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Volume 20 No. 42


MLB Advanced Media believes its work in augmented reality with Apple could open a new level of fan engagement and understanding of baseball’s statistical nuances, and perhaps make going to a live game never quite the same again.

Baseball’s digital arm was part of Apple’s special event this month unveiling the iPhone 8, 8 Plus and X. That event outlined work developers such as MLBAM are doing with ARKit, a new Apple developer capability within the iOS 11 platform enabling augmented reality experiences on the iPhone and iPad.

Though still very much in prototype mode, MLBAM is developing an advance to its At Bat mobile application in which pointing the iPhone or iPad at a particular player would automatically generate statistics and biographical information.

The technology will provide fans at the ballpark with augmented reality experiences on the iPad and iPhone.
But going beyond other notable augmented reality efforts such as the “Pokémon Go” game, MLBAM is also looking to connect the augmented reality to its existing Statcast data platform. That linking would allow potential scenarios such as pointing the phone at a runner on base and learning his probability of successfully stealing the next base, or an outfielder’s defensive range based on where he is positioned.

“When you’re at the game, you can hold up your iPhone and see real-time information and stats on top of the game you’re watching,” said Phil Schiller, Apple senior vice president of worldwide marketing.

Other existing Statcast data such as exit velocities on hits and catch probabilities for outfielders — relatively new measures quickly gaining in stature and acceptance on their own — are also being incorporated into the augmented reality offering.

“We see this as a big opportunity to take Statcast and bring it into the real world and an enhanced ballpark setting,” said Chad Evans, MLBAM senior vice president of mobile product development and lead for MLBAM’s augmented reality work. “We don’t think anybody else has married augmented reality and live data in this way before.”

The economic model for baseball’s augmented reality offering has not been finalized.

The work is actually the merging of several different technologies. The augmented reality component itself uses something Apple calls “world tracking” in which the iPhone or iPad camera, motion sensors and iOS 11 software map out a three-dimensional view of where a user is. That is coupled with the Statcast platform that itself relies on a combination of radar and optical tracking equipment already installed at each MLB ballpark.

Making this work for the fan will also rely on ballpark wireless networks, which have been a keen focus of MLBAM in recent years and upgraded throughout the league. But the amount of wireless data required to make the augmented reality offering work at scale is less than what is needed for some existing content such as mobile video highlights.

MLBAM’s augmented reality offering is being developed with a goal of a public rollout for the 2018 season. MLBAM has tested the product at AT&T Park in San Francisco, Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, and Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. Development work will continue during the Arizona Fall League, where Salt River Fields at Talking Stick in Scottsdale, Ariz., is set up for Statcast.

“We still have a lot of work do, and have to prove out the various use cases, but we’re incredibly excited about the potential this has,” Evans said.

n Sept. 14, CNBC’s David Faber asked CBS Chairman and CEO Les Moonves a simple question: Is Nielsen still relevant?

His answer: “Yes. They are still the way we get paid. … Nielsen is not perfect. They are getting better.”

Later that same day, I had the opportunity to interview Linda Yaccarino, NBCUniversal chairman of advertising sales and client partnerships, on stage at our Game Changers conference in New York. I asked her the same question and her answer was much more forceful.

“Part of the reason the ratings are seemingly going down — and they won’t be going back up — is because of the unfortunate inertia and lack of movement by the only one rating system that we have in this country. That’s Nielsen,” she said.

It is not unusual to hear Yaccarino bash Nielsen. She’s been a longtime critic of the ratings service, especially around its efforts to measure non-traditional viewing, which essentially means out-of-home and digital viewing.

Yaccarino believes Nielsen has moved way too slowly. To underscore that point, earlier this year she led an effort to sell $1 billion in ad inventory for NBCUniversal channels by using non-Nielsen guarantees. During our interview, she did not say how those sales efforts were progressing, but she did speak of her frustration that marketers are not embracing a new form of measurement.

“I ask [marketers] all the time — if I’m willing to guarantee a certain business outcome …,” she said, pointing to a measurement that includes television viewing, out-of-home viewing and digital viewing through partnerships with companies such as Snapchat, Apple News, Vox and Buzzfeed.

Linda Yaccarino said Nielsen needs to move faster to allow for changes in media consumption.

Yaccarino’s tough talk does not mean that NBCUniversal has given up on Nielsen. In fact, Yaccarino said she is in “mature talks” to sign up for Nielsen’s out-of-home service that ESPN, Fox and Turner Sports already are using.

“We just want to be sure that they get it right,” she said. “We want to make sure that the co-viewing is accounted for properly. We want to make sure that in every sport that we have, in every business that we have, we’re not just talking about once-a-week football. We’re talking about NBCUniversal. Out-of-home is extremely important to our company, including a brand like CNBC.

During her Game Changers interview, she spoke about NBC’s decision to stop relying on Nielsen data for CNBC because the ratings service did not measure out-of-home viewing. Most people, she said, watch CNBC during the day when they are out of the home and at work.

“Guess what? CNBC’s still on the air, right?” Yaccarino asked facetiously. “We came up with a new metric that actually delivered real KPIs (key performance indicators) for the companies that we do business with.”

As traditional television ratings continue to fall, these types of out-of-home measurements increasingly are important to big media companies. For example, Yaccarino said out-of-home viewing from the Rio Olympics accounted for 30 percent of total viewing, compared to two years earlier in Rio when there was no way to measure out-of-home viewing.

“It’s more and more important to us every day,” she said. “It’s actually table stakes, as we see it. We’re very bullish on including out-of-home in our businesses. We just want to get it right.”

Yaccarino also spoke frankly about digital offerings, which increasingly are attracting the attention of ad buyers. Any problem she has with Nielsen pales in comparison with measurement problems on Facebook and Google, she said.

“While there are challenges in the inability to accelerate measurement of consumer behavior by Nielsen — the only one choice — on the flip side to digital, it’s complete chaos,” she said. “Once you take out the bots, once you take out completed views, once you take out viewability, once you take out the charges for the ad networks that you were buying, your CPM is not your CPM that looked really cheap to your procurement officer on the piece of paper. Your CPM is probably 30 percent higher. This is 30 percent higher for content that isn’t stopping you dead in your tracks. It’s not making you scream at your TV screen to make sure your team gets a touchdown.”

Yaccarino referenced a report from Pivotal Research Group from earlier this month that alleged that Facebook tells ad buyers it reaches more 18- to 24-year-olds in the United States than the census says actually exist in this country.

“If NBC was delivering non-human traffic, was involved in any type of the fraud or what we would call the underbelly of the business, we would be testifying in Washington. It’s gotta stop,” she said. “I would think that was a big alarm and wake-up call. We’ll see how it plays out.”

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Yaccarino, who worked at Turner before moving to NBC, had an interesting answer when I asked her to name one of her mentors in the business: Ted Turner.

“What I learned was an unwavering conviction for what you believe in. Unwavering. A ‘no’ didn’t really deter you. It only energized you. I was astounded by the conviction when there was a belief in what you do. That was very, very inspiring to me.”

John Ourand can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @Ourand_SBJ.

Jamie Mottram, the man responsible for launching the sports blogs For The Win and FanHouse, now is president of an apparel manufacturer.

Earlier this month, Mottram started working for BreakingT, a sports apparel company located in the suburbs near Washington, D.C., that makes T-shirts commemorating various sports events within hours of their completion.

Jamie Mottram has settled in as CEO of BreakingT.
Mottram said it was his sports editorial background in identifying the types of stories that go viral that made him a fit for the company. BreakingT launched for its ability to identify those viral stories and make T-shirts about them.

“We are trying to capture these moments really quickly,” Mottram said. “Our focus is in being nimble and being excited about sports.”

Hours after Washington Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer tied an MLB record by striking out 20 Detroit Tigers in May, BreakingT was selling a red T-shirt that had 20 Ks across the front for $24.

Hours after the Kansas City Chiefs beat the New England Patriots on the NFL’s opening Thursday night, it produced a shirt in team colors with the slogan “The Boston TD Party, Foxborough, MA, 9.7.17.”

Launched by a couple of Washington, D.C.-area sports fans in 2014, BreakingT essentially had operated on a shoestring. It brought Mottram on board as president and has raised around $500,000.

The MLB Players Association started licensing BreakingT shirts in 2015. BreakingT has marketing partnerships with SB Nation and FanSided, and it has a distribution deal with Nationals Park, which sells the T-shirts in its stadium stores. It has similar deals set up in San Francisco, Toronto and Milwaukee, Mottram said. Another of his responsibilities will be to sign more of those deals.

The shirts go beyond sports, venturing into pop culture (“Game of Thrones” and “The Walking Dead”), politics and music.

As Amazon launches its “Thursday Night Football” NFL stream this week, there’s another sign that the Seattle-based company is getting even more serious about the sports business.

Earlier this month, Amazon hired Brian Potter to head up communications for its sports video business. Potter had run communications for CSN Mid-Atlantic, a job he had for nearly seven years. Previously, he had PR jobs with the Atlanta Thrashers, Washington Capitals and Tampa Bay Lightning.

Potter will report to Rena Lunak.

Amazon’s sports ambitions remain a big question mark in the overall sports business, even as the company has been aggressive in trying to obtain rights. Reports have had Amazon in talks to pick up various sports rights across the globe, including the ATP Tour in Britain, the English Premier League in Britain and auto racing in various markets.

Jim DeLorenzo heads up sports for Amazon Video Channels.