Chicago Bulls Join With Klarna to Enhance Team Content, Payment Tools and In-Venue Experience
Klarna, a Swedish fintech company, is partnering with the Chicago Bulls for a number of activations, including shoppable social and digital content and implementation of its Pay in 4 tool—which enables purchase in four interest-free installments.
This is Klarna’s second global sports partnership, following an agreement with NWSL expansion franchise Angel City Football Club in November as a founding partner. Bulls fans will see co-branded in-stadium experiences (including Benny the Bull), exclusive offers, limited edition merchandise and logos on team practice jerseys.
Klarna reports 90 million active users and a quarter-million of retail partners, headlined by major brands such as H&M, Saks, Sephora, Macys, IKEA, Expedia Group and Nike. Klarna has made at least one investment in the connected fitness space, backing live group class provider Krew.
PGA Tour Re-Ups With Twitter, Extends Its Presence via Spaces Audio Content
The PGA Tour has renewed and expanded its content partnership with Twitter to include live audio programming via the social network’s Spaces feature. Spaces will be hosted on the PGA Tour’s Twitter account throughout the 2022 season, beginning with The Honda Classic in February.
The audio content will include current players and analysts discussing action on the PGA Tour. The renewed agreement will also see the PGA Tour continue to post highlights on Twitter from each day of a tournament. Brands will also be able to sponsor player-specific highlights through the Twitter Amplify program.
Other sports leagues such as the NFL and NBA have also added Spaces audio programming to their deals with Twitter. PGA Tour Live, the league’s streaming service that’s moved to ESPN+ this season, has also begun hosting Spaces on the @PGATourLive Twitter account.
AI Coaching App Mustard Receives Big-Name Funding
Coaching app Mustard has raised a $3.75 million seed funding round led by the Lake Nona Sports & Health Tech Fund. Other investors include Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, PGA Tour star Justin Rose, Pro Football Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott, the MLS Players Association, USWNT Players Association and OneTeam Partners, the marketing firm co-founded by the NFLPA and MLBPA.
The new investors will help Mustard expand into other sports such as football, soccer and golf after its original app just focused on baseball. Users upload video of their throwing motion to Mustard’s app to receive mechanical feedback and personalized training plans. Mustard’s AI leverages a smartphone’s camera alongside the app’s motion capture database compiled by Tom House, Mustard’s co-founder who is regarded as an authority on modern pitching mechanics.
“We want to give younger athletes the resources they need to keep playing sports longer,” Mustard CEO and co-founder Rocky Collis told SportTechie. “We know we have the technology that accomplishes that, and now we’ve got the investors and the team to make that happen across sports.”
Mustard’s total funding is now $6 million, and its existing investors include MLB pitching legend Nolan Ryan and former NFL quarterback Drew Brees, both of whom are training disciples of House. Mustard will also use its new funding to produce more live and recorded instructional content for users.
“We will be an active investor in the company, making our resources and infrastructure in Lake Nona available to scale into other sports,” Thomas H. Rudy, principal of the Lake Nona Sports & Health Tech Fund, said in a statement.
Pardigm Develops Test to Measure Cortisol, Help Athletes Observe Stress Levels
Biotech startup Pardigm has developed a rapid saliva test to measure cortisol, a stress-regulating hormone whose elevated presence can stunt an athlete’s recovery.
Pardigm uses computer vision and deep learning to enable users to get results from a smartphone rather than a lab experiment. The app provides recommendations, plus a yearly membership of $599 that includes an expert consultation, 25 tests and monthly group coaching sessions. Pardigm’s beta users include Olympic athletes in Colorado Springs. A waiting list has now opened for public access.
Serial entrepreneur Wibe Wagemans is the founder and CEO of Pardigm. He previously worked at Gillette, Microsoft-owned Bing and Angry Birds creator Rovio. He was also founding chairman of Huuuge Games, which had a $1.2 billion IPO. Pardigm’s four-member scientific advisory board has collectively earned three M.D. degrees and three Ph.D.’s, including Dr. Phyllis Gardner, a Stanford professor of medicine who gained national attention as one of the first public skeptics of Theranos.
FTX Creates $2 Billion Fund to Expand Blockchain Adoption
FTX, a cryptocurrency firm with numerous sports sponsorships, has launched a $2 billion venture capital fund to invest in blockchain and Web3 technologies. FTX Ventures is particularly interested in growing blockchain’s integration across gaming, social platforms, financial technology and healthcare.
Amy Wu, who led crypto and gaming investments at Lightspeed Venture Partners, has been hired to lead FTX Ventures. “We are very bullish that over time, just like free-to-play games and mobile games really established dominance, we will see that next step in the evolution of Web3 gaming as well,” Wu told Decrypt, also noting that FTX aims to work with major video game publishers.
FTX is valued at $25 billion and recently attempted to buy sports betting app PlayUp. In November, FTX invested in blockchain-based sports betting platform BetDEX. In another tie-up between crypto and gaming, the NFLPA plans to release NFTs with DraftKings that can be used to play in fantasy football contests.
FTX’s sponsorship portfolio includes deals with MLB and MLBPA, Monumental Sports & Entertainment, the Golden State Warriors, esports organization TSM and stadium naming rights deals with the Miami Heat and UC Berkeley. The company’s athlete ambassadors include Steph Curry, Tom Brady, Trevor Lawrence and Shohei Ohtani.
C360 Technologies, Maker of Immersive Panoramic Cameras, Gets Funding From Cosm, Blue Tree Allied Angels
Immersive streaming startup C360 Technologies, which is headquartered near Pittsburgh, added investment from Cosm, an experiential media company, and Blue Tree Allied Angels, an investor network in Western Pennsylvania.
C360 carries live, high-fidelity video in 360 degrees. Its cameras have, at times, been used in conjunction with SkyCam and pylon cameras in ESPN and Fox Sports broadcasts, and the company also has working relationships with CBS Sports, TNT, NASCAR, NFL, NHL, UFC, Google and Intel. Former Intel executive—and former NBA player—Howard Wright became C360’s CEO in Nov. 2020.
The company’s footage has aired in Super Bowls, the Olympics, MLB All-Star Games, the college football national championship and Daytona 500, among other events. Fans can select their own viewpoint through C360-developed apps. Its streams work in augmented, virtual and mixed reality formats.
C360 won a SeventySix Capital pitch competition in Nov. 2019 and is now a portfolio company of the Philadelphia venture firm. Boeing made an investment through its HorizonX Ventures fund back in 2017.
Motion Capture Expert Phil Cheetham Becomes Sportsbox AI’s Chief Scientific Officer
Renowned biomechanist and motion capture specialist Phil Cheetham has joined startup Sportsbox AI as chief scientific officer. Sportsbox AI assess a golfer’s movements and swing using only a single smartphone camera. Cheetham had been advising the startup, but now joins full-time.
Since 2010, Cheetham had worked at the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, most recently as its director of sport technology and innovation. He remains a biomechanics advisory board member for the Titleist Performance Institute. An Olympic gymnast for Australia who competed at the 1976 Summer Games, Cheetham later earned a Ph.D. in biomechanics from Arizona State and is a developer of several 3D motion capture systems, including one during a prior stint at the USOPC in the early 1980s.
Sportsbox AI launched a coaching product in October and has plans for a consumer version. Famed golf instructors David Leadbetter, Sean Foley, Mike Adams and Terry Rowles are all advisors and/or investors. The company is run by CEO Jeehae Lee, a former LPGA Tour golfer who subsequently received an MBA from Wharton.
NFL Awards AI for Head Impact Detection, New Innovation IDs Injury 83 Times Faster Than a Human Can
The NFL and Amazon Web Services awarded $100,000 to data scientists who took part in the computer vision competition to develop algorithms for automatic identification of players involved in on-field helmet impacts.
Previously, the NFL undertook a manual process of reviewing postgame video frame-by-frame to record 150 different variables for all major injuries. The league uses that data to inform rule changes, spur innovation in protective equipment and influence coaching and training strategies. This was the second phase of the competition, building on a previous contest to crowdsource methods of detecting helmet impacts.
The winning entry completed the task 83 times faster than a human. NFL SVP of health innovation Jennifer Langton previously summarized the results, suggesting a consolidation of required time from three or four days down to two hours. All of this data helps fuel the Digital Athlete that AWS is building in collaboration with the NFL and its injury surveillance data to simulate varying game and play conditions and how that affects injury rates.
First prize and $50,000 went to Kippei Matsuda from Osaka, Japan, while second place and $25,000 was given to Takuya Ito from Tokyo. The third, fourth and fifth finishers received a total of $25,000, distributed on a graduated scale.
Rooter, Which Streams Games for Mobile and PC Users, Raises $25M
Rooter, an India-based game streaming company, raised a $25 million Series A investment led by Lightbox, March Gaming and Duane Park Ventures.
Hosting streams for both mobile and PC gamers, Rooter reported more than 30 million total downloads of its app with 8.5 million active monthly users, of which 1 million are content creators. The company has 55 employees based out of its New Delhi headquarters, which it hopes to double with this new funding.
Among those who joined the round were the ADvantage Sports Tech Fund; Rooter is a graduate of its affiliated leAD Sports & Health Tech Partners accelerator. Boutique investment bank A&W Capital, which has a strong sports division, acted as financial advisor. One of Rooter’s earliest investors was Intex Technologies in 2017, a consumer electronics company that owns the Gujarat Lions in cricket’s Indian Premier League.
Atlantic League Returns to Human Home Plate Umpires, Moves Mound Back Up for 2022
The Atlantic League will return to having human home plate umpires and move its mound back to the conventional 60-feet, six-inches for its 2022 season. The league has deployed an Automated Ball-Strike (ABS) system since 2019, while last season’s second half was played with a 61-foot, six-inch pitching distance to home plate through trials conducted with MLB.
The Atlantic League called its experimental ABS deployment “successful” in a press release on Thursday, noting MLB will continue testing its automated umpiring system in an affiliated minor league next season. In 2021, MLB trialed ABS in a Low-A league using Hawk-Eye’s computer vision cameras, while the Atlantic League’s ABS system over the past three seasons utilized TrackMan radars.
MLB extended its partnership in 2020 with the Atlantic League to continue using the league to test rule changes through 2023. The Atlantic League will retain other MLB test rules such as 17-inch bases, extra inning tiebreaker and anti-shift rules. More collaborations with MLB will be announced this spring.
“The test rules and equipment are transitional by definition: Some elements remain, others are tweaked, and still others are abandoned,” Atlantic League president Rick White said in a statement. “We’re proud that many tests today will find their way to the big leagues in the future. We will continue to closely corroborate on tests with MLB.”