into esports, with 115 different programs offering scholarships for esports and club programs are growing even faster. Certainly, it will help attract students, but monetization in esports is really tricky.

It’s critical that colleges and universities get expert advice on how to create an ecosystem that ultimately compensates all of the stakeholders, including the college themselves. It also will require universities to move quickly and get on board with a model that is still being formed in real time. The coronavirus pandemic isn’t going away anytime soon, but I think there will be many colleges that will. The time to move is now.

Gaming rules the entertainment industry, so why aren’t investors showing up?

As gaming’s popularity reaches epic heights, venture investors’ activity in the industry doesn’t seem to equate with the overall size of the games market. Spurred by an unreal year where traditional entertainment has been upended by the COVID-19 pandemic and consumers find unity in virtual worlds like Animal Crossing and Fortnite, gaming has never been more popular.

Late-stage investors have shown that they have a tremendous appetite for businesses in the gaming industry. They’ve been pouring capital into established gaming companies like Scopely, which on Wednesday announced a $340 million investment round at a $3.3 billion valuation. But venture capital simply hasn’t given the gaming industry and the broader synthetic market the attention it deserves given its place in the entertainment and cultural firmament.

Just ask LeBron “Bronny” James Jr., the son of the NBA’s biggest star, who became a professional athlete this week — as a gamer with one of the most popular teams in online gaming, FaZe Clan. Or look at Unity, the creator of a popular game development engine, whose stock price has nearly doubled since its public offering in mid-September. Since opening trading at $56 per share, the stock has nearly doubled in value and is now trading at $100 per share.

In the first half of the year gamers spent $36.8 billion on games through both the Android and iOS app stores, according to data from SensorTower. New game installs are also up for the year. The app analytics company said that new game installs were up to 28.4 billion over the first half of the year. Annually the 15 billion new game downloads in the second quarter represented a 45.2% year-on-year growth in gaming.

Then there’s Bitkraft, one of the only venture firms to focus on the totality of the gaming industry, which announced the close of its most recent fund, a $165 million investment vehicle. The firm, which added a former Goldman Sachs managing director earlier in the year to capitalize on the opportunity in what the firm calls “synthetic reality” investments, raised $25 million more than its $140 million target. One of these things is not like the others.

“I’ve been in the games industry for 23 years now [and] I’ve always had this huge fundamental conviction of video games not only dominating the entertainment industry but sort of taking up a big part of what society is — where video games create the digital identities that define evermore of what we understand of ourselves,” said Jens Hilgers, Bitkraft’s founding general partner. “We feel that these are times of acceleration … it’s great to see how we’re leapfrogging one or two or three years of the games industry in this crisis and it makes it more exciting to invest in these times.”

The Unity public offering, and its emphasis on markets outside of gaming, seems to prove Hilgers point and show just how much opportunity remains around the notion of synthetic reality in business and entertainment.

“Their thesis around democratizing access to gaming tools by letting hobbyists use the tools for free is smart, if you want to win the market,” said Alice Lloyd George, founder of Rogue Ventures, a new investment firm focused on frontier technologies and gaming investments.

Lloyd George compared Unity’s business to its biggest competitor, Epic Games, and noted that both have broad aspirations. “Both of them want to use their game engines beyond pure gaming,” Lloyd George said of the two big new gaming platform developers. “Unity is really well-positioned because they’re so strong on mobile. That positions them well for AR and VR. And you need onramps for the developers for AR and VR.”

Engagement and the future of entertainment

When Scopely’s co-chief executive Walter Driver talks about the attraction of gaming properties for players — and the reason investors have been willing to value his Los Angeles-based company in the billions of dollars — he talks about the connections between players. “People have found — and investors looking at the space have found also — that people value the connection they’re getting from interactive experiences. It’s not just our relationship with the players, but their relationships with each other,” Driver said. “Inside of most passively consumed media experiences, you don’t have an identity. You don’t have friends.“

Mov gives you a chance to win your favorite athlete’s game day attire — sweat, tears and all

“If it smells, that’s how they’re going to receive it.”

While that claim would likely make most D2C founders cringe, for founder Chris Alston, it’s part of the magic of his company, Mov. The upstart, based in Los Angeles, connects fans to the game-worn apparel of their favorite athletes through a sweepstakes-style model. And in the market of sports memorabilia, authenticity (even if it includes sweat, blood and tears) is everything.

“We send it as is,” he said. “We want to make it a really special experience for the fans.”

Mov, launched just a few weeks ago, is more than a rebranded eBay or NBA auction site. The company, founded by Alston, his brother Brandon and Jacqueline Pounder, uses a sweepstakes-style model to raise money for a game-worn item. With each sale, 70% of money raised goes toward a cause of the athlete’s choice. The remaining 30% goes to Mov employees and operations. Causes currently listed on the website include Milwaukee Freedom Fund, Girls and Boys Club of Portland and With Us Foundation.

“Athletes wear these game-worn items, and our platform gives them a way to donate and make an impact without any extra time on them and their busy schedules,” Alston said. All an athlete has to do is ship their item to a Los Angeles warehouse after the game, and Mov will get it into the winner’s hands.

Like any sweepstakes model, there’s no purchase necessary to enter. Everyone gets one free ticket to win an item, whether it’s CJ McCollum’s Li-Ning Yushuai 13 sneakers or Pat Connaughton’s Equality jersey. However, if a fan wants to buy more tickets to increase their chances, they can do so for $1 to $2 a ticket.

“Typically with game-worn gear, it’s whoever has the most money,” Alston said. “For us, we’re allowing anyone to enter to win for one ticket, and so we’re decreasing the barrier to entry.”

Alston grew up surrounded by philanthropy and sports. His grandparents took their own school board to court, and helped lead desegregation efforts in Virginia Schools. His brother is a professional basketball player and Alston himself played college football at Columbia University. Eventually Alston dropped out of Columbia to pursue tech entrepreneurship.

With that background, it would have made sense that Alston landed on creating a product that combines charitable causes with athletes. However, the first iteration of Mov looked far different than it does today. The product started as a video e-commerce platform, basically creating a video version of eBay. After Mov had difficulty scaling its marketplace, he thought of new ways to define his market. He landed on the network of athletes that he and his brother know well — and the fact that a not-so-tiny NBA rule change had recently passed.

In 2018, NBA players were allowed to start wearing any sneaker color of their choice. While it might be a small deal to some, the ability to wear different kinds of sneakers quickly turned into players repping charities or causes on their gear during games. Alston saw Mov as a way to take gear that athletes either throw out or give away and repurpose it for a good cause.

The success of Mov, from both a charity and revenue perspective, depends on how many fans sign up for its service and eventually pay for a chance to win an item. While the founder would not disclose total users just yet, he finds optimism in how much money an item is able to make through Mov. For example, Pat Connaughton’s Jersey made $2,164 on Mov versus $560 on the NBA auction site.

“During this crazy time, crazy year, we’re really trying to maximize how everyone can give back,” he said.

Indian mobile gaming platform Mobile Premier League raises $90 million

Mobile Premier League (MPL) has raised $90 million in a new financing round as the two-year-old Bangalore-based esports and mobile gaming platform grows its user base and looks to expand outside of India.

SIG, early-stage tech investor RTP Global, and MDI Ventures led MPL’s $90 million Series C financing round, with participation from existing investors Sequoia India, Go-Ventures, and Base Partners. The new investment brings MPL’s to-date raise to $130.5 million.

MPL operates a pure-play gaming platform that hosts a range of tournaments. The app, which has amassed over 60 million users and hosts about 70 games, also serves as a publishing platform for other gaming firms.

The Bangalore-based startup also offers fantasy sports, a segment that has taken off in many parts of India in recent years.

Because fantasy sports is only one part of the business, the coronavirus outbreak that has shut most real-world matches has not impeded the startup’s growth in recent months. The startup claimed it has grown four times since March this year and more than 2 billion cash transactions have been recorded on the app to date.

“Even in an environment as challenging as the current one, we are impressed with the success and accessibility of the platform concept – giving users a unique variety of experiences and social interaction. MPL’s track record speaks for itself, so we’re excited to support the team as they grow and expand,” said Galina Chifina, Managing Partner at RTP Global, in a statement.

But since an aspect of MPL is about fantasy sports, its app is not available on the Google Play Store. Google Play Store prohibits online casino, and other kinds of betting, a guideline Google reiterated last week as it pulled Indian financial services platform Paytm from the app store for eight hours. Sai Srinivas, co-founder and chief executive of Mobile Premier League, declined to comment on Google and Paytm’s episode. 

In an interview with TechCrunch, he said the startup plans to expand outside of India in the following months. He did not name the new markets, but suggested that India’s neighboring countries will likely be part of it. 

More to follow…

Indian fantasy sports app Dream11’s parent firm raises $225M at over $2.5B valuation

Dream Sports, the parent firm of fantasy sports app Dream11, has secured $225 million in a new financing round as the Mumbai-headquartered firm builds what it calls “end-to-end sports tech company” in the cricket-loving nation, which is also the world’s second largest internet market.

Tiger Global Management, TPG Tech Adjacencies (TTAD), ChrysCapital and Footpath Ventures financed $225 million in Dream Sports through primary and secondary investments, the 12-year-old Indian firm said.

The new round values Dream Sports at over $2.5 billion, two people familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.

Dream11 has cashed in on the popularity of cricket — a game that has attracted serious attention from several major firms including Disney and Facebook. Dream11 explores the fantasy part of it, allowing gamers to pick their choice of best players for an upcoming match. They can win cash prizes depending on how their selected team performs.

This year, Dream11 is also the title sponsor for the 2020 season of Indian Premier League cricket tournament, one of the most popular sporting events in the world. The startup won the rights, which was previously secured by smartphone vendor Vivo, by bidding $30 million for it. Vivo had to back out of the sponsorship amid geo-political tension between the two nuclear-armed nations.

The new season of IPL kickstarts later this week after months of delay due to the coronavirus outbreak.

“The sports sector has high growth potential in India. There is a significant opportunity to enhance the fan experience and we are excited to partner with Dream Sports to leverage technology in ways that will deepen the connection between Indian fans and the sports they love,” said Akshay Tanna, Managing Director at TPG, in a statement.

In recent years, Dream Sports has expanded into additional categories such as merchandize. Harsh Jain, chief executive and co-founder of Dream Sports, claimed in a statement today that the startup had amassed over 100 million users. (Dream11 app is not on the Google Play Store and the startup relies on people either using its mobile web or sideload its Android app on to their phones.)

“As a homegrown Indian company, we are proud to continue adding value to our 10 crore Indian sports fans, investors, employees and the overall sports ecosystem in India. In the last two years, we have grown beyond fantasy sports to sports content, merchandise, streaming, experiences, and there is much more to come. Our vision is to ‘Make Sports Better’ for India and Indian fans through sports technology and innovation,” he added.

Avendus Capital was the financial advisor to Dream Sports on the transaction.

More to follow…

Mustard raises $1.7M to improve athletic mechanics with AI

Athletic coaching is a massive, multi-billion-dollar industry. No surprise, really, given the massive revenue some top athletes are able to generate. Mustard is working to supplant — or at least augment — some of that pricey coaching with the launch of a new mobile app designed to analyze an athlete’s mechanics and offer corrective tips to help them improve.

The company was co-founded by Tom House, a former reliever whose coaching career has earned him the reputation as one the “father[s] of modern pitching mechanics.”

“Too many kids miss out on the power of play and the many physical and mental benefits of sports—studies show that 70% of kids stop playing sports by the age of 13 due to cost and lack of access to quality coaching. Mustard offers every kid access to the same coaching programs and extensive biomechanical analysis used by the best athletes in the world, and the same personalized training protocols that I use with the Hall of Famers I see in person,” House says in a release tied to the news. “We want to make elite personalized coaching accessible to all.”

Mustard announced this week that it has raised $1.7 million to improve its tool, led by Shasta Ventures and Intersect VC, along with a number of angel investors, including David Novak and Mike Dixon, and all-star athletes Nolan Ryan and Drew Brees. Ryan, in fact, has become one of the main faces of the company, gracing its home page, along with a color scheme that appears inspired by his days with the Astros.

The name isn’t great. It’s a reference to the phrase “put some mustard on it” — which refers to the act of adding a bit of an edge to a throw.

The app is opening up for a limited, free public beta, focused solely on baseball to start. “The product will be entirely free at first,” CEO Rocky Collins tells TechCrunch. “Over time, we will add premium features for a low monthly subscription. Even when premium features are added, we plan to continue to offer a free version of the app that offers tremendous value to users.”

The system relies on the smartphone’s camera and then uses proprietary AI algorithms to monitor the player’s motion and approximate human athletic coaching. For the baseball side of things, the company has employed engineers from Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM). Future sports will be added at some point down the road.

NASA signs agreement with Japan to cooperate across Space Station, Artemis and Lunar Gateway projects

NASA has signed a new agreement with Japan that lays out plans for the two nations to cooperate on the International Space Station (continuing existing partnership between the countries there) as well as on NASA’s Artemis program, which includes missions in lunar space and to the lunar surface.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine signed the agreement with Government of Japan Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Koichi Hagiuda on July 10. It’s a Joint Exploration Decoration of Intent (JEDI), which essentially commits the two countries to laying the groundwork for more concrete plans about how the two nations will work together on projects that will extend all the way to include both robotic and human exploration of the Moon .

Japan was one of the earliest countries to express their intent to participate as an international partner in NASA’s Lunar Gateway project, all the way back in October 2019. Since then, a number of countries and agencies have expressed similar support, including Canada, which will contribute by building a third version of its Canadarm, the robotic manipulator that has been used on the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station, and the European Space Agency.

This new agreement formalizes that arrangement, and from here you can expect both parties to begin to detail in more specificity what kinds of projects they’ll collaborate on. Japan has plans to launch a robotic space probe mission to the moons of Mars and return samples from Phobos, its largest natural satellite, with a launch schedule for 2024, and it has launched a lunar orbiter exploration spacecraft called SELENE, and is planning a lunar lander mission dubbed the ‘Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) for 2022 that will be its first lunar surface mission.

Why the Olympics should add esports

I recently sat on a panel for gaming website Pocket Gamer that was focused on esports and the Olympics. We were debating whether esports were filling the gap in sporting events, including the Olympic games, which have been paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It was an interesting conversation that started out like most esports panels. The only difference here is that instead of the typical question, “When will esports catch up to traditional sports?” it was, “Will esports become mainstream enough to make it into the Olympics?” A slightly different question, but the same sentiment: The international games are one of televised sports’ marquee events, and esports companies hope to earn a seat at the grown-up’s table.

In truth, the Olympics have been dropping in ratings relatively steadily in the U.S. for a long time. The only Olympic games that scored in the top five ratings going back to 1992 were the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, presumably because they were held in the United States. Overall, viewership has been declining in recent years and the games don’t hold the prestige they once did.

Additionally, audiences are slowly becoming worth less and less to advertisers because the age of the average viewer is rising rapidly, a trend we are seeing in almost all traditional sports.

I doubt it would surprise anyone to learn that the average age of almost all traditional sports viewership skews older than esports’ audience. Even then, I think the actual data will be quite surprising. Only one professional sport (women’s tennis) actually saw its average viewers age come down in the last decade or so. Even in that context, the average age of a Women’s Tennis Association home spectator is 55 years old.

The average age of esports viewership looks to be around 26 years old. Think about that from a marketer’s perspective. Traditional sports are just missing young people, by a wide margin.

Where are the kids?

But there are more factors at play than just a lack of interest from millennials and Gen Z driving this trend: There’s also a question of access.

The IOC made the decision in recent years to stream the Olympics (the way most younger people consume content), but it capped the ability to watch online to 30 minutes if viewers didn’t sign in with their cable company (a relationship many millennials don’t have) to continue watching.

Additionally, the IOC made the laughable decision to “ban” GIFs with the press covering the event, which qualifies as one of the more stupid things a governing body has ever tried to do. First, it won’t work. Secondly, and more to the point, it demonstrates how out of touch the IOC is with the ways in which media has evolved in the last 20 years.

However, unlike the Olympics, where no corporation owns the rights to volleyball or the pole vault, all esports companies own the IP associated with the game itself. That means, by default, the IOC would not have carte blanche when making decisions about how to represent the games, programming, licensing rights and other factors it has enjoyed for a long time.

Finally, it’s worth noting that the IOC doesn’t like the idea of “violent” games being added to the Olympic roster. It would prefer to see current sports transformed into virtual competitions. But anyone who knows anything about esports understands that this isn’t how esports works. Before a game ascends to esports royalty, it needs to be a good game. If nobody plays it, it’s unlikely anyone will want to watch it.

Secondly, it has be digestible as a viewing experience. World of Warcraft Arena is a game that draws a lot of players, but it’s almost impossible to know what is going on unless you’re an expert at the game or you have a godly shoutcaster who can translate the on-screen action. You can’t make track and field an esport and hope audiences will want to watch.

The IOC Solution

The IOC has taken steps to try and stave off declining youth viewership trends by adopting sports considered “young” in the past few years. Five sports recently added to the Olympic games include:

  • Sport climbing
  • Surfing
  • Skateboarding
  • Karate
  • Baseball/softball

The baseball/softball addition notwithstanding, I think you would have to live under a rock if you thought that competitive sport climbing held a candle to Fortnite or League of Legends in terms of generating youth interest. Frankly, this seems like an idea that came from an old person trying to find a way to “get the kids back.”


To the IOC’s credit, it has begun to hold panels and conferences with esports experts and game publishers, but the deals that will come from these will look REALLY different than what they are used to. It seems to me that we have a long way to go here.

For my part of the panel, I argued that the Olympics need esports much more than esports need the Olympics. Media companies are only going to overpay for broadcasting rights for traditional sports for so long. At some point, someone is going to notice that the “inside the demo” group isn’t there and move on.

The thing that esports CAN get from the Olympics is understanding a better way to monetize its audience, something that the Olympics do well and esports doesn’t do well right now. A report from Goldman Sachs shows the audience size and monetization based on that audience, showing that esports dramatically underindex on monetization relative to their more established sports league equivalents. It is clear that esports is immature from a monetization perspective and, while the Olympics aren’t on this chart, I would assume that it punches WAY above its weight, much like MLB does, trading on its reputation more than on actual results these days.

The IOC should act fast, though. It won’t be long until esports figures this whole thing out and once they do, the Olympic games won’t have anything to offer this emerging media powerhouse.

IoT solutions are enabling physical distancing

If you’re a business owner or investor and are wondering about the long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the business world, you’re not alone.

Today’s business leaders have been plunged into the deep end of telecommuting with little notice, and the way we do business has been impacted at almost every level. Travel is restricted, meetings are virtual and delivery of goods and even raw materials is being delayed. While some industries that depend on large gatherings are seeing extremely difficult challenges due to the pandemic, others such as the tech industry, see the opportunity and responsibility for innovation and growth.

As many states begin phased reopening, companies are trying to determine what the workplace and business environment will look like in a post-quarantine world. The first obvious step is the integration of personal protective equipment (PPE). Sanitization and face masks will become required and nonessential face-to-face meetings will be a thing of the past, along with shaking hands.

Additionally, relationship-driven careers such as sales and recruiting will have to find new ways to connect to be successful. Physical distancing rules will have to be established, which may include employees coming in alternate days while telecommuting the other days of the week to keep offices at reduced capacity. Large offices of 10 or more may implement thermographic camera technology for fever screening or other real-time technology-based health screenings.

One thing is for sure: IoT devices that enable physical distancing will become an integral part of reopening businesses, facilitating sales connections and embracing a different way of living.

Solutions for physical distancing

There are a variety of IoT devices available that can help business leaders successfully implement physical distancing in their offices. Thermographic camera technology coupled with facial recognition can create a baseline for each employee and then assist in determining if an employee has a temperature outside of their norm. Other remote health monitoring may also take place with healthcare providers, helping employees determine on a daily basis if they are well enough to go into work.