By TERRY LYONS, Editor-in-Chief
BOSTON – Here at Digital Sports Desk, we’ve had “Diggies” for Sports Conferences and we’ve had “Diggies” for “Must Follows,” Baseball and PGA Golf. We’ve had “Diggies” for the NBA and NCAA March Madness. Today, we’re unveiling our first-ever “Hot Diggies,” a list of sports properties to watch closely in 2018 and beyond.
To open our list, we have two entities to keep a very close eye on in the days, weeks, months and years to come. They are the Supreme Court of the United States and (SCOTUS) the State of New Jersey. On or about December 4th, the SCOTUS will begin to hear arguments from lawyers representing the State which is seeking its full rights to legalize sports wagering. New Jersey voters approved the sports industry gaming in a referendum back in 2011, but Federal laws from the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act have limited states’ ability to move forward in the $150-400 billion US sports gambling market. While NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has publicly backed new legislation (on a Federal level with regulation) and NHL powerhouse owner Jeremy Jacobs of the Boston Bruins recently echoed Silver’s viewpoint, the leagues and NCAA have largely moved to halt New Jersey, noting their preference for national level regulation not state-by-state bylaws.
It is our experience – gleaned from many of the sports industry seminars and tech summits – that most industry titans have their heads buried in the sands of the judiciary system with regard to the potential revenue stream that could be the windfall of any and all mainstream sports that ride the waves soon-to-come from the SCOTUS decision. When asked for their “Top 5” things to watch in the year ahead, symposium panelists rarely, if ever, delve into the ramifications of legalized sports betting in the USA.
Already a major factor in Las Vegas (and online), the growing popularity of “in-game” wagering will play a significant role in the inevitable roll-out of sports gambling in the USA.
The SCOTUS decision on NJ might be the most important and influential decision in North America’s sports marketing history.
Here are a few of our other “Hot Diggies 2018,” the companies, properties, entities and trends to watch in the year to come and beyond, some more obscure than others:
National Lacrosse League – Indoor professional lacrosse has been the “next” sport for years, maybe even decades, as it’s always mentioned in the same sentence with soccer, and lately, rugby. The biggest issue for lacrosse has been the very real and perceived differences between “old fashioned” box lacrosse and the more “Americanized” field game. Now, at least half the franchises, the NLL, which starts its season in a few weeks, is on the rise. An updated streaming strategy and new deep-pocketed franchise owners in San Diego and Philadelphia are joining a group of established lacrosse industry titans to re-engineer the NLL under ex-soccer impresario Nick Sakiewicz (@NLLCommish). The NLL is now a hotter property than it’s been in years but can they turn the corner to more mainstream sports appeal in the USA?
MLBAM – Disney acquired a majority stake in MLB’s Advanced Media and BAMTech juggernaut and now MLBAM’s skipper Bob Bowman has announced his end-of-year departure. While many in sports grappled with the issue of how to monetize digital assets, MLB and Bowman moved forward creating new revenue streams and billions in value. What might be ahead for the single most influential entity in North American sports? We’ll be watching this entity as closely as the Supreme Court, maybe even more.
OATH and CATCH Sports – Verizon made its Oath announcement back on April 3, 2017 and Turner announced Catch Sports before that, on January 4, 2017, so what’s the news and “next” thing to watch? Verizon is merging the assets of content kings Yahoo, Huffington Post, AOL and its own Verizon brand to create a new entity with the power and dollars to take on any entity in the sports world. Meanwhile, Turner quietly gathers content, such as their acquisition UEFA soccer Champions League rights for US-English language viewers. Both are well-positioned and will make waves in the sports industry in 2018.
Of course, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter and Google are all making investments in sports programming, so 2018 might become the Wild, Wild West for sports, never mind eSports.
Kiswe Mobile – At the recent NeuLion Sports Media Tech Summit, the talk was about personalization of streaming video. Consumers are asking: “I can get it on my phone, but is it available on a custom feed?” The answer: “Not quite yet,” for many, but one company, Kiswe Mobile, is making a key play in customized live video for sports. It’s already been “soft launched” with their partners at Monumental Sports, as Kiswe provided multiple camera views during summertime games of the WNBA Washington Mystics, but making the streaming experience very unique and easy to navigate for the multitude is the daunting challenge. They are also refining a feature where smart phone and video consumers can gather in a digital environment and not just share the live video, but engage and interact with fellow-consumers in and around the custom video they’re watching. It’s not yet there for the NBA and other leagues, but the time is coming.
Thuuz– A slang, abbreviated tag for “enthused,” the company is emerging with amazing data capture for its broadcast partners to be passed along to consumers. Miss a few minutes of an NFL game? Thuuz not just ‘catch-you-up’ when you log in but will provide the custom highlights of what you missed without any scrolling or searching. Want to see all of Sidney Crosby’s breakaway goals for the year? Thuuz sets it for you up to the minute. The company also has the ability to track audience engagement at any sporting event, quickly demonstrating which games fans were glued to, and which they may just be watching more casually. Thuuz is another great example of customized user experience that is fast becoming the norm.
Monsterful VR– There’s lots of talk, buzz, and pontification about VR, but it remains a solitary experience with a clunky headset that’s not great repeat value for the consumer, at least in the sports world. Just how many times can you sit courtside for old NBA highlights? One company proving a cloud based concept is Monsterful VR. Founded by entrepreneur Jarett Sims, Monsterful tested in real time game experience with MLB’s Detroit Tigers, and parlayed that into a larger program to train future MLB stars. They’re working on a cloud based technology system where you can play against your friends in real time across the country, and in multiple sports. If Monsterful succeeds, fans will get a good glimpse into the future.
Stockade FC and Macon Bacon (low cost and fun team ownership) – The prices being paid for minor league franchises have soared where it is more “ROE” (return on ego), than it is “ROI” (return on investment). However, here are two models to watch in 2018: Foursquare founder Dennis Crowley continues to refine his model in the semipro NPSL, and is reaping great benefits and goodwill in New York’s Hudson Valley, all for a modest 15K entry fee. Then you have longtime marketers Jon Spoelstra and Steve DeLay, who have found similar success in the Coastal Plains League, a competitor of the Cape League baseball in Massachusetts. They’ve used small budgets and smart marketing to turnaround a franchise in Savannah, and now will let turn their attention to Macon with some old fashioned selling techniques, a few rising sales people and lots of creativity for a fraction of the minor league cost.
Long Island Nets: One of the best kept secrets in sports last year was that the Brooklyn Nets had a G-League team. The Long Island Nets played to empty stands at Barclays Center as they readied for a return to the renovated Nassau Coliseum on Long Island. The G-League Nets returned to the roots of their ABA infancy earlier this month, and they did so with a solid grassroots and community effort. Of course, the ABA_NBA Nets shuffled through a long history as basketball journeymen, first born in Teaneck, NY, then to the Island for some rough times (picture the Island Garden in Hempstead) and a few glory years (as the Dr. J-led champs of ABA basketball before jumping to the NBA and bounding between homes in Piscataway and East Rutherford, New Jersey. Now, the G-League iteration plays to a massive market on Long Island with an affordable ticket, as the G-League entrant challenges their parent club who is rebuilding and seeking more interest from Long island basketball fans. Their first step was a good one, honoring Roosevelt, Long Island-bred Julius “The Doctor” Erving.
And then there is … AR – While much of the giddiness about future video viewing has been about VR adoption, AR might be the key for sports and it’s starting to gain some traction, thanks to the new cameras offered by Apple and Samsung. AR is a communal experience, not as much as an individual one, a la VR. Watching in a group environment is what makes sports so appealing, as you can share the experience and those memorable moments with your friends and family members. Now, as the newest smart phones become more mainstream, look for sports brands, and even leagues, to start making an AR investment. There’s lots of talk of that as many as six Super Bowl commercials will involve an AR experience, and you can surely picture Peyton Manning popping into your living room at halftime through your smart phone. It’s not so far-fetched any more, and certainly something to be on the look-out for in the sports season ahead.
By TERRY LYONS, Editor in Chief
While wearing his brand new uniform, the horrific, season-ending injury came in the very first half of this season’s very first game. Immediately after impact, an unusual sound of silence fell upon the sporting arena where a contest must thrive on the roar of the crowd, the banter between teammates or the strategic instructions being shouted from the sidelines.
Instead? A hush.
When a serious injury occurs in sports, the rule book gets tossed to the wayside. No time-out is necessary as medical personnel, often from both benches, sprint to the injured player. The seriousness of the injury can be measured by the reactions of the players – the opposing players, especially. In some cases, the look of terror and agony on the faces of teammates and opponents alike is more harrowing than the expression on the face of the injured player himself. That player is going into shock.
First, there are signs of sheer panic and helplessness as young athletes who are physical marvels, players who can literally lift automobiles or spirits or won-loss records, find themselves only able to wave their hands to direct team doctors and athletic trainers to the injured. Knees buckle as teammates cringe and immediately begin their own silent prayers. Tear ducts often open up, and huge crocodile-tears well in their eyes.
If and when the television cameras capture those emotions, a national audience watching the game, for enjoyment, immediately feels the pain, like none other. It literally travels across the universe and into our living rooms. Sometimes, it can be so gruesome, we, as spectators to these great sporting events, simply dive for the remote and look away, and a lump the size of a damn golf ball, forms in our throats.
Our hearts go out to the player, of course, but also to his family who we know is one of two places. They’re either at the game and experiencing the nightmare live or they are “with us,” watching a screen and listening to the commentators who’re trying to calm a broad audience and warn onlookers, but at the same time, they know their words are being relayed to the family members who are desperately seeking news, a picture, a sign from their loved one.
Frequent readers of this column might think I’m writing about Gordon Hayward, the All-Star scorer and prized free agent signee of the Boston Celtics, who fell awkwardly in the team’s opener at Cleveland earlier this week, breaking his ankle in his first game in Celtics green. He underwent successful surgery at New England Baptist hospital, here in Boston, yesterday, and his video message to the TD Garden crowd on Wednesday night said everything you’d hoped to hear with a simple, “I’ll be alright.”
But, today, I’m writing about Ben Abercrombie of Hoover, Alabama.
On September 16th, Abercrombie, a freshman defensive back who earned immediate playing time for Harvard University’s football team, made a tackle against Rhode Island with 13 minutes left in the first half of his first collegiate football game. He suffered a catastrophic injury to his neck and was motionless, unable to move his arms or legs after the hit. Thankfully, his spinal cord remained intact but he was motionless because of severe trauma to his neck.
After the injury, Abercrombie – (from here on out, we’re simply calling him Ben) – was rushed to a hospital in Providence, Rhode Island where he had surgery to repair the fracture and relieve pressure mounting on his spinal cord. He was on a ventilator and had no feeling in his arms or legs. Since that time, some remarkable things have happened each and every day, albeit with setbacks.
- Ben’s father, Marty, established a page to provide updates and it can be read HERE
- Ben and his family are people of faith and they are relying heavily on their faith, prayer and encouragement.
- The Harvard football team, led by Coach Tim Murphy, has provided tremendous support, with coaching staff and players making frequent trips from Cambridge to Providence to visit Ben and his parents. A game ball, presented September 24th a symbolic gesture to a lifetime of real, meaningful support.
- Ben developed pneumonia, a common problem for a patient on a ventilator.
- From September 29-30th, with the aid of antibiotics, Ben’s conditioned improved.
- By October 3rd, the Harvard coaches, players and community rallied in full force, creating bracelets and other signs of support with the nickname “BadgerCrombie” emblazoned. The nickname tells you everything you need to know about the fight this young athlete is ready to mount in the days, weeks and months ahead.
- The Harvard Varsity Club with able assistance from the school’s Athletic Department and the Friends of Harvard Football club established the Benson M. Abercrombie fund which will not only assist Ben but also other Harvard student-athletes who might suffer such injuries in the future.
- In further support, #StandUpForBen was established for social media channels and the good people of Hoover, Alabama as well as fans in Boston and Cambridge, are rallying behind the efforts. Quite effectively and admirably, some local restaurants in Hoover are donating proceeds to the fund-raising efforts.
- Cards, letters and calls of encouragement have come from all corners of the USA, the sports world and from friends – old and new.
- On October 11th, Ben was moved to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta for further rehabilitation as he begins the road to recovery.
Frequent readers of this column know the style. The background of the story is put forth and the point is often buried deep beneath the lede, here. The idea is to leave you with some deeper thoughts to carry long after you read this missive.
Those thoughts drift from the time we witness the sporting injury to the time we internalize the accident and start down a slippery slope.
The impact of a terrible injury to another sometimes brings selfish thoughts of “ruining” a season for us, especially when there’s been so much hype and anticipation of good things to come – maybe even thoughts of a championship going down the drain right then and there. My guess if that quite a number of Celtics fans who witnessed Hayward’s injury earlier this week had those thoughts.
I know I did.
But, then my rudder of life – my wife – within minutes of us watching TNT’s tremendous and proper coverage anchored by Kevin Harlan’s professional call of the Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Boston Celtics game, brought me back down to earth. She reminded me of Ben.
While Hayward lay in New England Baptist, rightfully and wonderfully supported by a legion of Boston sports fans, a tremendous organization and medical staff from the Celtics and New England’s finest doctors, he did so, knowing he would walk – and very possibly play basketball again. He also holds financial security with a guaranteed NBA contract that will pay him some $128 million over the next few years (($29.7, $31.2, $32.7, $34.2). All the power to him, of course, as he earned that right as the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement delivers half the fortune of ticket revenue, merch, global network and online streaming rights to the players as a whole, many benefitting greatly as the money increased so drastically in the past year or two.
Please understand, this is in no way a criticism of Hayward, the Celtics or the NBA. It is merely a statement of cold, hard facts.
Ben, on the other hand, is being supported mightily by Harvard, his team, his hometown and the good people from high school and home State. The fund has been established and you can donate HERE. But, medical bills are mounting, insurance coverage is being sorted out, complete with deductibles and everything else that comes along with a horrific case such as Ben’s.
Phone calls, cards, and letters of encouragement will be the spark to fuel each day of the battle ahead for Ben Abercrombie, but cold, hard cash donations will help him and his family along in a big way. And if the money flows in, as it should and damn-well better, it might help some other student-athlete in the future. Please don’t make the mistake and assume that because a student is enrolled at Harvard that his-or-her family is well-off. That is very often not the case.
And, by the way, the sledge-hammer I promised to you earlier in this column is now ready to be delivered.
Twenty-two years ago tonight, October 20, 1995, a young, freshman hockey player named Travis Roy took a terrible fall only 11 seconds into his first shift for the Boston University ice hockey team. He was paralyzed that night. Today is Travis Roy Day in Boston and I ask you to think back and say a prayer for Travis Roy and Denna Laing, a young women’s ice hockey player of the Boston Pride, injured during the Winter Classic festivities of 2016.
Somehow, as much as I feel for the disappointment of not seeing Gordon Hayward play basketball this season and maybe watching the Boston Celtics compete deep into May or even June, my thoughts, prayers and a few bucks are going today to Travis, and to Denna, and, to Ben.
By TERRY LYONS, Editor in Chief
BOSTON – A sharp No. 2 pencil was used to write the entry in my official Bob Carpenter Baseball Scorebook late yesterday afternoon. It read “4-3,” and for those not well-versed in the code-breaking of baseball, that meant Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia hit a ground ball that Houston second baseman Jose Altuve fielded and tossed to Astros’ first baseman Yuli Gurriel who squeezed his glove for his 12th and final putout and a 5-4 Houston win in the American League Divisional Championship game. With it, Gurriel squeezed the last bastion of summer out of an old northeastern city in front of 37, 305 fans who remained in hope of a two-out rally to save their season.
Like the concept of death itself, the final out sent the entire 2017 Red Sox season rushing through our minds. From the same Pedroia grounding out to Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer for the first Red Sox at-bat of the season on a 48-degree Monday on the third day of April, through glorious spring and summer days to yesterday’s final hope, an amazing inside-the-park home run hit sharply by Sox third baseman Rafael Devers who led off the ninth inning with his club trailing, 5-3, the season went by so fast and it is now gone.
Gone? Like Red Sox manager John Farrell, who was tossed from his club’s final game yesterday after a short hook from umpire Mark Wegner?
Gone? Like David Ortiz?
Gone? Like starts from David Price every four days?
Gone? Like effective rotation pitching from the likes of Drew Pomeranz or Doug Fister or Eduardo Rodriguez?
The end of a baseball season is tough on New Englanders. The very second Gurriel squeezed his glove yesterday and champagne corks flew in the visitor’s clubhouse at Fenway Park, visions of ice and snow danced through our heads. Not a light dusting of fluffy stuff. No. The vision was heavy, ice-laden chunks of rock solid precipitation left on our walkways and driveways overnight. Pedroia’s ground-out to end the season did exactly what every imaginative Bostonian hopes to never do. It brought upon winter.
This winter will be a very interesting off-season for Red Sox GM Dave Dombrowki who was hired back in mid-August of 2015 and has only one postseason victory to show. While the favorite pastime for Bostonians – well, for all Americans for that matter – is finger-pointing and playing the blame game, Dombrowski is faced with a long winter of soul-searching.
Does he go for the easy out, the quick fix of firing Farrell who is under the critical eye of the ravenous Red Sox nation of fandom and in the crosshairs of the local media who enjoy catering a dish of heads on a platter to those fans, or does Dombrowski look in the mirror and at his roster for the answers?
Does Dombrowski dare take the hard road, recently travelled by Boston Red Sox GM Danny Ainge? While Ainge had already secured a soulmate of a coach in Brad Stevens, a once-in-a-lifetime great hire to lead the pro basketball team, Ainge stared at a Celtics roster which overachieved enough to win 53 games and secured the best record in the East but was sorely lacking for the longterm. The Celtics blew-up the entire roster and retooled for this season by reaching into the free agent vault and orchestrating ballsy trades to improve personnel for the NBA of 2018-19.
Should Dombrowski do the same to the American League East champion Sox?
As we rake the fallen leaves, stock our cord or two of firewood and dust-off the snow shovels, to be placed on the porch for easy access soon enough, the fate of the manager, Farrell, will most likely be the first of Dombrowski’s decisions to play out as the Red Sox pack-up the balls and bats at Fenway. Here, we’re of the belief it was not Farrell who could take the mound in place of Fister or Rick Porcello. It was not Farrell who could bat clean-up in place of Big Papi. It was not farrell who could patch-up reliever Tyler Thornberg’s shoulder. All Farrell could do was help carry newly acquired club spark-plug and lively batter Eduardo Nunez off the field last week after he suffered a season-ending knee flare-up.
Farrell has to manage the roster available to him, and late-season injuries, batting slumps, fatigued starting pitchers and spotty middle relievers come with the territory of being a big league skipper.
When it was over, so abruptly, yesterday, Farrell reflected, saying, “(I’m) extremely proud for the way we went out and worked, the way we were a very competitive team throughout. We won a lot of baseball games. You win the division, that’s, I think, a major accomplishment. We didn’t meet all of our goals, that’s obvious by the ending here today.
“But, we have seen some really good, young players continue to develop. We had a number of challenges thrown our way from individual injuries to performance, but as a team, they stuck together. They care for one another and they fully compete right to the end. Right down to the end, obviously, with Raffey’s (Rafael Devers) inside-the-park home run, there was still energy, still life you could feel. The resiliency we talked about, but this is a very competitive, close-knit team.”
Yes, a close-knit team that might actually have to knit new Sox during this long, cold, cruel winter in Boston.
By Terry Lyons, Editor-in-Chief
The concept of a lovable loser in sports resonates with many. The thought conjures up images of fans, with paper grocery bags over their heads, caught on film and embarrassed at the very prospect of of attending a game for their favorite team, their cellar-dweller, their 0-and-whatever last place loser. As a smile comes along with the thought, the vision, someone who enjoys the sporting side of life, can only think of one thing better than a “lovable loser.’
A lovable winner.
George Foreman is that lovable winner and his life story has been well told in a new documentary to air on EPIX tonight (Sept. 13th – 8:00pm ET). The documentary, has been produced by George Foreman Jr. who has forever chronicled the legacy of his father, Olympic Gold Medalist and former heavyweight champion of the world. The show is ably exec-produced by Gary Cohen, who gave us “Requiem for the BIG EAST,” and it is directed by Chris Perkel (Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives). Ross Hockrow did the editing and Jill Burkhart and Valerie Bishop Pearson are producers.
While Foreman’s recent relevance has been as a celebrity, an entrepreneur and spokesman for all things “Grilling,” even an aging sports fan might forget the Foreman of 1968, proudly holding his Mexico City Olympics gold medal for winning the heavyweight division over considerable competition from Cuba and Europe. One might forget his sleek, carved physique born from a tough upbringing in the 5th Ward of Houston, Texas, an area in the news recently as Hurricane Harvey devastated Texas and the Gulf Coast region.
“George Foreman was a tornado that blew thorough the heavyweight division, but then, it was gone,” tv commentator excellent, Larry Merchant reminded us in the documentary.
Cohen and Foreman Jr. compiled all the great footage and highlighted it early and often in the piece, bringing back memories from Foreman’s post-Olympics visit to see President Lyndon Johnson (a fellow Texan) at The White House. Nostalgic clips from Foreman’s fight against Smoking’ Joe Frazier in Kingston, Jamaica sets the scene, chronicling Foreman’s surprise second-round knock-out of Frazier, complete with the memorable call by the late Howard Cosell. The sight will stir the memories which are sure to send chills up a spine for any fight fan. It is reason, alone, not to miss this gem.
Of course, the “real” George Foreman story is that of an amazing comeback, at age 45 nonetheless.
“I’m closer to 50 than I am to 20,” said the legend on film, with that trademark twinkle in his eyes, teasing the very story we only thought we remembered.
The rest of the documentary does the job and takes you on that memorable ride, a wonderful, classic sports memory we all might’ve forgotten if not for for this terrific work.