Four Takeaways from SeatGeek’s On Deck Sports and Technology Conference

This week, SeatGeek — the folks that bring you a new way of purchasing sports, concert, and theater tickets online — hosted the On Deck Sports and Technology Conference in New York City. In its third year, the conference is designed to bring together leagues and teams with startup companies and other disruptive-technology and service developers to discuss the latest in sports tech.

on deck logoTopics ranged from virtual reality in training, the impact of daily fantasy, and advanced statistical data analytics. Most of what was discussed was not directly applicable to a sports-video–production professional — there was lots of talk about forming startup companies and venture capital — but a few key media-related topics did emerge from the agenda. Here are four takeaways from the show.

1. Drones are Progressing Quickly But Still Have a Way To Go
There are few topics more buzz-worthy in the industry right now than drones. On one hand, key governmental rulings, such as the one just passed down by the FAA for the NFL, are helping to move things forward, but accidents, such as the one that took place at the US Open tennis tournament in New York, are always threatening to set everything back.

“Right now, we are talking about an industry that is just beginning to grow,” said Chris Proudlove, SVP, Global Aerospace, a provider of aerospace insurance. “There is a lot of new technology that, for us, hasn’t been fully proven yet. I think we need to go through a period of the industry maturing and the public perception of what drones are and what drones can do to get us to the point where we in the insurance industry and, frankly, those in the crowd watching drones fly over their head know they are being operated safely and that they aren’t going to fall out of the sky. I think we’ve got some way to go.”

It’s worth noting that, just a year ago, drones could not be flown commercially in America at all. Now there’s a pretty broad exemption system that is opening the door to significantly more use. It remains to be seen when that will translate into real opportunities for drones to be used in live sports production in the way that a Skycam would .

2. Business Exec Pyne Doesn’t See the Sports-Rights Bubble Bursting
George Pyne, an American business executive who currently heads sports hospitality firm Bruin Sports Capital, has enjoyed a long career in the sports industry, including time as head of new business development at NASCAR beginning in the mid ’90s.

While on stage, he was asked about the rapidly expanding sports-rights business and whether he expects the infamous sports-rights “bubble” to burst amid the turmoil facing distribution of content.

“I remember 15-20 years ago when we were selling NASCAR TV rights,” he said, “and I was the only guy going in to Bill France and giving him all of these reasons why there was a rights bubble and he said, ‘George, that’s what people have been telling me for 20 years, and, every time we go to market, the rights have gone up.’ Historically, the cost of sports rights has gone up, because sports is reality TV and its probably the best form of reality TV out there. So I think sports will hold its own in the changing landscape.”

3. Consolidation of Digital Rights Made StatCast, Instant Replay in MLB Possible
MLB Advanced Media EVP/CTO Joe Inzerillo gave a presentation of the new StatCast system that has taken baseball by storm this season. The presentation was nothing new for those who had seen it before, but Inzerillo did get a little bit into the nature of the MLBAM business environment that allowed innovations like StatCast and replay review to be implemented.

“By being able to support not just a good technology team but a thriving business under the leadership of [MLB President/CEO] Bob Bowman, we’re in a position where we can experiment with things like this,” he said. “It’s weird to think now — it seems sort of natural — but, in 2000, if somebody had said the Web guys are going to run instant replay for the league, people would have raised an eyebrow. So I definitely think that consolidation of rights allowed us the wherewithal to go ahead with an experiment.

“The commercial success continues to fuel operations like this,” he continued. “This isn’t the last thing that we are playing around with. We have a lot of cool technology that we are working with. I think it was essential in the case of baseball to get that innovation because we could just put resources against it. [Statcast] was really hard. There wasn’t necessarily the pressure of instant replay with timelines associated with it, but we wanted to get this to market as soon as we possibly could. The ground truths experiments alone, just trying to figure this out and see if this was accurate, all of that stuff took a lot of resources that I can’t imagine an individual team being able to muster on their own.”

4. Fantasy Sports Is Mobile
In a presentation on the company’s fantasy-sports strategy, Kelly Hirano, VP, engineering, Yahoo Sports, offered a peek into daily fantasy features and some of the improvements made on the backend to handle the scale of traffic.

Using the example of Dallas quarterback Tony Romo’s game-winning touchdown pass to Jason Witten during Week 1 of the NFL season, Hirano showed just how dramatic the use of mobile to track fantasy has become.

“A vast, vast, vast majority of our traffic [during games] is on mobile,” he said. “I’m sure this is not surprising. I’m sure all of you, when you are watching a game and see a touchdown, go right to your phone to see what is happening in fantasy.”

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