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Innovation

At CES 2021, Discussions on How Sports Industries Adapted to Meet Fans Virtually

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Photo of Stephanie McMahon by Web Summit from November 2018 used with permission

January 12, 2021 – The future of sports and how brands engage fans utilizing digital tech is ever-evolving, given the COVID-19 pandemic.

In an event dedicated to the relationship between sports and technology at the 2021 International Consumer Electronics Show, four-time Olympian in ice hockey  and CEO and co-founder of Sports Innovation lab Angela Ruggiero moderated a discussion on how sports leaders have met the challenge of keeping their fans’ attention during the COVID-19 global pandemic.

She hosted Women’s National Basketball Association Commissioner Cathy Engelbert, National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman, and World Wrestling Entertainment Chief Brand Officer Stephanie McMahon.

It is no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused significant disruptions to the sports industry –  from ending seasons early and emptying stadiums to forcing teams to forfeit matches altogether – due to players and staff testing positive for COVID-19. Engelbert said that “a crisis tends to accelerate and deepen issues that existed before the crisis, but it’s also an opportunity to fix those weaknesses” and innovate.

The WNBA took advantage of these disruptions by holding the first-ever virtual draft. Using augmented reality with Snapchat, coveted gift boxes filled with WNBA swag and a personalized Snapchat message from Engelbert welcomed new players. The official WNBA app had immense resources poured into it during 2020, including a new ‘tap to cheer’ feature, allowing fans to compete with other fans in sending virtual cheers for their favorite teams.

According to Engelbert, immersive media translates to core growth and more robust partnerships. This interactive cheer feature resulted in an 85 percent increase in year-over-year average mobile app downloads that created 140 million virtually tapped cheers sent on the app.

McMahon noted that it was evident among the WWE that it was “never a question of whether we will continue the show, but how.” Early challenges in presenting content that would keep fans entertained ended up playing a significant role in WWE’s digital success.

At first, since there were no fans or audible audience, we didn’t want to pipe in audio to lose the authenticity of the events, McMahon said.  But when mixed with different technology like inserting live commentary or installing a virtual audience in the Thunder Dome, piping in sound enhanced the whole experience positively, she added.

The disruptions of 2020 allowed WWE to harness the power of augmented reality and even employ pyrotechnics and drones. Investing in e-commerce sales was so successful that it even offset losses in merchandise sales. McMahon advised that for anyone seeking to keep their fans, content must be continuously growing, fans must be reachable anytime, and flexibility is critical.

Bettman agreed that COVID-19 has and continues to change the way people consume sports. Sporting events are one of the few events people watch live anymore, and people do have a desire to return to the stadium or field and watch in-person again.

According to Bettman, producing content for NHL fans showing the lives of athletes behind the scenes was crucial to better connecting with fans.

The NHL also implemented “puck and player” tracking  technology which generates more data, allowing for an immersive connective experience, especially popular among younger fans.

Bettman focused on the importance of returning to play and watch in-person, saying “we must be agile, flexible, and consider every option conceivable.” He added that it is a top priority to “finish the season while protecting the health and safety of players, personnel, and communities.”

Innovation

Internet of Things Will Revolutionize Industries as Connectivity Ceases To Be Limiting Factor

Panelists at a WCA event last month said IoT will transform a trillion-plus dollar segment of the economy.

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Photo of Elle Grossenbacher from Twilio

WASHINGTON, October 13, 2021 – With the advent of new mobile wireless technologies such as 5G and latency improvements, the industrial internet of things will prove to be a boon for industries from agriculture to transportation, a conference heard last month.

The Wireless Communications Alliance hosted a virtual event last month titled “IIoT Gizmos and Gadgets” during which a panel of tech experts remarked on the ability of internet-connected devices, facilitated by ubiquitous connectivity, to revolutionize fields integral to the nation’s economy.

Andy Do, president of IoT sensor company Sensorworks, noted that the key attraction with IoT for the industrial sector – estimated to be worth trillions of dollars – is the cost savings. More and more companies, for example, are incorporating remote monitoring of their agricultural crops using these technologies to get a sense of when to tend to them.

Dirk Seidel, business development manager at semiconductor company Renesas Electronics, said the IIoT industry has made significant progress in developing sensors that can monitor a wide variety of conditions in real time, such as carbon dioxide concentration, light intensity, and blood oxygen levels. Aashish Mehta, CEO of TransferFi, a company that makes wireless networks for IIoT sensors, describes this as providing “insights at your fingertips.” A present goal of the industry is to develop technology which combines different types of sensors together while still allowing them to make measurements independently, he said.

According to Elle Grossenbacher, product marketing manager of IoT at cloud communications company Twilio, manufacturing is one industry where IIoT has a large opportunity to expand because of how little factories have already adopted IIoT since its early development.

This is a much slower uptake than has been seen with building automation, where WCA vice president Jeremy Tole says IIoT has been used in energy optimization for decades. Grossenbacher also believes that the government will be one entity that instigates an increase in its usage of IIoT in the near future.

As far as advancements in the IIoT industry in next five years, Tole hopes to see all devices wirelessly connected and powered while Do hopes more IIoT technology will be present in everyday retail settings.

The Federal Communications Commission last month released a notice of inquiry to get a sense of the need for spectrum for IoT.

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FCC Asks for Public Comment on Spectrum for Internet of Things

Internet of Things devices are expected to increasingly flood the market as 5G networks light up.

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Illustration about the Internet of Things by Pete Linforth used with permission

WASHINGTON, October 8, 2021 – The Federal Communications Commission is seeking public comment on spectrum allocation for the Internet of Things, or devices that are connected to the internet.

In its Notice of Inquiry released September 30, the agency seeks comments that “consider and evaluate various related factors” that will hinder the growth of IoT, including “barriers that may hinder the provision of spectrum needed to support uses relating to the IoT” and the role that unlicensed and licensed spectrum plays in the growth of IoT.

The IoT broadly refers to network-connected devices that can collect and transfer data. The number of IoT devices has grown over the past few years. Experts expect this number to continue rising as more households and industries use IoT technologies and as the connectivity-dense next-generation 5G networks facilitate more connections.

According to the FCC, a large amount of spectrum has been licensed using a flexible-use approach that allowed licensees to develop technologies and services according to consumer demand since the 1990s. The FCC asks whether the licensed spectrum made available or “will be available in the future is adequate to support the needs of the IoT.” The commission also asks whether there are spectrum rules that could be modified to facilitate greater spectrum access for IoT deployments.

In a statement, FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks said the the Internet of Things is “transforming our way of life.”  While reaffirming his commitment to addressing the digital divide and internet inequality, the FCC noted that “many Americans will not realize the benefits of IoT; until broadband service is available and affordable to everyone, those without broadband will be left behind during the IoT revolution.”

Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel issued a separate statement emphasizing that although the possibilities for IoT have yet to be fully developed, “[i]t’s still early days in the Internet of Things.” The Chairwoman remarked that because 5G wireless systems and low-orbiting satellites “expand the availability of high speed and high-capacity networks, we can expect the pace of innovation to increase” but that the FCC should allocate adequate spectrum for this purpose.

The FCC seeks comment on these issues as directed by Congress in the William Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act. The Act directed the FCC to inquire into the spectrum required to support IoT growth. This comes as the FCC begins auctioning 3.45 GigaHertz mid-band spectrum this week for licenses for 5G use.

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Innovation

Secretary of State Blinken Says Research and Development Critical For Competition Against China

Blinken was touring the University of Maryland laboratories last week.

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken

August 16, 2021 – Secretary of State Antony Blinken said earlier this month a key consideration for competition with China is to plow investments in research and development, as the Communist nation continues to do the same and export cheap technologies around the world.

 

“The Chinese and Russian governments, among others, are making the argument in public and private that the United States is in decline,” said Blinken at the University of Maryland on August 9, as he was touring the institution’s laboratories.

 

“Nothing would put to rest faster their specious argument about America’s best days being behind us than if the United States made serious investments in our domestic renewal right now.”

 

The United States, previously being the first in the world for research and development relative to its economic size, has fallen to ninth place, according to a recent UNESCO report. In contrast, China has risen to second, according to the same report.

 

Last week, the Senate passed a $1-trillion infrastructure bill that would lay the groundwork for the future, including a timely $65-billion for broadband to help seal the remote learning and work gap that emerged from the pandemic.

 

Targeting China

 

President Joe Biden’s administration has been coupling economic spending and sanctions against Chinese companies to combat the emerging economic superpower and protect national security. Chinese companies carry great influence on the world stage, few more prominent than leading telecom equipment maker Huawei, which has been the subject of bans in the United States and other parts of the world.

 

For example, while Huawei’s greatest 5G equipment competitors are Finland’s Nokia and Sweden’s Ericsson – with Samsung emerging as a potent player in its own right – it is widely reported that the Chinese company’s equipment sells for cheap, making it a more economic choice for countries in Africa. The Chinese government has been accused of spying.

 

An official from Huawei – which has challenged (but was denied) the Federal Communications Commission’s authority to wade into national security matters when it proposed rules in June to prohibit future authorizations to companies posing potential threats – has previously noted that the company doesn’t have much to worry about with the overtures by the Biden government to ban Chinese companies’ access to American chips because it will just make its own.

 

Blinken’s aims

 

Blinken strongly advocated for the bipartisan U.S. Innovation and Competition Act, a bill introduced in April that would boost federal funding for U.S.-based semiconductor manufacturing and provide $52 billion over five years for research initiatives. 

 

By investing in infrastructure, Blinken said he believes that this would be the essential thing that the U.S can do to advance its foreign policy because it will increase foreign trade and investment competitiveness.

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