ESPN Goes All In on Twitter Spaces, Becomes the First to Stage a Ticketed Fundraiser There for 'V Week' - SportTechie

ESPN’s relationship with Twitter continues to expand, with the television network deploying the first-ever ticketed Twitter Spaces fundraising event on Thursday to benefit the V Foundation.
 As part of V Week—inspired by the late N.C. State basketball coach Jim Valvano and designed to fund cancer research—ESPN becomes the first media company to monetize a Twitter Space. The event debuts at 2 p.m. ET Thursday with tickets costing $0.99 and proceeds flowing directly to the V Foundation.
 ESPN personalities such as basketball analyst Jay Bilas, former coach and current hoop analyst Seth Greenberg and anchor Mike Greenberg will appear in the space, which Twitter is touting as a burgeoning place for “conversation and information sharing.’’  With longtime ESPN broadcaster Dick Vitale currently battling cancer, ESPN is also using the platform to promote its latest cancer fundraising campaign, #VStrongBaby.
Just last month, at SportTechie’s Pro Day Doubleheader, ESPN’s senior coordinating producer of event and studio production Ed Placey and Twitter’s senior sports partner manager Will Exline detailed the growing symbiosis between the two companies, much of which has grown out of Twitter’s weekly reaction to Monday Night Football and the wildly successful ManningCast.
Online cycling platform Zwift has a new four-year deal to become the presenting partner of the Paris-Roubaix Femmes. The annual race will be known as Paris-Roubaix Femmes avec Zwift, with this year’s event being held April 16 in France. 
The sponsorship expands Zwift’s investment in women’s cycling as the gamified fitness company will also be the presenting partner of this year’s inaugural Tour de France Femmes in July. The inaugural Paris–Roubaix Femmes was held last year on the UCI Women’s World Tour as an equivalent to the men’s Paris–Roubaix that’s been held since 1896.
 Zwfit, which raised $450 million in 2020, makes a fitness app that wirelessly connects to a user’s indoor bicycle trainer or treadmill to have their real-world movements translate on-screen as they compete against other users in Zwift’s virtual cycling and running worlds. Zwift held a virtual Tour de France in 2020 and hosts esports races for the UCI, IOC, World Triathlon and the Collins Cup.

NBA stars Ja Morant and Carmelo Anthony are among the new partners of NFTU, a college-centric platform for non-fungible tokens that will launch on March 14. 
Blockchain tech company Recur announced the creation of NFTU last fall and added partnerships with the Pac-12 Conference as well as athletic programs at LSU, Syracuse, Florida State, Michigan State, Texas Tech and West Virginia. Learfield, which works with some 180 schools, recently began collaborating with Recur. New York Mets owner Steve Cohen is also an investor in Recur. 
NFTU will open a day after Selection Sunday for this year’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament with a collection called Tip Off. The weekly NFT drops will feature more than 100 past and present college basketball stars including—besides Morant and Anthony—NBA players Blake Griffin, Jaylen Brown, Klay Thompson, Bradley Beal and current Baylor University forward NaLyssa Smith. 
TikTok is partnering with INFLCR, the Teamworks-owned brand building firm, to help more college student-athletes capitalize on name, image and likeness deals.  The deal follows INFLCR’s recent partnership with Meta to share brand monetization tips for college athletes on Instagram and Facebook. 
As part of the three-year agreement, TikTok and INFLCR will offer athletes education about social media best practices and NIL opportunities, as well as helping monetize and grow their TikTok accounts. The two companies will hold workshops on college campuses to connect directly with athletes on the process. 
Penn State wide receiver KeAndre Lambert-Smith, Auburn gymnast Morgan Leigh Oldham and Kentucky women’s basketball guard Rhyne Howard are among the athletes already using INFLCR’s management software to share content on TikTok. 
AI video highlights company WSC Sports is partnering with the Pac-12 to produce automated highlights for the conference’s football and basketball teams. Student athletes will be able to leverage the highlights for their own NIL opportunities as part of the Pac-12’s NIL Licensing Program.
The partnership announced Monday builds on a pilot ran during the 2021 football season, when the Pac-12 used WSC Sports’ software to create highlights for its Facebook page. The result was a 46% increase in minutes viewed of video highlights and a 131% increase in people reached.
WSC Sports is producing highlights shown during Pac-12 football and men’s and women’s basketball broadcasts, as well as the conference’s social media channels, and the Pac-12 Now app. The new deal is part of a broader effort for WSC Sports to expand across college sports after the company raised $100 million last month. Its pro-level partners include the NBA, NHL, NASCAR and MLS.
MLB wants the option to implement its automated strike zone for the 2023 season, but the MLBPA omitted robot umpires from its offer presented to the league during Sunday’s collective bargaining negotiations, according to Jon Heyman of MLB Network.  
While the robotic umps were effectively rejected by the MLBPA, Heyman reports that the union is willing to agree to let MLB ban shifts, implement a pitch clock and make bases larger for the 2023 season so long as the players receive at least 45 days’ notice. The league’s desired pitch clock would last 14 seconds with bases empty and 19 seconds with a runner on, according to ESPN
The league is already set to trial the automated ball strike (ABS) system during Triple-A games this year, so the system could feasibly fit into MLB’s timeline for use in the big leagues as soon as 2023. Powered by Hawk-Eye’s optical tracking system, ABS was used in Low-A games last year. MLB’s most recent bargaining agreement with the Umpires Association, which was agreed upon in late 2019 and runs through the 2024 season, includes cooperation for ABS in the majors. 
MLB has already canceled the first two series of the upcoming season. Outside of potential rule changes, the league and players association reportedly remain far apart on economic issues, leading to the possibility of more games being eliminated.  
“The Players Association chose to come back to us with a proposal that was worse than Monday night and was not designed to move the process forward. On some issues, they even went backwards. Simply put, we are deadlocked,” MLB spokesperson Glen Caplin said Sunday, according to The Athletic
Manchester City has partnered with OKX, a cryptocurrency exchange based in Malta. The multi-year deal marks OKX’s first partnership in sports and will span Manchester City men’s and women’s teams, as well as the club’s esports operations.
OKX is the second largest crypto exchange in the world by daily trading volume, behind only Binance, according to data from Coin Gecko. The company will receive branding inside Man City’s Etihad Stadium and Etihad Academy Stadium. 
Manchester City is separately creating a virtual recreation of Etihad Stadium in partnership with Sony, while Socios launched a crypto fan token for the Premier League club last year. OKX’s new deal comes after Manchester City suspended its partnership with crypto startup 3Key Technologies in November after media outlets reported that the company had a vague and minimal online presence. 
Blockchain network Algorand has signed a three-year kit sponsorship with National Women’s Soccer League club NJ/NY Gotham FC. Fans will be able to use Algorand’s digital wallet to purchase in-game NFTs, tickets and merchandise from the club.
Algorand’s logo will appear on the front of the club’s jersey as part of the deal, which was brokered by Excel Sports Management and is worth in the mid-seven figures. Last year, Algorand signed a five-year title sponsorship with the Drone Racing League valued at $100 million.
 Fans will be able to redeem their NFTs in Algorand’s digital wallet for opportunities such as merchandise discounts or post-game field access at Red Bull Arena. Gotham FC and Algorand also plan to launch initiatives focused on the advancement of women in blockchain and STEM sectors. 
Smartphone camera-based biomechanics app PitchAI has a new agreement to make its pitching data viewable in Kinduct, the athlete management system used by more than 550 sports teams. Toronto-based 3MotionAI, the parent company of PitchAI, signed the partnership with Kinduct’s parent company Movella. 
PitchAI’s app can record a user’s throwing motion to provide feedback on their pelvis rotation, elbow extension, internal shoulder rotation and more. The app is the pitching-focused product offered by the broader biomechanics platform ProPlayAI, which was co-founded by Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Nate Pearson
“Optical motion capture labs are costly, require specialized technicians and are not accessible by the masses,” Reed Hanoun, CEO of 3MotionAI, said in a statement. “Our technology puts that kind of analysis on your smartphone, and with Kinduct’s Athlete Management System, athletes will have a one-stop repository of all the information they need for player development and overall performance.”
Kinduct’s dashboard for organizing player performance data is used by teams across MLB and college baseball, as well dozens of NBA, NFL and NHL teams. Movella, an analytics and sensor developer company formally known as mCube, will use its global sales network to further the development of PitchAI. 
Serena Ventures, a VC firm founded by tennis legend Serena Williams, has raised $111 million for its inaugural fund. The firm is building on a nine-year history of angel investing, which included financial tech companies Propel and Cointracker, as well as video education company MasterClass. 
The investment firm has a history of investing in companies with diverse ownership, with 76% of the firm’s portfolio founders coming from underrepresented backgrounds, Serena Ventures says. Williams grew inspired to start Serena Ventures due in part to her realization that the vast majority of venture capital money does not reach female-owned companies, according to the New York Times.
Individually, the 23-time Grand Slam event winner has also recently invested in bitcoin rewards app Lolli and TracFlo, a workflow operations app which won a startup competition held at an HBCU men’s basketball event in December.
Former big league outfielder Jonny Gomes has joined BaseballCloud as the tech company’s director of strategic partnerships. 
Gomes played for eight MLB clubs over 13 seasons, winning the World Series with the 2013 Boston Red Sox and 2015 Kansas City Royals. He also won a Caribbean Series while playing in Mexico and finished his career with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in Japan. 
Among his responsibilities with BaseballCloud will be growing its international reach and hosting a podcast discussing the role of tech and data in the sport. BaseballCloud acquired optical tracking company YakkerTech last September, adding quality ball tracking data to its analysis and visualization capabilities.  


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