Erik Linask : Sports Technology
Erik Linask

June 2009

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FIFA Scoffs at Instant Replay in Soccer: Good or Bad?

June 29, 2009

I'd had a single bottle of light beer at Terri's Tavern in Port Chester, N.Y. that night 2002 - well under the legal limit - as my wife and I rode back home in my old beat up Saab, up the Boston Post Road toward Stamford, Conn.   After my parents' bitter divorce, my father, a Bronx-born auto mechanic, unfairly and venomously compared my mom to the Sweden-made Saab, saying something about how everything was great for the first 60,000 miles and then, bam.   He was wrong his ex-wife - a phenomenal woman, as Maya Angelou would say - but the Saab my wife and I drove home that night certainly was showing signs of wear. The floor panel from the rear driver's side seat was rusted out and had so many holes that you could see the pavement whizzing by underfoot. Sort of like Fred Flintstone but far more painful.   And the electrical system was in tatters, with brake lights and back-up lights and signal lights and head lights and high beams on the fritz almost constantly.

Sports Broadcasting and the Future of Video Online

June 18, 2009

As the founder and CTO of Zeugma Systems, Siegfried Luft, points out in an interesting article this week, the growth of unmanaged, data-heavy video on the Internet presents a major problem broadband service providers.   It's a trend that the head of the world's largest maker of computer networking gear - Cisco Systems Inc. CEO John Chambers - has been predicting for months, and one that's expected to push network capacity to the limits, even with advanced video compression technology.   Professional sports is emerging as one of major players in the online video space.   Consider that within the last week, reports emerged that the New York Yankees would become baseball's first team to have its games streamed live over the Internet within its home market (through Cablevision), and that an iPhone 3G application (which runs through WiFi) that's widely viewed as baseball's best now is adding live game streaming features.   Analysts say that video traffic over the Internet will grow at a rate of 28 percent annually, while some broadband service providers have suggested an even higher growth rate of 40 percent. Cisco recently suggested that video would represent 90 percent of all Internet traffic by 2013.   That may be challenging news for BSPs, but it's also good news for much of the IT and telecom industries, including an Anaheim, Calif.-based online video technology company that's developed a live streaming video platform.   This week, the director of sales and marketing at Monetize Media Inc., Brent Grablachoff - a guy who, like me, hails from what we call the "tri-state area" (New York, New Jersey, Connecticut) but now lives at works in sunny SoCal - contacted me about his company's offering, and it's both interesting and impressive.   It strikes me that there are two major things that this platform is designed to do: Help enterprising people create professional videos that can be uploaded quickly, and help them make money off of that work, whether it's through viewing, ad revenue or subscriptions or another form of membership.   The company's streaming solutions let users stream multiple live camera feeds while mixing in other media such as movies, images and sounds, minimizing annoying things (from a user's perspective) such as buffering delays.   And here's a peek into the future of this technology: The platform allows users to stream remotely using a mobile phone.   I had a chance to put some questions to Grablachoff (printed in full below), and discovered two things that jumped out at me. One is that he, like Chambers, wholeheartedly believes in the evolution of the Internet to a video-based space, and two is that the news about the Yankees' live streaming spurred an uptick in interest for his company's product.   Our exchange follows.   Michael Dinan: A lot of us read every day about how media outlets, such as newspapers, are struggling to find ways to make money off of content that's posted to the Web. Your product appears to be cloud-based. Exactly how does your product "monetize" video footage?

Playing Now: Live MLB Streaming on the iPhone, iPod Touch

June 17, 2009

  About two months ago, just as this year's baseball season got underway, I reviewed the $10 " At Bat 2009" from Major League Baseball Advanced Media for the iPhone 3G and iPod Touch.   It's a very, very cool product - the best of its kind, despite the price tag - and one of its best features was the high-quality video highlights for each game (audio included) that came with any kind of WiFi connection.   Way, way back before MLB truly began leveraging cable and digital TV technology to deliver its wife-hating "Extra Innings" package for television viewers (basically every out of market game, each night), we baseball fanatics had to go to a sports bar to watch 15 games at once.   Even with the MLB At Bat application, the best we could do - and there's nothing wrong with this - was to tune into each game's radio broadcast (home or away team) for a live Internet stream, and the visual we had to accompany that broadcast was a Gamecast-like experience, which was only about 2 seconds behind the real-time action.   Now, we hear from's Mark Newman, the At Bat application - at no additional cost to current subscribers (yeah me!) will also introduce live video streaming during games.   "Beginning with the White Sox-Cubs Interleague Play matchup from Wrigley Field at 2:20 p.m. ET, up to two live games per day, subject to blackout restrictions, will be included in At Bat 2009," Newman reports. "The other game scheduled for Thursday is Detroit at St. Louis at 8:15 p.m. ET.

Enjoying Ice Hockey from the Sofa: Hi-Def Flat Screens Outdo FoxTrax

June 12, 2009

At 8 p.m. tonight, millions of viewers - including many people whose sentences end in the word "eh" - will turn their TVs, unless they've somehow missed the digital TV switchover, to NBC, for a decisive Game Seven of the Stanley Cup finals.   Here in the New York area, the attention of sports fans will be distracted by the so-called "Subway Series" between the New York Mets and Yankees, to get underway in the Bronx about an hour earlier. Many of us - even for an edge-of-your-seat seventh game in a major sport - would prefer to watch the baseball game over the hockey contest between - as Santiago from Hemingway's masterful "The Old Man and the Sea" would say - Red Wings of Detroit and Penguins of Pittsburgh.   Hockey has tried all kinds of ways to sway viewers its way, most recently, following 310-day lockout that started in September 2004, by tweaking the games rules to give it more flow and excitement.   It hasn't really worked, and the timing of tonight's final, coinciding with what Major League Baseball calls "Rivalry Week," is very bad news for the NHL.   More than a decade ago, some sports buffs might remember, Fox Sports made a bunch of people angry by creating its so-called "FoxTrax" puck, which used digital technology to track its often vision-blurring path on the ice.   The puck emitted a red trail whenever it passed the 75 mph mark. All Fox Sports did was cut the puck open, add some sensors and then put a signaling system atop the plexiglass that surrounds the rink.

Streaming the New York Yankees on the Internet? Just Beat the Sawx Already!

June 11, 2009

Inking A.J. Burnett to a long-term deal may have been a good idea, Tuesday night's abysmal performance notwithstanding. Signing C.C. Sabathia was almost definitely a great idea and if Mark Teixeira keeps hitting and fielding the way he is, fans of the New York Yankees may finally get over the retirement of Tino Martinez.   But for those same fans - people who have spent the last two days, at least, wondering what Jedi mind trick the rival Boston Red Sox are using this season - the best deal of the 2009 MLB campaign may have been inked without anyone outside of the team's TV network, YES, and Cablevision, a triple-play provider for the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut region that also happens to own Long Island-based New York Newsday, longtime employer of the great Jimmy Breslin.   For it was in an unannounced deal this spring that the two regional media giants agreed to pursue a plan that would see the Yankees become baseball's first team to have its games streamed live over the Internet within its home market.   As John Ourand and Eric Fisher of the SportsBusiness Journal report, citing anonymous sources, the streamed games could start later this season for people who pay for Cablevision's TV and broadband services.   "The move is part of an overall renewal of Cablevision's YES Network affiliation deal that was signed earlier this spring but never officially announced," the reporters tell us.   Those of us who follow the Yankees - and their controlling PR team - know how the Yanks like to ("oh my goodness gracious") stage every major announcement involving the club.   This statement from Cablevision seems to confirm that approach: "We have nothing to announce at this time, and we typically would not comment on this kind of offering until it was in front of our customers."   So what does this mean for fans, the game, and service providers such as Cablevision?   It's the first time that there's been a major effort to actually try in-market Internet streaming of live games.

Twitter Continues to Hog the Sports Technology Spotlight

June 10, 2009

Two interesting pieces of information emerged today about Twitter - that San Francisco-based micro-blogging site that made headlines last week when St. Louis Cardinals filed a lawsuit against it, for publishing an unauthorized page that makes light of a tragedies involving a pair of Cardinals players and an embarrassing incident for La Russa himself.   First, Cambridge, Mass.-based Internet marketing software provider HubSpot, Inc. reported - based on a study of 4.5 million Twitter accounts over nine months - more than 9 percent of all accounts are inactive. HubSpot also found that - despite reports that Twitter accounts have grown from 1.6 million to 32.1 million in the past year or so - more than half (56 percent) of users don't "follow" anyone, have never tweeted (55 percent) and have no followers (53 percent).   Despite that, Twitter apparently figured largely in coverage and communications about a 34-year-old event that last night got unprecedented coverage by sports media outlets, due mostly to a phenomenal baseball player who's developing under the watchful eye of Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn.  
  Mark Newman, enterprise editor at, reports that this year's MLB draft - formally called the "2009 First-Year Player Draft" - saw not only unheard-of TV coverage (ESPN has been pushing the thing for months, mostly riding on the back of San Diego State University phenom Stephen Strasburg), but also through a running commentary on through Twitter.   Here's how popular fans' "tweeting" about the draft was: the term "mlbdraft" rose as high as No. 5 on the list of most popular trending topics for the micro-blogging site.   According to Newman's report, Ben Cook, a Cardinals fan who with an "MLB rumors" blog, said the draft was "a breakthrough event" as far as the sports technology went.   "Broadcasting the Draft on was a nice step to open it up to new fans like myself who hadn't paid much attention to the Draft in previous years," Cook reportedly said. "But incorporating Twitter took fan interaction to an all new level, allowing instant feedback and some great conversations to happen. The NFL Draft may be more popular, but it's a purely spectator event.

St. Louis Cardinals Manager Sues Twitter

June 5, 2009

Colleagues and friends sometimes tell me that their Facebook "friends" include big-name sports personalities and celebrities, such as Clint Eastwood, Sarah Jessica Parker, C.C. Sabathia and Manny Ramirez.   It's a strange phenomenon and - to me - an unusual desire to want to establish a virtual relationship with a total stranger, even if that stranger is an Oscar-winning director, star of an HBO series that features women imitating the worst behaviors of men, New York Yankees pitching savior or disgraced former Boston Red Sox World Series MVP.   Part of what's so puzzling is that there's no way to tell whether the Facebook account was actually set up by the person you think it was. The mega-popular social networking site - which has 200 million-plus users now - has safeguards in place to report identity fraud, but that's also difficult to track, and new accounts can be created all the time.   In some cases, the ID thieves that hijack high-profile names end up causing problems, as with a problem that's emerged involving St. Louis Cardinals Manager Tony La Russa and micro-blogging's Twitter.   Jim Salter of the Associated Press reports that La Russa, 64, is suing San Francisco-based Twitter because an unauthorized page makes light of a tragedies involving a pair of Cardinals players and an embarrassing incident for La Russa himself.   Baseball fans will remember that seven years ago, Cards pitcher Darryl Kile died following what probably were misdiagnosed heart complications, and two years ago, when relief pitcher Josh Hancock died in an auto accident. It was later revealed that his blood-alcohol level was high.   Just before the 2007 season, La Russa - a stats whiz who has managed the Chicago White Sox and Oakland A's and is among those credited with leveraging statistical analysis to inform in-game decisions - was arrested and ultimately arrested for DUI when he was found sleeping in a running SUV.   According to the lawsuit, as Salter reports, one April 19 tweet (translate: short status update) says: "Lost 2 out of 3, but we made it out of Chicago without one drunk driving incident or dead pitcher."   Let's be clear: That is not even one bit funny.

Should Yahoo Have to Pay the NFL Union for Fantasy Football Stats?

June 4, 2009

In one of the weirder sports technology stories to cross the wire in a while, the National Football League's players union reportedly is being sued by search engine Yahoo! Inc. because the popular Web site doesn't believe it should pay royalties to use data such as players' stats and photos for online fantasy football.   Steve Karnowski of that venerable news service - The Associated Press - tells us that the last of Yahoo's licensing agreements with the NFL Players Association expired three months ago, and the players union is threatening to sue Yahoo if the company doesn't pay for the information.   Where to start?   First off, I would love to see a cost-benefit analysis here: How much has Yahoo paid in the past for those rights, and how much interest does Yahoo-hosted fantasy football generate in the game.   I'd also love to know how long the licensing agreement was in place - especially since fantasy sports have grown exponentially in the past few years, and promise to continue growing as players (fantasy owners, that is) have greater access to the Internet through smartphones, netbooks and other popular, portable Web-ready devices.   Yahoo could not immediately be reached for comment, but you can bet I'll post on this issue again when I hear back from them.   Yahoo's argument is that it doesn't need authorization to use the information on NFL players, and it's probably preparing to cite a court decision that settled a suit two months ago between the NFL Players Inc. and CBS Interactive Inc.   In its argument, Yahoo may also be able to appear to what's called "net neutrality" - the idea that the Internet and its contents are part of the public domain. That's a divisive issue, and one that the rapidly forming Federal Communications Commission grapples with.   Another recent example of that arose recently when eBay-owned Internet calling service Skype launched its iPhone application. The iPhone, from Apple, is carried only by AT&T, and a group called Free Press - a nonprofit with offices in Florence, Massachusetts and Washington, D.C. - asked the FCC to look into whether whether the two companies are breaking federal rules by effectively disallowing widespread use of the service on the iPhone.

Opening Soon: the New Cowboys Stadium, Another Wonder of Sports Technology

June 3, 2009


 "Our main competition is the home media center. We wanted to offer a real experience that you can't have at home, but to see it with the technology that you do have at home." - Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, while unveiling his team's new stadium design in 2006   At about $1.6 billion, London's Wembley Stadium is said to the most expensive sports arena ever built. (I saw a rugby match there, once, in 1995, though the two things that always pop into my mind at the mention of Wembley are that anxious, frizz-haired "Fraggle Rock" character of the same name, and Mick Jagger.)   Next on the most-expensive list comes the new Yankee Stadium, at $1.5 billion. I've been there, too, and I like it, even if a New York assemblyman says Bronx Bombers brass hasn't complied with requests to show that the two rounds of city-issued tax-exempt bonds - worth $1.2 billion - were sought and used on the up-and-up.   This weekend, the new, $1.15 billion home of "America's Team," the Dallas Cowboys, opens with a George Strait concert - and, like the new Yankee Stadium, it is a marvel of modern technology (see Jerry Jones quote in epigram above).   It has 10 retractable roofs, flat-screen TV monitors throughout, a 159-by-71-foot scoreboard that hangs over the 50-yard-line (see picture) and - this will sound familiar to New York baseball fans - dozens of technology-equipped luxury suites.   Football - football that counts - is still an entire summer away, and I'm sure that just like the Yanks and New York Mets, who opened their new home, Citi Field, in Flushing in April, the Cowboys will disclose the new stadium's features seep out over time, staying in the news cycle and luring potential season-ticket buyers.   If you use the New York baseball stadiums as a measuring stick, the new Cowboys Stadium has a lot to live up to.   Take the building in the Bronx.

Pro Sports Cable TV Packages: The End of the One-Team Fan?

June 1, 2009

I was talking to an old friend the other day, an editor from the newspaper where we both used to work.   She has an 11-year-old son who loves baseball - playing it and watching it - and together they sit in front of the TV to watch both the New York Mets and New York Yankees (though the boy's heart is with the Bronx Bombers).   My friend also is a baseball fan - but she says she doesn't know how someone from this area (Connecticut, about 30 miles north of New York City) can choose between the two baseball teams that represent the Big Apple.   I started to talk about how, for many baseball fans, it's about who your dad likes, which team you saw play in person first and who your favorite superstars are. Right now, I imagine there are a lot of aspiring David Wrights, Jose Reyeses and Derek Jeters on the playground.   But back when I became a baseball fan - in the early 1980s - we also didn't watch sports at home the same way we do now. Most nights, I find myself sitting in front of the TV with the picture-in-picture screens on, TV muted, a third game on the radio and still I'm flipping back to the new, blessed MLB network for live look-ins and updates.   In 1982, you pretty much had to get up and walk over to the TV to turn the channel. That alone could prevent me from watching more than one game these days.