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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.”

Crypto

Cryptocurrency Has Promise But ‘Screams for Regulation,’ Says Miami Mayor Francis Suarez

The mayor has been an enthusiastic proponent of MiamiCoin, a privately-owned cryptocurrency.

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Screenshot of Francis Suarez, mayor of the City of Miami, at the Wilson Center event

WASHINGTON, January 19, 2023 — Embracing emerging technologies such as cryptocurrency will have long-term benefits for the general public, but the industry needs much stronger regulation, City of Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said at an event hosted Tuesday by the Wilson Center.

Suarez, who is president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, spoke in advance of the mayors’ 91st annual meeting from Tuesday until this Friday.

Suarez has long been an advocate for cryptocurrency adoption; after winning reelection in 2021, he announced that his own salary would be paid in bitcoin. He has also been an enthusiastic proponent of MiamiCoin, a privately-owned cryptocurrency meant to benefit the city — even after the currency’s value dropped by more than 95 percent.

However, when discussing the recent collapse of crypto exchange FTX, Suarez acknowledged that the technology “screams for regulation.” U.S. legislation tends to be reactive instead of proactive, but the latter approach might have been able to stop the FTX crash, he added.

“I think there should have been regulation on what some of these custodial entities could do with custody assets,” he said. “They’re like banks — the kind of assets that they had were enormous — and what they were doing when you when you peel back the layers of the onion is frightening… there’s a reason why some level of regulation exists already in the banking industry.”

Suarez said that the first step for lawmakers taking on cryptocurrency regulation should be to recognize the significance of the technology. Issues such as the national debt ceiling and rate of inflation demonstrate the value of having currency “outside of the mainstream fiat system,” he said.

In addition to cryptocurrency, Suarez expressed his opinion on a variety of other timely technology issues.

“I think AI is going to be our generation’s arms race,” he said, noting the growing potential for cyberwarfare as weapons systems come to rely on encrypted technology.

Suarez also discussed the impacts that an increasingly digital world may have on childhood development. “My daughter one shocked me when she was two years old — she’s four now — by taking a pretend selfie with her pacifier of me,” he said. “And I was like, wow, this is really crazy.”

Despite having initial concerns about technology’s impact on children, Suarez said that watching his own children’s online interactions had assuaged his fears.

“I’m actually going to take it a step further — I’m starting to see socialization opportunities… they’re actually virtually online with a friend, and they’re playing and talking and socializing,” he said.

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Crypto

CES 2023: Crypto Protects Privacy and Civil Liberties

The ability to coordinate outside of government control could be a massive boon for oppressed or dissident groups.

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Photo of Kurt Opsahl, Mike Wawszczak, Anna Stone, and Sandy Carter (left to right)

LAS VEGAS, January 5, 2023 – Despite the crypto industry’s recent stumbles, a panel of experts at the Consumer Electronics Show remained bullish on its potential – as well as that of its underlying technology, the blockchain – to protect individuals’ data privacy and civil liberties.

Many blockchains, although residing in the digital world, largely fall into the category of “public goods,” which traditionally includes shared infrastructure such as roads, argued Anna Stone, director of impact at eToro. Stone cited the Ethereum network, which is open source and allows many individuals to build on it. “What makes Ethereum exist is not any one company that’s doing anything, it’s actually that there are thousands of different contributors,” she said. 

Mike Wawszczak, general counsel at Alliance, argued that the traditional funders of public goods – governments – make serious mistakes that stem from being insulated from market forces. “[Crypto] offers an alternative method of managing and governing these protocols – that we’re only now starting to see massive amounts of experimentation in – might not be subject to the same failure[s]…that we see in states,” Wawszczak said.

Later in the panel, Wawszczak argued that decentralized autonomous organizations empower individuals and communities to further and protect their own interests, even in opposition to state authority. “If you can imagine a lot of the more disparate groups that exist around particular social-justice causes or identity groups that are far flung or spread out, but now they have a new means of coordinating their behiavior and of generating economic wealth,” Wawszczak explained. He argued that the ability to coordinate outside of government control could be a massive boon for oppressed or dissident groups.

Panelists further said blockchain technologies can ensure that consumers maintain control over their own data. “Giving [users] that choice…to pick a place that is built and verifiable to be secure, to be private, to be a place that fits with their values, that can really enhance things for the users,” said Kurt Opsahl, general counsel at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

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Innovation

CES 2023: Tech Retail Revenues Will Drop in 2023, Says Consumer Technology Association

Inflation and ‘looming recession’ blamed for drop to $485 billion in 2023, down $12 billion from 2022 and $27 billion from 2021.

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Illustration from eStore Factory

LAS VEGAS, January 4, 2023 – United States technology retail revenues will slide to $485 billion in 2023, down $12 billion from 2022 and $27 billion from the 2021 peak of $512 billion, according to new research from the Consumer Technology Association.

CTA announced its findings Tuesday night as it prepares to open its Consumer Electronics Show on Thursday. The organization attributed projected falling revenues to inflation and a “looming recession,” though it noted its forecast would still exceed 2019’s revenues of $435 billion. The Covid-19 pandemic, along with stay-at-home orders, drove massive consumer demand for connectivity and technology.

The overall dip notwithstanding, CTA predicted that consumer spending will rise in the sectors of “consumer services” – e.g., audio, apps, gaming, and video – automotive technologies, and health and fitness technologies. “Portable gaming consoles will generate $1.5 billion in 2023, up 41% over 2022,” the CTA press release stated.

 “Leaders in Washington can help American entrepreneurs by advocating for a proactive and pro-innovation approach to trade,” said CTA President and CEO Gary Shapiro in a statement. “We need to eliminate tariffs that amount to taxes on U.S. businesses, and spur exports by striking new trade deals with our friends and allies.” Shapiro touted the technology industry as a driver of economic efficiency and a “deflationary force in the global economy.”

In the broadband world, some players have called on regulators to waive “Build America, Buy America” provisions, which require federally funded infrastructure projects to use domestically manufactured materials. Critics say Build America, Buy America raises costs for builders who could otherwise source foreign-made goods more cheaply. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration has proposed waiving the requirement for its Middle Mile grant program, and many have called for similar relief for the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program.

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