Erik Linask : Sports Technology
Erik Linask

May 2009

You are browsing the archive for May 2009.

Sports Technology Yields Ultra-Fast Swimming Suits: Another "*61"?

May 29, 2009

Where have you gone, Johnny Weissmuller? Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you, woo-woo-woo . . .   My father used to reminisce about skipping school as a kid and heading to the Bronx Zoo all day.

Could MLB Fans Help Umps with Flip Camcorders and iPhones?

May 28, 2009

Instant replay - it may be the most consequential in-game sports technology innovation that the United States' national pastime has seen since the Chicago Cubs discovered light bulbs, and today it's taking center stage.   Much of the sports talk in the New York area is revolving a controversial umpiring decision from last night's New York Mets-Washington Nationals game.   With a man on and nobody out in the bottom of the sixth inning, the Mets' Daniel Murphy smacked a Jordan Zimmerman pitch on a high arc out to right field - a position that Little Leagues designate for uncoordinated children, but which in the bigs usually calls for strong armed, power hitters like the Nats' Adam Dunn.  
Dunn drifted back on the ball and eventually turned around to face the outfield wall. The ball appeared to change direction in its descent, and the outfield umpire's initial call was that it was a double. That call, had it stood, would have changed the complexion of the inning and perhaps the outcome of the game, since the runner on base when Murphy connected - Gary Sheffield - was out trying to score on what he thought, as he loped around the bases, was a home run.   But the umpires - as they are allowed to this year, for the first time in baseball history - disappeared into a room with a monitor and came back to signal "home run." Apparently, the umps decided that the ball had hit a billboard that hangs over the lower decks in right at the Mets' new stadium, Citi Field. (That bit of construction is a tribute, some baseball historians say, to the one of the Mets' forerunners in New York City, the mighty New York Giants, whose home, Manhattan's Polo Grounds, featured an overhang.)   There are a lot of interesting things to talk about here.

Sports Technology and Baseball Attendance: Reversing the Curse of TV

May 27, 2009

   "If people don't want to come to the ballpark, nobody's going to stop them." - Yogi Berra   The great New York Yankees backstop (a man who has earned the right, Joba, to visit the team's clubhouse and hang out, whenever he wants) uttered the words printed above in the 1950s, when one of the century's major technological innovations - the television - delivered baseball games to fans' living rooms, fueling a sharp decline in stadium attendance throughout the Major Leagues.   By the end of that decade, the decline became so severe that owners in cities that hosted two (Boston, Kansas City, Philadelphia, St. Louis) or even three (New York) teams were forced to find fans elsewhere, leading to the sometimes heartbreaking relocation of MLB teams throughout the Midwest and West. (See the picture of the wrecking ball hitting a dugout at Brooklyn's baseball shrine, the long-gone Ebbets Field, below.)   Today, a half-century later, hampered by an economic recession, competing sports interests and probably - though this hasn't been fleshed out - a performance-enhancing drug problem that MLB and the players' union can't seem to solve, attendance is down again.   We hear that overall attendance is down 4 percent while household ratings for Fox Saturday Baseball - even with the elimination of an annoying cartoon character called "Scooter" - are down 9 percent from this time last season.    
Let's be clear: Attendance for large market teams is holding steady and in some cases even improving this year over last.   But there's also at least one anomaly in attendance statistics that deserves a closer look: the San Francisco Giants. The team, though it's located in a large city, generally is considered a midmarket draw, and is subject to the same trends as clubs that have see attendance drop.   This season, however, attendance is up 1.7 percent in the Giants' ballpark overall, and the reason may be a new kind of sports technology. (As a side note: the Giants recently adopted a Shoretel VoIP-based UC systems, so we know they're not afraid to turn to technology to improve the team's bottom line.)   This season, the Giants are experimenting with a new pricing strategy that the live entertainment, hospitality and travel industries generally refer to as "dynamic pricing." What it means generally is that ticket prices are adjusted to reflect the value of a service given (translation: supply and demand).   In the case of baseball games, it means that a major league team can adjust ticket prices not only based on how close a seat is to the action (the traditional method), but also based on pitching matchups, standings, weather forecasts and other factors. It's a science that we'd expect to take into account such details as hitting streaks (think of Ryan Zimmerman's this year), in-game promotions and tourist trends in the home team's city.   The software that the Giants are using is developed by Austin, Texas-based Qcue, and we had a chance this week to interview the company's youthful chief executive officer, Barry Kahn.   Among the several major consequences for teams, fans, ticket-sellers and resellers is this: The dynamic pricing model - while it may raise prices for some hot games, such as Cubs-Cardinals or Mets-Braves - also likely lowers prices for less desirable games, such as weekday series or games that involve smaller-market teams.   Just a quick note here on raising prices based on the dynamic model: As Kahn points out, non-season ticketholders often pay exorbitant prices anyway for the hot tickets, because they're bought up by third-party arbitragers looking to make a buck.   One of the interesting things we learned from our talk with Kahn is that all teams (though to varying degrees) are subject to price sensitivity.