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.