The Future of the Sports Stadium: Connected

An interesting piece in Bloomberg on the future of the sports stadiums in the United States and the rest of the world. Think Wi-Fi networks, apps, mobile food ordering, and shorter trips to the bathroom:

Sports lovers have already proved there’s an appetite for the connected stadium. As many as a quarter of attendees at Nets games connect to the Barclays Center’s wireless network, according to a spokeswoman. But getting them to download the team’s app to try out some of the in-house features has been a challenge. Jayne Bussman-Wise, the digital director of the Nets, says the team is promoting the app to season ticket holders and on the arena’s website, and adding exclusive features such as camera angles and seat upgrades to attract more fans.

The 49ers have big ideas, but many of them are still in the planning phase. For one, the team intends to create a feature in its app to allow users in the new Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara to see which of their friends are attending a game and where they’re sitting.

For his bathroom-line monitor, Garland hasn’t yet figured out which combination of connected devices and services will be used. The 49ers have looked at using cameras that would wirelessly report to a system that predicts the wait time, Garland says. The team is also exploring measuring traffic based on wireless signals from people’s mobile phones in a particular area, as many mapping services do to predict traffic on the road. There’s also a lower-tech solution, such as stationing attendants nearby equipped with iPads to monitor the line.

It sounds convincing, but it’s not going to make the trip to the stadium more popular if the ticket prices keep increasing every year.

Click through the article to read about how FIFA and the NHL are making advances as well.

What it Takes to Air a Football Game on FOX

Writing in The Verge, David Pierce traces what it takes for FOX to air a football game on a given Sunday. FOX is the network broadcasting the Super Bowl in 2014, so every game is essentially a preparation for the team that brings us close to the action on our televisions:

It starts at 6AM on Saturday, in the cold, dark Foxboro morning, as the Fox team shows up to unload three 53-foot trucks. Stadiums don’t have much in the way of built-in A / V equipment, so Fox (and every other network) carries everything the crew will need for the weekend inside those trucks — the show has to be built and broken down every weekend. This Saturday, it has to be even faster: there’s a college football game at 4PM.

Kevin Callahan, Fox’s director of technical operations, estimates Fox credentialed between 150 and 200 people for the weekend, from Troy Aikman and director Rich Russo to runners and microphone holders. The network brings in about $25 million worth of equipment, with thousands of individual parts. (Callahan is reluctant to even guess at the number: “It depends on how small you want to get,” he says. “I mean, the production switcher alone has 1,000 buttons on it.”) Callahan and his crew have to wire the entire stadium, rig up cameras and audio, and make sure hundreds of different parts are able to connect to each other. “This is actually a very well-oiled machine,” he says. “The mobile units that we’re using here were designed in 2005 and 2006 — at the time they were eight years ahead of their time.”

In one truck, graphics and production. In another, 20 feet away in the concrete garage underneath the stands, replay and audio. Russo estimates he has 15 cameras and 13 tape machines this week, capturing and replaying angles from all over the stadium — there’s even a helicopter flying around shooting from above. The graphics team, eight or so young guys in polo shirts, is preparing more than 1,000 graphics, with every record or outcome accounted for. Rich Russo and producer Richie Zyontz talk to everyone through speakers and headsets, voicing their constant chatter to the 150-member Fox crew throughout the weekend. Colby Bourgeios, the team’s technical director, sits at his giant switcher ready to put any camera, any person, any replay on TV with the press of one of a thousand buttons. Audio consultant Fred Aldous watches and listens on his own console, making sure everything sounds as good as it looks — in stereo and 5.1-channel surround sound.

Eventually, nearly everyone says, you just learn to do it by feel.

This bit on 4K television was interesting:

Fox has been using 4K cameras for three years, but not to broadcast the game, which the crew says would be pointless given current bandwidth and TV technology. It’s all about replay. “We can do things like zoom in, look at a guy’s foot… we can see precisely a nice, solid foot, and a line right there, and know that the guy is in,” says Colby Bourgeios, Fox’s technical director. This year is about fine-tuning — finding the right camera, the right lens, the right capture and extraction devices. But even when 4K works convincingly, Callahan says, “we need it to be the first or second replay. If we were to sit there and have a 4K replay that we could show two plays later… and that would have reversed the official’s call, well, that’s awful.” He won’t add anything to the Fox broadcast that will slow it down, or impede it in any way.

Good read if you’re into football and/or sports.

The Philadelphia 76ers and the 9,999:1 Bet

I’m not a betting man, but this is an intriguing betting story from Las Vegas. According to the AP, one Vegas bookmaker, LVH, has listed an astronomical 9,999 to 1 odds that the Philadelphia 76ers will win the NBA title in 2014:

As the NBA season tips off, the over-under for total wins for the 76ers this year is 16.5, the lowest of any team and the lowest that LVH sports book oddsmaker Jeff Sherman can remember putting up on any NBA team in the last decade or so.

That means optimistic Philly fans — assuming there are any for a team with only a handful of legitimate NBA players — can win money if they bet their team can win 17 games or more in the 82-game regular season. Conversely, those who think the 76ers are even worse than they look can cash in if the season win total is 16 or fewer.

“They’ve pretty much made it known in Philadelphia they’re trying to get the No. 1 pick for Andrew Wiggins and not holding back,” Sherman said. “Teams try for the draft pick sometimes late in the season, but they’re basically doing it the whole season.”

It gets even better for true believers. They can get astronomical odds of 9,999-1 if they want to wager at the LVH on the 76ers winning the NBA title.

“It was the highest number our computers would let us put in,” Sherman said.

The 76ers aren’t alone in chasing after Wiggins, who has NBA scouts drooling even though he he’s just beginning his freshman season at Kansas. Things are pretty dismal in the desert, too, with the Phoenix Suns posted as the next worst NBA team with an over-under total of 19.5 wins.

That’s your bit of sports trivia at your next party/social gathering.

On Genetic Advantages, Doping, and Sports

Malcolm Gladwell, in my opinion, has published the best piece he’s written this year in “Man and Superman.” The central question he posits: do genetic advantages make sports (in particular, cycling) unfair compared to those who choose to dope? Paraphrased: what qualifies as a sporting chance in athletic competitions? He goes through a brief comparison of elite athletes in skiing, long-distance running, but his primary focus is on cycling.

When Hamilton joined Armstrong on the U.S. Postal Service racing team, he was forced to relearn the sport, to leave behind, as he puts it, the romantic world “where I used to climb on my bike and simply hope I had a good day.” The makeover began with his weight. When Michele Ferrari, the key Postal Service adviser, first saw Hamilton, he told him he was too fat, and in cycling terms he was. Riding a bicycle quickly is a function of the power you apply to the pedals divided by the weight you are carrying, and it’s easier to reduce the weight than to increase the power. Hamilton says he would come home from a workout, after burning thousands of calories, drink a large bottle of seltzer water, take two or three sleeping pills—and hope to sleep through dinner and, ideally, breakfast the following morning. At dinner with friends, Hamilton would take a large bite, fake a sneeze, spit the food into a napkin, and then run off to the bathroom to dispose of it. He knew that he was getting into shape, he says, when his skin got thin and papery, when it hurt to sit down on a wooden chair because his buttocks had disappeared, and when his jersey sleeve was so loose around his biceps that it flapped in the wind. At the most basic level, cycling was about physical transformation: it was about taking the body that nature had given you and forcibly changing it.

“Lance and Ferrari showed me there were more variables than I’d ever imagined, and they all mattered: wattages, cadence, intervals, zones, joules, lactic acid, and, of course, hematocrit,” Hamilton writes. “Each ride was a math problem: a precisely mapped set of numbers for us to hit. . . . It’s one thing to go ride for six hours. It’s another to ride for six hours following a program of wattages and cadences, especially when those wattages and cadences are set to push you to the ragged edge of your abilities.”

Hematocrit, the last of those variables, was the number they cared about most. It refers to the percentage of the body’s blood that is made up of oxygen-carrying red blood cells. The higher the hematocrit, the more endurance you have. (Mäntyranta had a very high hematocrit.) The paradox of endurance sports is that an athlete can never work as hard as he wants, because if he pushes himself too far his hematocrit will fall. Hamilton had a natural hematocrit of forty-two per cent—which is on the low end of normal. By the third week of the Tour de France, he would be at thirty-six per cent, which meant a six-per-cent decrease in his power—in the force he could apply to his pedals. In a sport where power differentials of a tenth of a per cent can be decisive, this “qualifies as a deal breaker.”

A must-read if you’re at all interested in sports, genetics, and the doping as cheating debate.

This sentence in the concluding paragraph is telling:

It is a vision of sports in which the object of competition is to use science, intelligence, and sheer will to conquer natural difference. 

Ichiro Suzuki and His Care for Bats

Very interesting New York Times piece highlighting how Ichiro Suzuki cares for his bats. To Ichiro Suzki, bats are his Stradivarius violins:

Today, after a decade in the major leagues, Suzuki still displays that same reverence on a daily basis, caring for his bats like Stradivarius violins. While most players dump their bats in cylindrical canvas bags when they are not using them, Suzuki neatly stacks his best eight bats inside a shockproof, moisture-free black case that he keeps close by his locker at home and on the road.

Said Suzuki: “In Japan we take care of our instruments, our bats and our gloves…We take care of them well because these things are very important.”