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Why Orlando City is Turning to Alexa to Deliver News to Fans

The soccer club has rolled out one of the first uses of an Alexa Skill at a team level.

Adam White

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Orlando City is using Alexa to deliver news directly to its fans via voice-enabled updates on the Amazon Echo family of products. (FOS Illustration)

With one in six Americans owning a smart speaker according to research from NPR and Edison Research, the battle is on to find a way to deliver timely and relevant content to users who also have an affinity for sports teams.

While leagues such as the NBA have had Alexa Skills since late 2017, Orlando City’s foray into the voice space, specifically with their new Alexa Skill, marks one of the first uses of the platform at a team level.

Although there won’t be a massive marketing push behind the new skill, Ed Cahill, Senior Director of Content for Orlando City, is excited about the potential opportunities Alexa presents.

“We’ll continue to invest our time into voice,” said Cahill. ”Our target market is constantly on the move. If our fans are driving, working, or at the gym, voice is potentially our only option to reach them. In terms of creating content for smart speakers, the turnaround is actually pretty quick and we expect to be able to get regular updates out to fans without sacrificing too many man-hours.”

Making a decision to explore the voice space was easy for Cahill and his team based on the sheer fact that the market growth and adoption rate for smart speakers are booming.

“The most convincing research for us when it came to the decision to enter this space was the mass adoption rate of smart speakers,” said Cahill. “With over 20 million Amazon Echo’s already in the market, and a smart speaker install base of 244 million expected by 2022, it just made sense for us to start to explore the space.”

“I think we’ll take a laid-back approach in driving users to the platform. We’ve listed our skill on our website under news and will do social media push as well as in-stadium on gamedays. As this is only a news briefing skill, we’ll push this as a convenience factor for fans. If we look into a full-fledged skill in the future that strategy may change.” – Ed Cahill, Senior Director of Content for Orlando City

Although a first for Orlando City on the Amazon Echo, Cahill and his team have been using voice-based content in the form of weekly podcasts for the past three years. The success of these, coupled with the aforementioned growth of the smart speaker market, led Cahill to believe that being creating an Alexa Skill would only add another level of convenience for fans.

“We’ve been running ‘Orlando City Soccercast’ for over three years now. It’s a weekly podcast that helps fans stay in the know. We’ve had positive results from the podcast and expect fans to enjoy the convince of Orlando City news via smart speakers in their kitchens, bedrooms, or anywhere in their homes.”

For those worried about the skills it requires to put together an Alexa Skill, the process is actually rather simple. Luckily, besides the product being extremely easy to use, the platform makes the creation and approval process for an Alexa Skill quite seamless.

Not only is the process of creating a skill simple, the process to upload content and sound bites might be even easier. With all the cool features and possibilities of the platform, the ease of use was the one that surprised and delighted Cahill the most.

“I assigned the task of creating the skill to my Director of Video, Eric Thompson. With no experience in the space, he was able to create and send the skill in for approval in the space of two days. Training for creating and uploading sound bites for our entire team took only about 10 minutes.”

As with any content and platform, the first question after debuting it usually turns toward monetization and a club’s thoughts on how they will do that. While not the primary plan as of yet, Cahill sees the opportunity for Orlando City’s partners to get involved at some point.

“Our partners are just as much on the cutting edge as we are. Many are taking the same path into voice and we’ll look to collaborate and learn together.”

With voice platforms still in relative infancy compared to other platforms, the ability to get even closer to the consumer in a way that is easy to consume, and without much friction, is a tantalizing opportunity for sports teams around the world.

Adam is the Founder and CEO of Front Office Sports. A University of Miami Alum, Adam has worked for opendorse, the Fiesta Bowl, and the University of Miami Athletic Department. He can be reached at adam@frntofficesport.com.

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How The UNC Tar Heels Organized Roy Williams’ Court Dedication

To celebrate the dedication of Roy Williams Court, UNC staff were tasked with putting together a special reunion dubbed Carolina Family Weekend.

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via UNC Basketball

(*Teamworks is a proud partner of Front Office Sports)

The history of the NCAA Tournament can’t be told properly without the inclusion of the University of North Carolina (UNC) Tar Heels and head men’s basketball coach Roy Williams. Now in his 16th season as Tar Heels head coach, Williams has guided UNC to five Final Fours and three national championships alongside a host of individual coaching awards.

To honor Coach Williams and his impact on UNC basketball, the university dedicated the court inside the Dean E. Smith Center to him with a ceremony in August of 2018. To celebrate the occasion, men’s basketball staffers were tasked with putting together a special reunion dubbed Carolina Family Weekend that included hundreds of UNC’s greatest players from Williams’ time as a student, assistant coach, and head coach in Chapel Hill as well as the current team and members of Williams’ family. This mainly fell on the shoulders of administrative assistant Cynthia Friend and business operations/special events manager Kaye Chase.

READ MORE: Mississippi State Volleyball Camps Run Efficiently While Building for the Program’s Future

To help notify all the invitees about the event and maintain their contact information, Friend and Chase needed an effective communication tool in Teamworks. UNC’s athletic department had already been utilizing the software for two years for a number of internal logistics like messaging, compliance related tasks, distributing travel itineraries, and document sharing, but found another use for it in Teamworks’ mass communication abilities.

“There were multiple parts to the reunion including the unveiling of the court, dinner, a golf outing, and pick-up games on Saturday. We needed to get all that information to the lettermen as well as get their RSVPs in the most time-efficient way that we could,” says Friend.

The two then were able to set up different profiles for each prospective guest within the program that included their respective contact info and their eventual response. To maximize likelihood of a response, Friend and Chase used Teamworks to send both emails and texts to all prospective attendees.

“Going into this, we really were not sure how we were going to handle RSVPs,” recalls Chase. “So we made a form, which auto-populated into an Excel spreadsheet. That saved us quite a bit of time.”

Friend and Chase then were able to efficiently let the hundreds of attendees know where they were expected to be for each event as well as other key logistical details. If and when small changes to the schedule occurred, all attendees could be notified easily through Teamworks. The end result was a very smooth weekend that had many of the former players raving on social media both during and after the weekend.

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READ MORE: Miami Hurricanes Leverage Technology To Prepare For Actual Hurricanes

Moving forward, the Tar Heels plan to hold more reunion events, particularly for their teams that won national championships or reached the Final Four. 2019 marked Roy Williams’ 29th season in the NCAA Tournament as a head coach. It is only a matter of time before one of his legendary teams is honored with a special return trip home to Chapel Hill. When that time comes, UNC administrators will have the procedures in place to make it happen after acquiring the contact information for nearly every letterman in program history through setting up Carolina Family Weekend. 

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“It’s great to have these processes and this information already in place for smaller events and reunions,” Chase says. “Having all of our lettermen organized into this database has been really great for us. We’re looking forward to finding more ways to use it and more reasons to bring our alumni back to campus.”

To learn more about how Teamworks helps empower the sports world’s best, visit Teamworks.com today.

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USOC Continues Turn to Tech to Increase Medal Counts in Tokyo

The U.S. Olympic Committee is careful in the technologies its sports use, but overall technology is now an important tool in helping train athletes.

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Photo via USOC

Phil Cheetham is careful to avoid analysis paralysis.

The term was used to describe providing athletes with too much information from the variety of ways data can be collected today. Cheetham, the U.S. Olympic Committee’s director of sport technology and innovation, said the TMI condition is possible, but easily maneuvered around by allowing coaches to be the gatekeeper.

“We’ll feed coaches as much as we can,” Cheetham said. “They’re the filter, they have to take the data and filter it into coach speak and into the drills and exercises.”

Cheetham’s role is largely to interact and advise with the various National Governing Bodies that make up the U.S. Olympic teams as they enter into the final training stretch of Tokyo 2020.

READ MORE: Inside Sports Tech Tokyo’s Aspirations to Be Gateway to Asia for Sports Tech Businesses

His main goal is to help the various teams, coaches and technical directors select technology that is simple to use and helps understand and improve athletes more rapidly and to avoid injuries.

“If tech can help an athlete be quicker and better, then we’re for it,” Cheetham said.

That said, Cheetham said the technology used within the U.S. teams across the sports spectrum have to not be too intrusive. The equipment — like wearables – must be simple and easily integrated into a piece of clothing or shoes, without impeding the athletic performance. They also need to be accurate, and accuracy is improving regularly, but still can be a problem.

Cheetham, a former Olympic gymnast for Australia, also has a passion for diving and has several pet projects working with those two sports at the USOC.

The technology within the U.S. Olympic community is greatly helped by a fund created by philanthropists from Silicon Valley. Cheetham said the fund is made up of entrepreneurs and billionaires from V.C. firms and tech companies, to provide an advisory board.

“It’s not just money, but expertise and networking,” Cheetham said. “These guys are the top of Silicon Valley, so they know everybody. If we want to know what’s best in motion capture, artificial intelligence or virtual reality, we can go to them first.”

The Olympic organizations often have a chance to be among the first users for a lot of technologies in sports — and while it can be great to be on the cutting edge of the innovation, Cheetham said it’s important not to let the athletes be guinea pigs.

“A lot of times, we get prototypes, and that’s good and bad,” he said. “A lot of times, a weekend warrior or high school and college athletes can do the basic testing and when the tech is close to ready, that’s when it comes to the Olympics.”

That’s because if the data doesn’t work, it can’t help the teams improve. Technology, like one of his pet projects in motion capture, has increasingly gotten better and faster, collecting so much more data and more efficiently without disrupting athletes. Now the statistical models created can be much more useful in following trends and designing training around how long to train and when to take breaks.

READ MORE: Why Alibaba’s Push Into Sports Is a Natural Fit for the Chinese E-Commerce Company

“We’re really interested in tech that helps us track training length and intensity, and if we can do that, we can periodize training sessions better and taper perfectly for a competition,” Cheetham said. “When you’re training at an elite level, you’re walking a tight-rope of performance and injury. You can’t win a competition if you’re not in it, and the tech is helping us avoid injuries.”

The data collected can also provide coaches with more accurate information for better coaching, like if a shot put throw is off six degrees. It’s no longer “I think you were.” Now, it’s “I know you were.”

When it comes down to the technology used, Cheetham said the USOC takes yearly solicitations and ranks projects and budgets based on which ones will have the best chance to improve medal count. Often, the projects are easily transferable from one sport to another.

One example he provided was a radar technology used to track shot put, javelin, discus and hammer throws. The USOC technology was originally developed to track golf balls.

“We’ll do some blue sky projects, but most are good sells and no-brainers.”

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Innovation

Why Alibaba’s Push Into Sports Is a Natural Fit for the Chinese E-Commerce Company

A long-term Olympic partnership showcases the cloud computing power of Alibaba and makes it a global player in the sports tech industry.

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Alibaba, China’s massive e-commerce company, is making its presence felt in sports.

The Chinese company first entered the sports realm in 2017, signing a long-term partnership with the IOC to become the official “Cloud Infrastructure and Services” and “E-Commerce Platform” partner of the Olympics.

Heading into the 2020 Tokyo Olympic games, Alibaba has partnered with Intel with intentions to develop the first AI-powered 3D tracking technology. The partnership will utilize Alibaba’s cloud computing with Intel’s hardware and deep-learning algorithms.

The partnership with Intel will hopefully bring Alibaba more name recognition and insight into the company’s operations, said Joey Tan, Alibaba Cloud head of global initiatives and general manager of sports business unit.

“It’s just getting the brand out there,” Tan said at CES this week in Las Vegas.

Alibaba Cloud is the world’s third largest cloud provider, behind Microsoft and AWS, and its foray into sports has all been cloud-driven. Tan said Alibaba’s exploration into sports is about four key points: digitizing fan engagement, innovative broadcasts, cost-effective operations, and high-performance athletic training.

READ MORE: Inside Sports Tech Tokyo’s Aspirations to Be Gateway to Asia for Sports Tech Businesses

At the first Olympics as a sponsor, the company put on the Alibaba Olympic Games Showcase at PyeongChang in 2018. The immersive and interactive exhibit gave more than 100,000 attendees a glimpse at how technology can change future games.

In September 2018, Alibaba partnered with the Olympic Broadcasting System to launch the OBS Cloud to digitize broadcasting of the 2020 Olympics. The OBS Cloud helps streamline broadcasting workflow.

The OBS Cloud also goes along with the announcement of the Intel partnership, which will create deeper conversation around performance tracking by giving fans insights into the world-class athletic performances.

“It’s creating better athletic content to tell better stories,” Tan said. “It’s for broadcasters to tell wonderful stories, but at the same time, use it for teams and federations to do more fine-tuning with the athletes.”

Alibaba holds lots of American sport broadcasting rights in China. The company won Pac-12 rights and the ability to broadcast 175 events annually. The company’s streaming arm, Youku, won rights to the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Youku also has a partnership with the NFL.

Sports were a natural fit for the evolution of the Alibaba company, Tan said, as founder Jack Ma believes strongly in “health and happiness.”

Alibaba has so much technology in the retail realm, and Tan said they’re pulling that technology and applying it to sports — helping showcase the company to a wider audience.

READ MORE: Toyota Grows Olympic Involvement With Six New Partnerships

“We are using the Olympics as a primary showcase of our abilities,” he said. “Sports brings health and happiness, so in 2017 we said ‘let’s make the health and happiness vision true.’”

In December, Alibaba launched the Olympic Store on Tmall, the Chinese retail website operated by Alibaba. Chinese fans can purchase Tokyo 2020 and Beijing 2022 products all year. There are additional plans to launch a global e-commerce platform.

There are no major immediate plans to enter the U.S. market with its sports products, but Tan said the U.S. is certainly on the radar screen.

“The U.S. is one of the biggest markets in the world when it comes to sports consumers,” he said. “Our first strategy is with Intel and working closely with the USOC.”

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