Former Heisman Winner Ricky Williams Opening Up VR Sports, Cannabis Experience in Metaverse Called ‘Highsman House’
Former All-Pro NFL running back and Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams is opening a virtual reality sports and cannabis experience in the metaverse called “Highsman House.” The space is being built by the Microsoft-owned social VR platform AltspaceVR and will consist of a digital football stadium, swimming pool, and Highsman dispensary and merch shop for guests to smoke virtual cannabis and dress their avatars with virtual apparel.
Williiams, who was suspended five times in his NFL career for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy, will use the digital space to promote his Highsman brand, which sells real-life cannabis and apparel. Fans can access Heisman House through Oculus VR headsets or a computer. Williams will also host livestreamed sports viewing parties on Heisman House, starting with a watch party for Monday Night Football on Sept. 26.
Williams’ Highsman brand will also use AltspaceVR to host online conversations centered on cannabis and well-being. ESPN partnered with AltspaceVR in 2017 to livestream an interview in virtual reality with NFL kicker Cairo Santos. Other athletes invested in cannabis businesses include MLB Hall of Famer David Ortiz, former NBA star Chris Webber and current NBA players Carmelo Anthony and John Wall.
Milwaukee Bucks Become Latest NBA Team to Launch AI Chat for Fans With GameOn Technology
The Milwaukee Bucks are partnering with GameOn technology to build a new AI chat application for its website and mobile app that’s expected launch at the beginning of the upcoming NBA season. The Bucks will join other NBA teams such as the Atlanta Hawks and Philadelphia 76ers to offer GameOn’s chatbots for providing automated answers to fan questions via text.
Fans will be able to use the Bucks’ chat function for guest support related to experiences within Fiserv Forum and the Deer District, including information related to ticketing and merchandise purchases. League news and schedules, highlight videos and player stats will also be available within the chat.
Sports Management Platform Abler Raises $3.7 Million Post-Seed Investment From VC Firm Frumtak Ventures
Abler, a sports management platform founded in Iceland, announced a $3.7 million post-seed investment from VC firm Frumtak Ventures.
Comparable to LeagueApps and TeamSnap in the US, Abler streamlines the management of sports programs, enabling registration, payment and merchandise purchase for participants and their parents or guardians. Organizers and coaches can efficiently organize activities such as roster and event management, logistics and team and league communication. It is also collaborating with Reykjavik University on creating curriculum for character coaching.
Former professional handball player is a founder and the CEO of Abler, which serves 95% of the organized sports market in Iceland. Professional soccer players Birkir Bjarnason and Alfred Finnbogason and handball coaches Gudjon Valur Sigurdsson and Dagur Sigurdsson have made angel investments. The startup has also received grants and other support from Iceland Technical Development Fund, the Innovation Center of Iceland and the Icelandic Directorate of Health.
Penn State Collective ‘We Are NIL’ Plans to Offer Disability Insurance to Football Players
Penn State football players will benefit from a new booster-driven collective known as “We Are NIL,” which intends to provide the team’s top performers with rare permanent disability insurance.
Founder Michael Krentzman told SportTechie Thursday night that the platform has already obtained permanent disability insurance for offensive tackle Caedan Wallace, who was able to qualify due to his status as an NFL prospect.
“This insurance is not easy to get,” said Krentzman, a lawyer and businessman. “You really have to be considered insurable. You have to be a sure-fire NFL talent in a lot of underwriters’ eyes to do it. And you can’t have anything physically wrong with you, a rebuilt knee or anything like that. They want to know that you don’t have anything wrong with you. Things that you may not even know are wrong with you, like a heart arrhythmia. Once they buy that policy, they own the risk.”
Considering the NCAA has previously limited the amount of insurance a school can offer a student-athlete, We Are NIL could potentially break new ground in college sports. Permanent total disability insurance is a form of workers’ compensation that would give a player a weekly wage for losing the ability to work. Normally, Penn State and other universities can offer some level of disability insurance to qualifying athletes, albeit with a cap due to budget purposes.
But We Are NIL can go beyond that cap with its Permanent Disability Insurance. “It’s for a player who can’t play football any more,” Krentzman said. “If he gets hurt on the field, off the field, at practice or if he’s walking across the street and a Jeep runs his feet over, he’s covered. From now until the end of the bowl game. That’s how this policy works.”
Krentzman said he also hopes We Are NIL can arrange some level of Permanent Disability Insurance for the players who are not NFL prospects, perhaps by paying “a little more premium to get a little bit less coverage. It just seems like the right thing to do.”
According to Krentzman, We Are NIL will help players handle the comprehensive paperwork necessary to obtain the insurance and that the platform will be available to some Penn State basketball players in 2022, as well.
“I’m trying to be consistent with what Penn State is about — which is the fan base helping each other out,” Krentzman said. “If you walk down the street just about anywhere, if you walk through any major airport, and you’re wearing a T-shirt that has the Penn State logo on it, another Penn Stater will point at you and go, ‘We Are,’ There’s a thing about it. So, yes, we’re totally trying to raise money and get deals for guys and connect alumni. Totally. But there’s so many ways to use NIL for things that are so darn good, it’s amazing. So that’s our M.O. That’s what we’re trying to do.”
Entering the college football season, NIL valuations conducted by college sports data company On3 showed a dozen college football players with a predicted valuation for more than $1 million. Athlete marketplace Opendorse, known as a top NIL technology provider, as well as INFLCR, the NIL software and social media management platform, have both entered partnerships with U.S. Bank and MoneyLion, respectively to improve financial literacy for college athletes who are pursuing NIL.
OneFootball, Premier Sports Agree to UK Distribution Deal for LaLiga, Liga Portugal, DFB-Pokal
European streaming platform OneFootball has struck a new deal to distribute Premier Sports’ broadcast content from Spanish LaLiga, Liga Portugal and Germany’s DFB-Pokal.
The three-year partnership with Spanish LaLiga—which includes elite clubs such as Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atlético Madrid—specifies that highlights of all 10 gameday matches become available via the OneFootball app. The contests can also be viewed on the OneFootball website.
In addition, OneFootball will livestream selected games from Liga Portugal and the popular DFB-Pokal knockout cup competition. For the remainder of the current 2022-23 season, fans paying £1.79 per game will have digital access to teams such as Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig in the DFB-Pokal or Benfica, FC Porto and Sporting CP in Liga Portugal.
The deal with Premier Sports—designed to appeal to OneFootball’s young, expansive user base in the UK—is similar to the company’s recent deal to stream Italian Serie A matches to Britain and Ireland, as well as another partnership with Sky Deutschland to disseminate livestreams of Bundesliga 2 in Germany. The Argentine Football Association also signed a deal in March that allowed OneFootball to produce original editorial content for the federation.
Considered Europe’s top soccer media platform, Berlin-based OneFootball produced over 15,000 livestreams and on-demand content clips in 2021. The company raised $300 million in Series D funding in April to help launch blockchain-centric OneFootball Labs, with a focus on fan engagement through digital tokens. Animoca Brands and Dapper Labs were among the investors.
Premier Sports has a subscription base of 16 million homes in the UK through Sky and Virgin platforms and is available also via the Premier Player or Amazon Prime. Its free-to-air sister channel, FreeSports, is ensconced in every home in the UK.
Sports and Entertaintment Technology Provider Deltatre Names Stephen Pagliuca as Chairman of the Board
Stephen Pagliuca, a co-owner of the NBA’s Boston Celtics and Serie A’s Atalanta, is now chairman of the board for Deltatre, a sports-centric streaming and video company.
The appointment follows the June 2022 acquisition of Deltatre by Bain Capital and Nextalia SGR; Pagliuca is co-chair of Bain Capital. Andrea Marini remains CEO of Deltatre. The company’s clients are among the most recognizable leagues and media properties in the sports industry, including the NFL, MLB, MLS, Bundesliga, Premier League, ATP, FIFA, UEFA, DAZN and Discovery.
“I have followed Deltatre’s journey for years and the growth it has experienced as a provider of leading media technology solutions—particularly in North America—is nothing short of remarkable,” Pagliuca said in a statement. “The company is at the forefront of a transformational shift in how consumers engage with content. Its investments across video streaming, fan data, and broadcast technology have positioned it well to capture new markets.”
Therabody Partners With Cyclist and Co-Founder of L39ION Justin Williams
Recovery tech provider Therabody has partnered with cyclist Justin Williams, who is co-founder and CEO of a team dedicated to increasing inclusion and diversity in the sport.
Williams, 33, is a Belizean-American who has won a dozen US national titles and Belize’s national road race championship. He and his cyclist brother, Cory, founded L39ION, a stylized version of “Legion” with the inserted number representing 39th Street, where they grew up in Los Angeles.
L39ION competes on the UCI Continental tour and has added a women’s team as well. Its partners included e-cycling company Zwift and Red Bull. Therabody has a wide range of existing athlete ambassadors, including Cristiano Ronaldo, Breanna Stewart, Mo Farah and DeVonta Smith. Its investors include Kevin Durant, James Harden, Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson.
AllAthlete Reaches 100,000 Downloads as Digital Recruiting Apps Grow in Popularity
AllAthlete, a startup recruiting app that intends to help high school athletes connect with college coaches, announced Wednesday that its platform has hit 100,000 downloads.
Founded in 2020 by former University of Michigan football staff member Greg Auerbach, AllAthlete allows prospective recruits to connect directly with college coaches rather than relying solely on social media, direct messaging and email. Whereas high-profile student-athletes are sought after by recruiters and don’t need help, AllAthlete’s platform emphasizes getting access for the more mainstream player.
AllAthlete uses digital technology to inform Div. I, II and III coaches about players. Tristan Warner, a quarterback from Bellarmine College Prep in San Jose, was lightly recruited during the COVID-19 pandemic until he used the app to obtain an offer from the University of Washington. Similarly, untouted running back/defensive back Dacari Jenkins from Clintondale (Mich.) High School used the app to gain an offer from Div. III Albion College.
Since the pandemic, digital recruiting apps have become more prevalent. Athletes In Recruitment (AIR) gained notoriety when elite 2023 quarterback recruit Jaden Rashada signed a deal with the company, becoming became the first high school athlete to earn an NIL. GameChanger has implemented automatic highlight clips into its app, along with individual homepages for athletes that can serve as a quasi-recruiting site. Other recruiting apps in the space are FieldLevel and NCSA.
Fan Controlled Hoops, a Four-Team Basketball League Played on Interactive LED Court, Set to Launch in February 2023
The company behind Fan Controlled Football will launch a new 4-on-4 basketball league called Fan Controlled Hoops that will be played on an interactive LED court debuting Feb. 7 in Atlanta. The league will span four teams and includes former NBA player Baron Davis and former NBPA executive director Michele Roberts as strategic advisors.
Fan Controlled Hoops’ 84×50 sized court will be slightly smaller than the 94-foot-long court used in NBA games. The acrylic-layered smart court in FCH will connect to an online voting system for fans to vote on which parts of the court get illuminated as a zone players can shoot from to get extra points for made baskets. The surface will also display in-game substitutions and stats. Fans will also pick team rosters through voting in weekly player drafts via the league’s app and vote on scoring rules such as if an alley-oop or half court shot counts as extra points. The LED court could also serve as a space to display content from advertisers.
“It’s not a cheap endeavor, it’s a high-flying technology act to be able to in real time program and update what a court looks like,” Grant Cohen, co-founder at Fan Controlled Sports & Entertainment, told SportTechie. “What’s really cool is obviously when its lit, guys are trying to go to that zone. But very quickly, the defense also knows that it’s lit and starts throwing double teams and protecting that area, which then frees up in many cases other parts of the court,” Cohen added.
The new FCH league is open to both male and female players, with athletes getting a share of ownership equity in the league. Cohen did not disclose the technology partner FCH is working with on its LED court. A spokesperson from ASB GlassFloor, a German manufacture of LED sports floors that earlier this year received approval from FIBA to use its court in international basketball competitions, confirmed to SportTechie that they had discussions with Fan Controlled Hoops but they are not working with the new league.
Amazon Prime’s Thursday Night Football Will Feature Voice-Enabled Team, Player Stats From Alexa, Fire TV
Prime Video will enhance its debut NFL livestream Thursday night with real-time voice-activated game data from Fire TV and Alexa.
Fans watching the stream via Fire TV can gain access to live stats and analytics provided by Prime Video’s signature X-Ray tool for TNF. Viewers can simply say, “Alexa, open X-Ray,” and they will receive game information usually reserved for coaches and broadcasters such as a quarterback’s average time before passing or a receiver’s average separation yardage on pass patterns.
Viewers can also ask Alexa football-related questions during the broadcast without interrupting Fire TV’s game stream. If a fan asks, “Alexa, how many rushing yards do the Chiefs have today?” or “Alexa, who has the most tackles today?” or “Alexa, who leads the NFL in touchdowns?” the answers will be provided without any stoppage in the livestream. Another game day feature will allow fans to say, “Alexa, play Thursday Night Football” into their Fire TV or Echo Show device, which will drop them into the livestream when the game begins.
“We’re definitely putting a lot against our marketing, as well as the power of Amazon to build that awareness,” Jay Marine, Amazon Prime’s global head of sports, told SBJ’s Ben Fischer. “But you’ve also got the power of the NFL, and people are going to want watch that game, and we’re the only place to go. For some people who haven’t really adopted streaming yet, this will be a change, and we just have to see how that evolves.”
Marine continued: “Our job is to No 1.) Make sure people can’t miss it, and No. 2 making that experience as easy as possible. And that’s something we’ve been working on a long time.”
Amazon Prime Video’s debuts its Thursday Night Football on Sept. 15 when the Kansas City Chiefs play the Los Angeles Chargers. Overall, the company will carry 15 exclusive games, the first time ever that the NFL will exclusively stream games weekly over the course of a season.