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The Business of Sports

Is Cam New England’s Stairway to 7?

There are only a few free agent signings in the last 20 years of sport (Lebron James to the Heat, Barry Bonds to the Giants, Shaq to the Lakers, A-Rod to the Rangers, Rice to the Raiders) that rival what I believe will become the most impactful signing in the history of the NFL … Cam Newton coming to the New England Patriots.

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There have been a few blockbuster free agent signings over the last 20 years … Lebron James to the Miami Heat may very well top the list. 

The storylines are endless.

  • You have probably the most dominant franchise in the history of modern sport in the Pats, seemingly abruptly halted with a wild card weekend defeat followed by the departure of their fearless leader and greatest of all time, Tom Brady.
  • Never once in the history of the NFL has a team lost a league MVP and acquired a league MVP in the same offseason.
  • There is now a QB race in New England between two former Auburn Tigers who couldn’t be any more different.
  • There may not be a more boisterous, off-the-field headache of a QB in the league in Cam Newton, coming into a more business-like team first environment in New England.
  • And on top of all this, you will have Bill Belichick who will be coaching a team for the first time in 20 years without Tom Brady, who will inevitably answer everyone’s question by season’s end … was it the Belichick system or the Goat TB12 responsible for the 6 rings?
Jarett StidhamQB
Jarrett Stidham has only thrown 4 NFL passes and one of them was a pick 6. Compounded by the fact that he was a 4th round selection and is only 23 years old, many believe Stidham may not be ready. While others, especially close to the organization, maintain Stidham may very well still be the starter when the 20-21 season begins.  

Why this is a great signing for the Patriots:

  1. Jarett Stidham isn’t ready to start. Stidham has thrown a total of 4 passes in the NFL, one of which was a “Pick-six” interception. By all accounts, the New England coaching staff is very high on Stidham, but coming in at 23 years old trying to replace the GOAT is a formidable task.
  2. Cam Newton is an upgrade over Brian Hoyer. While Tom was the GOAT, he was not mobile whatsoever. Josh McDaniels and the offense are likely going to change things up quite a bit schematically with a more mobile QB leading the way. The positive about Hoyer was that he knew the Patriots system … but unfortunately for Hoyer, that system is likely changing now given the personnel.
  3. Cam gives them the best chance to win this season. If healthy, Newton is undeniably the more talented QB (and it’s not close). Cam was a former #1 Overall Pick, 3x Pro Bowler and a former MVP. Belichick is a win first type of coach, and Newton (again, if healthy) gives them the best chance to win this season.

    CamNewtonAuburn
    Cam Newton was a National Champion and Heisman Trophy Winner at Auburn (coincidentally Stidham’s same alma matter), as well as a NFL MVP and 3x Pro Bowler with the Carolina Panthers. If healthy, Newton will be the most talented QB ever to wear a Patriots uniform. 
  4. True QB competition this offseason. Many people thought the Pats were going to draft a QB in the draft and yet they held tight. Many thought they were going to make a move earlier in free agency for a guy like Jameis Winston. Competition breeds success and having two legitimate QBs in the mix will make them both better.
  5. The Value was absolutely insane. Newton agreed to a one-year deal with a base of $1.05 mill, the minimum salary for a player with his amount of experience (9 years) in the league … and only half of that money is guaranteed. Now with all the incentives, Newton can earn an additional $5.75 million, creating a max value of the contract of $7.5 million. Low risk, high reward … it doesn’t get any better than that.
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Antonio Brown played in one game as a New England Patriot and cost them $9 million. Needless to say that was an investment did not pay the expected dividends. 

The Patriots have a history of bringing in controversial, yet talented players over the years . Some have worked (Corey Dillon, Aquib Talib, Randy Moss) and some haven’t (Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson, Adalius Thomas and most notably and most recently Antonio Brown).

 

It’s the most important position in all of sport. It has been the most dominant franchise in the history of sport. And now you have one of the most polarizing talents in the National Football League who has been handed the keys to replace the GOAT.

The Draft Came and Went … and the C’s are Still Confused

Rewind the clock 365 days … the Celtics were a team that was one game away from the NBA Finals (despite playing without their best player and another All-Star). With the loan pick of their 2018 draft used to secure big man depth with Robert Williams, the Celtics (on paper) were poised to runaway with the East. My my, do things change quickly.

An All-NBA Point Guard in Kyrie Irving, two proven NBA All-Stars in Al Horford and Gordon Hayward, two of the biggest emerging young talents with Jayson Tatum and Jaelyn Brown, a deep bench, a Head Coach/GM combo that many would say is the best in the league, and future draft picks that would even make a trust fund baby excited … a birth in the finals or bust was the expectation of Titletown USA for the 2018-19 Celtics season. Spoiler alert: it was a bust.

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Head Coach Brad Stevens (left) had pressed all the right buttons up until this last year for the Boston Celtics. Danny Ainge (center) has been heralded as the best GM in the NBA today. Yet with star PG Kyrie Irving (right) seemingly out the door, Ainge and Stevens are focused on re-tooling for the 19-20 campaign in a more challenging fashion then originally anticipated. 

Finishing 4th in the East, and a near sweep in round 2, the Celtics vastly underachieved. That much is not up for debate. With the World Series and Super Bowl trophies in hand, and one game shy of the Stanley Cup … the spoiled Boston fandom, while disappointed in the C’s season, still seemed to have an unwavering trust in the Ainge & Stevens team. Names like Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant, Jimmy Butler, Kristis Porzingis had danced in Celtics fans’ heads as the future draft picks accumulated. Danny Ainge had the keys to the Ferrari … while Celtics Nation feverishly awaited the master plan.

But as visions of cherry-plums transformed into these nightmare headlines, the tune in Titletown took a shift:

“The Celtics belief they can re-sign their All-Star point guard [Kyrie Irving] has “eroded” amid increasing speculation he wants to join the Brooklyn Nets” (Bleacher Report).

“Contract talks have now apparently shifted toward Horford exiting Boston as news of Horford’s imminent departure from the Celtics was also reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski as well.” (ESPN)

“I put up with a lot this year. I said what I said after the season, and I think we all know that I’m not trying to step into that again” (Terry Rozier).

With what originally looked like a potential dynasty to run the East for many years to come, the Celtics all of a sudden headed into draft night like a lost puppy … as an organization looking for an identity. 3 first round picks, a 2nd rounder, a 2020 Memphis 1st rounder, and a roster riddled with talent … it seemed like a blockbuster deal was inevitable … but it never came. And so this is how the anticlimactic draft night unfolded for the Celtics:

#14: Romeo Langford (SG, Indiana) – An oversized 2 that has drawn comparisons to Evan Turner … likely a role player in year 1, that has a high ceiling.

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The Celtics selected SG Romeo Langford from Indiana University with their first selection at #14. 

*Two-for-One: Celtics trade pick #20 to the 76ers for picks #24 and #33

#22: Grant Williams (PF, Tennessee) – The two-time SEC Player of the Year, Williams is an undersized PF, yet freakishly strong. Highly intelligent, Williams has been compared to P.J. Tucker and seemingly would fit well as a role player within the Celtics current roster.

*Bye Baynes: Celtics deal Baynes to the Suns in exchange for the Bucks 2020 1st Round Pick (1-7 protected)

#33: Carsen Edwards (PG, Purdue) – Undersized at 6 feet, Edwards still was one of the nation’s top scorers with 24 ppg. Despite being limited defensively, Edwards does provide depth at what could be a very empty point guard position come free agency.

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#51: Tremont Waters (PG, LSU) – See Edwards’ description above. Battle with Edwards to see who gets a roster spot.

In a draft that is drawing immediate comparisons to the underwhelming Fab Mello (RIP), Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk, and James Young draft … this draft was largely disappointing for the Celtics, especially given the plethora of picks and the lack of addressing immediate needs. Having said that, you now have a Boston team that has the potential of 25-26 mil in cap space heading into free agency. The most rumored target at the moment is the first time All-Star, Orlando Center Nikola Vucevic.

Best Guess 2019-20 C’s Depth Chart:

PG: Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart, Carsen Edwards

SG: Jaylen Brown, Romeo Langford

SF: Gordon Hayward, Grant Williams

PF: Jayson Tatum, Marcus Morris, Daniel Theis

C: Nikola Vucevic, Robert Williams

 

If you’ve read my writing before or you know my general outlook, I’m relentlessly optimistic … and that optimism holds true with this roster. Listen, on paper, this is a team that is less talented than the 2018-19 roster, there is no question about that. However maybe not as much as people think. You replace Al Horford with another All-Star Center who is younger if we can pull off the Vucevic signing.

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All-Star Center Nikola Vucevic of the Orlando Magic seems to be the new prized target for the Celtics Free Agency. 

You have a “changing of the guards” at point with Irving being replaced by Rozier. The C’s played better with Rozier running point, as many believe he deserves an opportunity to show the league he is an elite starting PG (the insurance policy was drafted tonight with Edwards and Waters). Most importantly, you maintain your best youth talent in Tatum and Brown.

Looking at Brad Stevens, he has always over-achieved with less talent … between bringing mid-major Butler to two National Championships and transitioning that ability to the NBA in bringing a Irving/Hayward-less C’s team to game 7 of the Eastern Finals in 2018.

Is this best case scenario, probably … is it unlikely though, I’m not sure it is. If this team gels like they did two years ago in the front half of next year (and with appealable trading assets in hand), this team could be one deal away from being a title contender again as soon as the trade deadline of next season.

Breaking into the Sports Business Industry: A Note from my 30-Year-Old Self to my 20-Year-Old Self

Everyone loves sports.

Our culture is predicated around them for better or for worse. Sport has served as humanity’s greatest form of unwritten entertainment from it’s very beginning. And since then, sport has transcended humanity, snowballing into a captivating phenomenon over the centuries into what we know it to be today.

I am one of those people who became unequivocally enthralled by the power of sport from the very beginning. At 5, I was religiously reading the Sports Section of the Boston Globe. By 10, I was tapping my toes and fidgeting with my batting gloves in the Little League batter’s box emulating my favorite Boston Red Sox, Nomar Garciaparra.  When I was 15, my all-boys catholic prep school gave us the day off school so students could attend the parade and celebrate the New England Patriots winning their 2nd Super Bowl, which has now turned into 6 (and counting).  And at 20, I accepted a summer internship to work at Nike’s World Headquarters in Beaverton, OR … marking the day I officially transformed my passionate fandom into making it a career and launching my path into the sports business industry.

As a young, eager junior at Georgetown University, the sports business industry was something I dove into passionately, yet somewhat by chance. And now, after having just turned 30 this past year, it has caused me to think back on everything I’ve learned in my] career as a sports business professional. I will get approached from time to time by college students or recent college grads asking for advice about the industry … and so I figured I would reflect on a few things (many of which I failed miserably at and others that I did okay with) that I wish I could tell my 20 year old-self who had just accepted that first sports business internship.

Be Opportunistic. It may sound like a cliché, it may even sound blatantly obvious … but I believe it’s the single greatest factor that distinguishes people who succeed in this industry versus people who don’t. That first Nike internship I got was somewhat of an odd happening. I received an email from a Georgetown email domain that looked identical to the hundreds of other spam emails I receive … however for some reason I opened it.

Nike was a company that I resonated with from being an athlete … it was the company I chose when my dad told me I could pick any one stock to invest in as just a little kid (it turned out to be an ok pick). Needless to say, I followed through with the application process and sure enough became the one Georgetown student-athlete that Nike chose that year to be part of their Summer Internship Program. It was only until after I was out in Beaverton, OR that I realized how lucky I had gotten. Nike received about 10,000 applications for their Summer Internship Program that year and only 90 were selected (45 student-athletes from Nike sponsored universities and 45 “at-large” candidates).  After doing the math and realizing that was a 0.09% acceptance rate, my sense of opportunity heightened.

While I had been opportunistic to have secured that internship, I look back at that experience and realize I could’ve been more opportunistic in my time at Nike. While I was definitely doing some cool things like playing hoops with LeBron James and showing Manchester City around the Nike campus, I underestimated how valuable an opportunity that was to network and build more meaningful relationships with key people within the company. Several people in that intern class with me (many of whom I’m still friends with today) have advanced through the ranks at Nike over the last 10 years and are in various Senior Director roles, due in large part to the networking and relationship-building they did during the course of their two months on the Nike campus that summer.

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Nike’s World Headquarters in Beaverton, OR. 

Never underestimate the power of your current situations (no matter what it might be) and take advantage of the resources you have at your disposal.

 

Be Patient. The sports industry is an interesting one given the discrepancy between earnings of athletes and everyone else in the industry. Manny Machado signs a $300 million deal yesterday in becoming the San Diego Padres newest shortstop and simultaneously you have an extremely competitive application process to get selected to be one of the San Diego Padres unpaid summer interns. Because its sports, people are willing to work for next to nothing to be in the industry. Consequentially, entry level salaries fall below many other industries.

When I had graduated from Georgetown in 2012 (after having gotten both my BA in English and my MS in Sports Management), I had a good majority of friends go straight into Finance. Meanwhile, I chose to head down to sunny (yet somewhat desolate) Bradenton, FL to work at IMG Academy … making a fraction of what my friends were making at any of the big banks or consulting firms.

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IMG Academy is one of the world’s biggest and most renown sports academies in Bradenton, FL. The campus is over 500 acreas, costs over $80,000/yr to attend and hosts many of the world’s top professional athletes throughout the course of the year. 

I occasionally had fleeting thoughts of whether I had made the right decision with my career, but my day-to-day work of being at one of the world’s best sports academies and largest global sports companies made it worth it.  And while that was certainly a humble beginning, I very quickly got promoted within 6 months from running the Academy’s Soccer camp/team business to overseeing their brand-new Lacrosse program. In growing the program from 15 Floridians to 50 boys from all over North America and becoming a nationally ranked lacrosse program, my experience at IMG Academy was incredibly rewarding.

The sports business industry is not a race, especially at the beginning given the nature of the industry. Find the right environment, with a path for growth and your patience will pay dividends sooner rather than later.

 

Find a Mentor. Most people want to help other people … it’s human nature. This is a concept that extends far beyond just the sports industry; however, it was something I didn’t fully grasp early on. I think I had a do-it-yourself mentality for much of my early career, perhaps due to my competitive nature of being a former athlete or perhaps simply due to lack of experience.

I would encourage all people new to the sports business industry to try to find one (or a few) people whose careers they regard highly and whose footsteps they want to follow. Get to know that person or people and build a relationship with them.

For me, these mentors I developed during my earlier years In the industry introduced me to key people, gave me advise on important career steps I was considering, and ultimately opened doors to more opportunity within the industry. Just like sales, people buy from people … and when a well-regarded person in the industry can endorse your own abilities and character, more doors will quickly open up.

Surround yourself with the right people and find the one or two you really connect with on a personal level, whose career path you identify with, and cultivate those relationships.

 

Put Yourself Out There. The sports and entertainment industry is perhaps more of a people industry than any other industry in business. And while yes, there are some technical-based jobs within sport, the very nature of the industry is predicated on people. The cliché holds true: “It’s who you know, not necessarily what you know.” People are often the commodity within sports business, whether it be an athlete you’re trying to sign, a sponsor you’re trying to land, or an audience you’re trying to market to.

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Catapult hosts workshops throughout the world for coaches and users to learn and better utilize their wearable technology. 

This has never been truer for me than in my most recent endeavor with Catapult Sports. When I transitioned over to the sports technology field about a year and a half ago, I had lots to learn quickly about the industry while simultaneously trying to hit my number and do my job as a Business Development Manager. Much of my time was spent early on attending conferences and conventions, meeting with the major players in the space (both externally and internally at Catapult). Sometimes it would mean staying up late and having a drink with an expert Catapult client/user after a long day at a convention, another time it might be listening to a panelist speaker at a workshop and being compelled to engage with that person in deep conversation afterwards.

You can’t be afraid to swing and miss … that’s part of being a professional. Roll up your sleeves, talk to people, go to conferences, and put yourself out there to not only listen but also to be heard.

2018 World Cup Russia Takeaways

It’s the world’s most popular sport on the sport’s biggest stage … it’s the World Cup. With as much hype as the Super Bowl and yet the international relevance of the Olympics, the World Cup is unique to it’s kind. The event is positioned as a measuring stick of where the game of football (or soccer, as us Americans call it) currently sits – with players, coaches, and fans across the world taking note at which playing styles prevail, which continents are the most dominant, and who the world’s most elite players really are. So with that, here are 5 of my biggest takeaways from 2018 Russia.

  1. Europe is Still King.

With 15 of the 32 qualifying countries coming from Europe, this World Cup saw 6 of those European countries make up the final 8 teams in the tournament.

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Samuel Umiti’s header sent Les Bleus and the French past Belgium and into the World Cup Final.

It made for an all-European semi-finals and upcoming final between France and Croatia on Sunday. 4 out of South America’s 5 teams went through to the Round of 16, however without Brazil, Argentina, Columbia or Uruguay making the semi-finals, CONMEBOL will view this World Cup as largely a disappointment for themselves. While Africa’s expectations are not quite as high as South America’s, they too, will be disappointed without seeing a single one of their 5 teams advancing to the Round of 16. Given the mere 3 teams Asia had representing the continent, Japan became a bit of a Cinderella team after having Belgium on the ropes, up 2-0 in the 2nd half of a Round of 16 match. While only one of the 3 North American teams (Mexico) advanced to the Round of 16 … North America also claimed the tournament’s worst performing country with a record of 0-3 and a -9 goal differential

Belgium Counter Attack Goal
Down 2-0 in the 2nd half to Japan and facing elimination, Belgium had one of the most improbable comebacks in World Cup history. The comeback culminated with Belgium’s Nacer Chadli’s last touch of the ball off a brilliant counter attacking goal in stoppage time.

with Panama, the same country who eliminated the US from qualifying.

 

  1. Tika-Taka Out, Counter-Attack In

For those unfamiliar with the “Tika-taka” style of play, this is known as a Spanish style of the game that is characterized by short, quick movement passing while working the ball through channels and keeping possession. While it’s a style of play largely associated with Spain and Barcelona FC, it’s the pervasive style of many South American teams like Brazil and Argentina as well. In France’s wins over Argentina and Uruguay, as well as Belgium’s win over Brazil in the Quarters, the world saw a new counter-attack style of soccer prevail predicated on sharpness in transition and catching opposing teams off balanced on the counter attack.

The concept here is centered on the idea of attacking as soon as the ball is taken possession of in an effort to catch up an opposing a team unbalanced defensively. Belgium and France did this better than any other two teams in the tournament in large part due to attacking midfielders who fit this mold with De Bruyne and Hazard for Belgium and Mbappe and Griezmann for the French.

  1. Set Pieces Decide Matches

The numbers are staggering with 70 of the 160 goals scored in this World Cup having come off set-piece finishes, an unprecedented 43.8%. The team that everyone was talking about on set-piece goals was England, who got their lone goal in the semi-final yesterday off a free-kick.  The tournament saw a lot of penalty kicks but also very well-executed corner and free kick designed plays. The aerial aspect to the game is still a critical part of deciding matches.

Trippier England Goal
England’s Kieran Trippier’s set piece goal in the 5th minute of yesterday’s semi-final was the quickest goal in a World Cup semi-final since 1954. The England were’s able to bring it home, but distinguished themselves on set pieces throughout the tournament.
  1. Video Assisted Review (VAR) – Verdict Still Out

Every professional sports league in the United States have official replays and reviews and yet this was the first year of it being introduced at the World Cup. Quite frankly it was overdue. Having said that, I think there are still differing opinions about the technology as it applies to soccer after this World Cup. The technology helped Sweden collect a pivotal PK against South Korea, which was justified and changed the face of Group F. Meanwhile the Brazilians felt like their defender was pushed on Switzerland’s tying header in group play. And France was awarded a very soft PK against Australia after reviewing a foul on Griezmann.

VAR Review
Russia 2018 marked the debut of Video Assistant Referees which certainly changed a few matches. There are still mixed opinions of the technology, but many believe it is here to stay.

There is still a huge element of the sport that relies on human judgment which the traditionalists of the sport will argue should be left in the hands of the person with the whistle in the middle of the field … while the VAR supporters will argue the more eyes on the play the better and that it is simply a matter of mastering the use of the new technology. I think the two biggest knocks on the implementation of the technology have been, one, how long does it delay the game and secondly, the appropriate timing of when the play is actually stopped to review the questionable play.

  1. Too Many Dives

FIFA terms it simulation, that is, the act of when a player takes a dive. In fact the governing body of international soccer instructs it’s officials to issue a yellow card if and when a player does this. Nonetheless, diving is still a huge part of today’s game, which was exemplified by Neymar throughout the tournament. Neymar was in fact the most fouled player in this year’s World Cup by a landslide. However, what several players and coaches were most upset about, was the excessive exaggeration of the injuries and perceived time-wasting that was associated with it.

Neymar
Brazil’s Neymar was the tournament’s most fouled player, however, he received an overwhelming heat of criticism among players, coaches and fans for the way in which he “sold” many of the fouls.

The rolling around in agony and flailing arms led to countless comedic videos go viral, and even allowed Kentucky Fried Chicken an opportunity to commercialize a combo meal “Making a Meal Out of It” through the course of World Cup television commercials. I personally believe the Video Assisted Review will play as a big a role in discouraging this behavior as it will to confirming or denying penalty kicks.

At the end of the day, there is diving or “flopping” in every sport, American football, hockey, and basketball. US soccer legend, Alexi Lalas, in fact calls simulation a skill, stating that there are good ways and bad way to sell fouls.

The World Cup Final on Sunday will feature heavily favorited France take on a somewhat surprising Croatian team. If Croatia prevails, Croatia will be the second smallest country in population (4 million) to ever win the sport’s most coveted trophy after Uruguay (3.4 million) did it in 1930 and 1950. Meanwhile the French feature the second youngest team in this World Cup, with an average age of 26. Needless to say it should be an entertaining final.

FitBit on Steriods – Wearable Technology in Elite Sport

Technology. It’s a word that seems to be a buzz word through virtually all sectors of business in today’s day in age. It’s a word that has plenty of connotations associated with it, some positive and others not quite as much: intimidating, sophisticated, futuristic, automated, efficient … the list goes on and on. Look at the biggest, most popular companies today, Salesforce, Amazon, Facebook, Apple … they all center around technology. Tech start-ups have become synonymous with the Millennial generation.

TechCompanies
Technology companies like Amazon, Facebook, Apple and Salesforce represent the most popular sector of business within the millennial generation.

When I chose to dive into the world of sport technology just less than a year ago I wasn’t exactly sure what I was getting into. When I interned at Nike in 2010, there was lots of chatter about their new Nike Running Club App as well as their Nike Spark System that measured athleticism. When I got my Sports Management Master’s Degree from Georgetown in 2012, there was excitement around fan engagement & fan experience apps while creating digital marketing platforms. During my time down at IMG Academy from 2012-2015, it was all about innovative equipment that facilitated rehab and training, like the AlterG (anti-gravity) treadmill and their hyperbaric chamber oxygen therapy.

Today, we have more technology available to us than ever before. In the World Cup right now, you see goal-line technologies, and in-game sports-analytics companies like OptaPro that are changing the face of scouting analysis. With the prevalence of technology in sport being greater than it’s ever been before, one sector of sports technology that is growing as fast as any other is wearable tracking technology.

Think FitBit on steroids … designed for professional and elite collegiate athletes. These GPS wearables are no bigger than a watch, are lightweight and positioned in a compression fitting sport vest garment between the athletes’ shoulder-blades, out of the way of any meaningful contact.

The technology gained it’s first meaningful traction down under in Australia where the Australian Institute of Sport poured lots of money and resources into the technology specifically within their Aussie Rules Football leagues.

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Catapult was one of the first wearable companies in the space with Aussie Rules Football 

The first company of its kind was born in 2006 with Catapult Sports. Expanding beyond rugby, to soccer, to American Football, the technology spread quickly thereafter to other sports like hockey, basketball, lacrosse, field hockey, volleyball, and even baseball. Today there are over a dozen companies that produce this technology with companies like STAT Sports, Polar, Zephyr, VX Sport, First Beat, Titan and several others.

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Companies like Catapult, VX Sport, Stat Sports and Polar all represent various GPS tracking technology companies within sport … and yet all products do slightly different things. 

In all 5 of the US’s professional sports leagues (NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB and MLS), this technology has become prominently worn by the vast majority of teams. At the power 5 collegiate level, the majority of colleges and universities are doing something with this technology, at least within their football, basketball and soccer programs. Today, a trickle down effect has started to occur where mid-major D1, D2, D3 colleges, high schools and even youth sports academies are beginning to utilize these devices.

As this technology has grown, there has been a distinction of products; some of which track internal metrics (like heart rate, heart rate variability, VO2 max, calories and sleep quality), while others focus on external movement metrics (distance covered, top speed, playerload, collisions, and jumps), and some other products can do a combination of both. As this data has become available to coaching staffs, we’ve seen the birth of a new field of sport science.

With this technology, coaches, strength coaches, and athletic trainers are all becoming more intelligent about their athletes.

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A performance analyst for the Seattle Sounders (MLS), Ravi Ramineni, looks at live wearable tracking data during a Sounders practice. Wearable tracking technology has become the standard in Major League Soccer as well as most top international soccer leagues. 

They’re able to quantify the workloads of their athletes to a much more scientific degree and consequently are able to better understand whether or not they’re over or under working their athletes. When you’re able to understand the demands of a game, and develop benchmarks for certain positions and even individual athletes, coaches can design and optimize training more efficiently. With the periodization (or systematized structuring of practice workload), coaches and performance coaches can start to limit soft tissue injuries and increase the wellness and longevity of their athletes’. Athletic trainers can additionally structure return-to-play protocols as injured athletes return from inevitable injuries.

No longer is wearable tracking technology a well-kept, secretive trend; but rather, this has become the normative standard within elite sport. The inherent competitive advantages the data provides, has eliminated this as optional technology for those organizations with available budget. It is now all but required.

We’ve only just begun to see wearable technology’s pervasive proliferation.

 

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of solely the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of any company mentioned. 

Even Stevens

When Larry Bird won his 1st NBA championship with the Boston Celtics in 1981 at the beginning of the “Bird Era,” there was a young 5 year old boy in Zionsville, IN who was watching taped Indiana Hosiers basketball games before he would go to Kindergarten. That boy’s name was Brad Stevens.

Fast forward the clock 20 years, Stevens had just finished a college career at Division 3 school, DePauw University; a 4-year varsity letter-winner, 3-time Academic All-American, Team Captain, and recipient of the Coaches Award given to the most selfless, team-oriented player.

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Stevens was the 6th man at Division 3 Depauw University, where he was given the Coaches’ Award his Senior Season, given to the team’s most team-oriented player. 

Stevens graduated with Honors from DePauw with a degree in Economics and an excellent job at the prestigious global health care company Eli Lilly.

Only a year into his first job out of college, the Indiana native realized something was missing … and that something was basketball. He quit his job and became a volunteer assistant in the Butler University basketball office. Butler quickly gave Stevens a low paying administrative basketball operations coordinator position. One year later, Stevens was promoted into a full time assistant role, where they would go 131-61 over the course of the next 5 years, before Stevens took over the Head Coaching job and became the second youngest Head Coach in Division 1 college basketball.

In his first season as a head coach, Stevens set a Butler school and Horizon League record, rattling off 30 wins, as Stevens was a finalist for the Jim Phelan National Coach of the Year award. His next year, despite losing 4 starters and projected to finish 5th in the Horizon League, the mid-major school went to the Big Dance once again, with Stevens being named Horizon League Coach of the Year and once again earning several finalist votes for National Coach of the Year.

In his third season as the Head Coach (2009-10 season), Stevens became the second youngest head coach to lead his team to a National Championship where they narrowly lost to Duke 61-59 on a narrowly missed half court heave from current Celtic Gordon Hayward.

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Stevens and the Butler Bulldogs went to two back to back National Championship games, being the only ever mid-major team to make back to back title game appearances. 

The very next year, Stevens somehow managed to bring the mid-major team all the way back to the National Championship, this time losing to UConn. Back to back national championships are unheard of in today’s college basketball world, let alone from a mid-major school.

Fast forward the clock to July 3, 2013 when Brad Stevens was signed on as Head Coach of the Boston Celtics. In his second season as Head Coach, Stevens led a rebuilding Celtics team to the Eastern Conference Playoffs as the 7th seed. One year later, the Celtics returned to the playoffs, this time finishing 5th in the Eastern Conference. And in 2016-17, Stevens brought the Celtics all the way to the top of the Eastern Conference, finishing 1st in the Eastern Conference.

This brings us to now … the 2017-18 season. With a team that had been steadily building to contend to bring Boston it’s 18th banner. 6 minutes into the season, the team lost their 2nd best player in Gordon Hayward; followed only a few months later losing their best player in Kyrie Irving. The team has been inundated with extended injuries to key players like Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Marcus Morris.  And yet it appears Stevens has pressed every right button through the course of what was an extremely challenging season in regards to injuries.

This Celtics team won eight games in which they trailed by 15 points, the third-highest single-season total since 1996. This team has seen the emergence of former role players like Terry Rozier and Jaylen Brown along with the emergence of Jayson Tatum to produce the Eastern Conference’s 2nd best regular season record.

Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown
Stevens has pulled all the right strings on an unlikely group led by the emergence of players like “Scary Terry” Rozier (12) and Jaylen Brown. 

How? Stevens’ believes all his players on his roster can fit into their sets and run the offense. His belief in Rozier and even Larkin to run the point has been well documented. When Hayward went down, Tatum became the starter in his “Next Man Up” philosophy.

Stevens actions on the sidelines are cool and collected, earning him the nickname “Even Stevens.” He analyzes the game and watches intently from the sideline. Make no mistake about it, Stevens gets animated about bad calls occasionally, but picks those spots wisely. His composure has seemingly carried over to his teams’ resiliency in coming back this year.

Nurturing such a strong culture while returning only 4 players from last year’s team is an enormous challenge. It starts with Danny Ainge drafting tough players (Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier, Jayson Tatum). Ainge picks the players but Brad Stevens is the arbiter of playing time. His stoic demeanor and play-calling genius is what he is known for, but make no mistake about it, Stevens is an all school hard-ass … if you don’t play hard, you come out.

Tatum
Danny Ainge (middle), deserves equal praise to Stevens as he has become one of the League’s most respected GM’s. This year he traded out of the #1 spot to take Duke’s Jayson Tatum at the #3 spot while picking up a 2019 1st round draft pick. Tatum has vastly outperformed both Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball, who were taken before him in this year’s draft. 

The players still feel Stevens is with them, even as he holds them and himself to almost impossible standards, which is an almost impossible balance to strike. Stevens, Ainge and the veteran players have created a culture of serious, consistent tough work. Toughness and mental strength without talent don’t get you very far in the world’s best league, but when you combine all of them you get a team that punches above their weight. Boston just makes fewer mistakes than any rival. It starts on the defensive end, they are ultra switchable on defense, always moving on a string. Their greatness on defense lies in the absence of spatial mistakes. A team this big and this attuned can close windows faster than anyone else. They show a similar composure in tense moments; game 7 against the Bucks, 3 close games against the 76ers, culminating in an almost perfect final 90 seconds to close out Game 5.

Brad Stevens didn’t receive a single vote for this year National Basketball Coaches Association trophy, which was awarded to Toronto’s Dwane Casey (who has since been fired after getting swept by the Cavaliers last round). When the Red Auerbach Trophy as the NBA’s Coach of the Year award is announced next month, expect Stevens to be at the top of the list.

Stevens’ ability behind the helm has started to draw comparisons to that other coach in Boston, Bill Belichick. And while the red-hot Lebron and the Cavs seem to pose a formidable challenge in the upcoming Eastern Conference Finals, don’t bet against Stevens and the C’s.

It’s not always the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of fight in the dog.

Here We Are Again – Super Bowl LII

I don’t write on this blog frequently. I do that intentionally … when I write about something, I do so because it has extraordinary meaning to me or the sports world in general.

Well, as long as the Patriots dynasty continues and they continue playing in Super Bowls … guess what, I’m going to continue writing about it. The greatest dynasty of all time? The argument is certainly being made. From purely a numbers perspective, John Wooden’s UCLA 1960’s basketball dynasty might be the only run that could compare, albeit in the collegiate space.

In less than 48 hours, the Patriots are going for Number 6 to tie the Steelers for the most rings all-time. More impressively, all 6 of those rings would be coming within 16 years of each other, all under the watch of star quarterback Tom Brady and their mastermind Head Coach Bill Belichick – both of whom are widely considered the greatest of all time (GOATS) of their respective trades.

NFL: AFC Championship-Pittsburgh Steelers at New England Patriots
Robert Kraft (left), Bill Belichick (middle) and Tom Brady (right) have created an anomaly in the modern era of professional sport which begs the question, how much longer can they go?

Like every run to the Super Bowl the Patriots have had, there has been a steady dose of drama. In all of the Patriots’ Super Bowl runs, this one may have had the rockiest start of them all. The team lost their most dependable wide receiver in Julian Edelman in preseason to an ACL tear. They then lost opening night at home after being more than a touchdown favorite to the Kansas City Chiefs. They then proceeded to get upset by the Carolina Panthers only 3 games later, starting the year 2-2. For nearly any other team in the NFL, this wouldn’t cause any one to raise their eyebrows … the standards are slightly different in New England. Shortly thereafter, the team dealt one of their best young prospects, Jimmy Garrapalo for a meager 2nd round draft pick – causing more eyebrows to be raised. Many were hitting the panic button, and pointing fingers mainly at the league’s worst defenses through the first four games.

Fast forward the clock … Belichick’s bunch went on to win their next 8 and finished the year as the #1 seed in the AFC with a record of 13-3, leading the league in total offense.

But the drama wasn’t done. As the team prepared for the post-season, a wide spread media story expressing discontent between Brady, Belichick and Kraft surfaced. Many were speculating the dynasty’s eventual end, as rumors surfaced of Belichick wanting out of New England. Then there was Brady’s mysterious 12 stitches on his throwing hand that caused lots of anxiety leading up to Jacksonville. And heading into the Super Bowl, people speculated Rob Gronkowski not fully recovering from his concussion.

Needless to say there are plenty of storylines 300 miles south along I-95 in the “City of Brotherly Love.” This is a Philadelphia Eagles team that had the same record as the New England Patriots at 13-3, a 2nd year quarterback that was poised to win the MVP before going down for the season, a relentless defense that shut down opposing offenses, and a two-headed rushing attack of LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi that might be the best in the game. There are some eerily similar events to the New England Patriots 2001 season where a starting quarterback who wore #11 (Drew Bledsoe / Carson Wentz) went down and a backup became a star and carried a team to a Super Bowl (Tom Brady / Nick Foles).

BledsoeWentz
One remarkable similarity between the 2001 New England Patriots and the 2017 Philadelphia Eagles was that they both lost their starting #11 QB’s – the Pats losing their #11 (Drew Bledsoe) to injury and the 2017 Eagles losing their #11 (Carson Wentz) to injury … with the 2001 Patriots, an unsuspecting backup QB (Tom Brady) became a star. 

The Philadelphia Eagles have felt disrespected and have played with a chip on their shoulder at home in this postseason with their two wins against the Atlanta Falcons and Minnesota Vikings … both times playing the role of underdog despite being the #1 seed out of the NFC. Yet again, the “Bird Gang” play the role of underdog to the Patriots and have an extra incentive (like any team playing the most disliked team in the league) with the New England Patriots lining up across from them.

While playing in the “Big Game” has become a norm with this team, Patriots Nation seems to expect this Super Bowl being as tight as every other one they’ve played in. In the two weeks leading up to Super Bowl LII, there seems to have been a cautious optimism that has bordered on an anxious demeanor around Foxborough. With some books opening this game with the Patriots being 7.5 favorites, most books have shrunk the spread of this game to 4 to 4.5.

In all Super Bowls, or “big games” in general, there are multiple story lines. For me, what makes this game so fascinating is that you have a Quarterback in Tom Brady, a Head Coach in Bill Belichick and a GM in Robert Kraft that are considered to be the best at their “craft” (no pun intended), in the history of the game and maybe more broadly in all of sport. How long can this group continue to do this … Tom vs Time?

Brady5
Tom vs Time. Tom Brady has won 5 rings in the span of 15 years, can he make it 6 in 16 years?

On the flip side, who doesn’t like David beating Goliath … the classic underdog story?

This, ladies and gentleman, is what gives sport the value it has … the greatest form of unwritten entertainment there is (sorry Hollywood).

The Stars Are Aligning in Boston

6 minutes into the 2017-18 season, it seemed like all was lost. Danny Ainge’s master plan of stock piling assets since the departure of Pierce, KG and Allen, to assemble Boston’s next big three was gone, or at least temporarily put on hold until next season.

Hayward Injury
Just like that, 6 minutes into the 2017-18 season, the Big Three became the Big Two in Boston when Gordon Hayward gruesomely fractured his ankle. 

The C’s $127 million dollar man, Gordon Hayward, was done for the season after his lower left leg gruesomely snapped on national television in one of the league’s more anticipated season openers in recent history. And with the injury, it seemed like the Celtics would likely have to wait another year to seriously contend for an NBA Championship.

Not so fast.

Fast forward to today, and the Celtics have the best record in the NBA at 7-2. They’re the first team in NBA history who have started out a season 0-2 and then have gone on to win their next seven games. After being down 18 points on the road last night against what many believe to be the best “big three” in basketball in Oklahoma City’s Westbrook, George and Anthony, the C’s came back to win by 7 … and in many ways, legitimized their current 7-game winning streak. They are the first Boston Celtics team, since 1950 to keep opponents under 95 points for 7 consecutive games.

Big3
(Left to Right) Gordon Hayward, Al Horford, and Kyrie Irving were supposed to be Boston’s first Big 3 since KG, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen.

Kyrie Irving and Al Horford look like they’ve been playing together for years. Jayson Tatum is the early season favorite to win the Rookie of the Year. Jaylen Brown is playing like the break-out all-star all in Boston had hoped, averaging 16 ppg and 7 rpg. Aron Baynes and Daniel Theis have emerged from nowhere, to be significant contributors. Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier are playing better basketball than they ever have and are providing depth in the backcourt. They just got back Marcus Morris back for the first time this season last night. And the man behind the curtain, Brad Stevens, seems to be pulling all the right strings at the right time.

JaylenJayson
Jayson Tatum (left) has been playing like the front-runner to win Rookie of the Year in Hayward’s absence, and Jaylen Brown (right) has been playing like an All-Star through the first 9 games. 

Sport, in general, has a funny way of providing unscripted entertainment. Needless to say, no one in Boston could’ve predicted Gordon Hayward’s season ending injury 6 minutes into the season. Nor, could anyone have predicted the Celtics having the best record in the NBA 9 games following that injury. Despite only having 4 members of last year’s Celtics team return this year and a lot of new faces, there is an undeniable chemistry thus far with this group. In many ways, it seems as though the Hayward injury has brought the group closer.

 

Kyrie wanted to be the man … and he has been exactly that through this 7 game winning streak. His play combined with the fact that Isaiah hasn’t played a minute with the sub 500 Cavs, makes Ainge and the Celtics look like the clear early winners of the Kyrie/Isaiah trade. And also, a realistic shot of winning the Eastern Conference.

In trading down from the #1 overall pick to #3, Ainge made a very ballsy decision, betting what might eventually be his legacy as the Celtics President of Basketball Operations. Ainge felt like Duke’s Jayson Tatum, who they picked at #3, was the best player in the draft and realized they could still get him at #3. In sliding down two spots, Boston also received an additional future draft pick; either the Lakers 2018 draft pick (if it falls between 2-5) or Phialadelphia’s or Sacramento’s 2019 first round pick, whichever is higher.

 

And so far, Ainge has been right.

The #1 pick, Markelle Fultz went to the Philadelphia, and has injured his shoulder almost immediately into the season and is out indefinitely, joining Ben Simmons and Joel Embid as heralded Sixers draft picks who have missed significant time during their rookie seasons due to injury. Lonzo Ball, taken at #2 by the LA Lakers, has received lots of early season criticism and is averaging only 8.8 ppg. Meanwhile, Jayson Tatum has found himself in Boston’s starting 5 earlier than expected with Hayward’s absence and is averaging 13.7 ppg and 6.6 rpg, and is the early season favorite to win Rookie of the Year.

Top3Picks
There was disagreement amongst Boston, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles’ front offices as to the order of these three players (left to right: Jayson Tatum, Markelle Fultz, and Lonzo Ball) in the 2017 draft class. 

With the 6th youngest roster in the NBA with an average age of 24.5, the Celtics are widely believed to have one of brighter, if not the brightest, future amongst NBA franchises. And while Hayward’s injury caused initial doubts about this season, it seems to have brought this team closer and provided opportunities for others, namely Jayson Tatum, to shine.

It might be early, but it seems as though the stars are aligning in Boston.

America Will Be Watching Tonight

Listen, I get it … baseball causes many to hit the snooze button. There are 162 games in a season, twice the amount of games in a NBA or NHL season, and more than 10 times the amount in the NFL season. Games are longer than they have ever been before, with the average game lasting 3 hours, 5 minutes and 11 seconds. And when the fastest two growing sports in the United States right now are mixed martial arts (MMA) and lacrosse (MLL), two sports that specialize in high intensity, continuous action … America’s most historic past-time sport has begun to take a back seat over the recent years.

Tonight, however, in the country’s biggest sports and entertainment city, Los Angeles, all eyes will be on Game 7 of the World Series between the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers. Dodger Stadium, the country’s third oldest ballpark behind Wrigley Field and Fenway Park, holds 54,000, the 2nd largest stadium in the league behind the new Yankee Stadium. Ticket prices are averaging close to $2,000 which is about double the price paid on Game 7 tickets in 2014 between the Giants/Royals and triples what was paid for during Game 7 in 2011 between the Cardinals/Rangers.

ClaytonKershawDodgerStadium
Dodger ace, Clayton Kershaw, walks the field, with historic Dodger Stadium in the backdrop, which will be the stage to a pivotal Game 7 this evening.

Ticket brokers own about 15,000 tickets for each World Series game at Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers sell more season tickets to brokers than any other franchise in Major League Baseball, which allows the brokers to purchase a commensurate amount of postseason tickets. Going into Game 6 last night, an elimination game for the Dodgers, there was about $20 million in profit on the line for ticket brokers, because had the Astros won, the Game 7 tickets were going to be worth nothing. This caused a massive amount of ticket brokers to hedge their bets in Las Vegas and gamble on Houston to win last night. And despite, Houston’s Ace Justin Verlander being on the mound, who had a perfect 9-0 record in postseason elimination games … the miraculous LA Dodgers staged a late inning comeback to force a pivotal game 7.

IMG_3372
Celebrity actors Ken Jeong, Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis, George and Mario Lopez, and Rob Lowe all wave the Dodgers flags on top of the dugout last night prior to game 6 to rally the crowd.

Celebrities like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Mila Kunis, Ashton Kutcher, Ben Affleck, George and Mario Lopez, Lady Gaga, and Rob Lowe were all in attendance, many of whom were waving Dodger flags on top of the dugout to further contribute to an electrifying and high-profile crowd.

For only the third time in history, two 100-win teams will play a seventh game to decide a title. 38 times a World Series has gone the distance to 7 games, with the home and away team splitting exactly 19 wins each. After going down 1-0 in the series, the Astros miraculously came back in game 2 after being down 3-2 in the top of the 9th inning to force extras and eventually win the see-saw contest in 11 innings. Yet again in Game 5, with the series tied at two apiece, the two teams engaged in what many are calling the best game in baseball postseason history. Down 12-9 in the top of the 9th, the Dodgers rallied to score three runs, before the Astros walked off in the bottom of the 10th and escaped with the 13-12 victory.

AlexBregmanAstrosGame5
Alex Bregman drove in the game-winning run for the Astros in Game 5 in what many are calling the best World Series game in the Series’ history.

Needless to say, given the effects of Hurricane Harvey that recently devastated the city of Houston, the Astros have become the fan favorites and a source of restoring hope to a city in need of it. Meanwhile, the Dodgers have the advantage of home-field, and boasted the best record during the regular season.

Game 7 of the World Series … it does not get any bigger than this.

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