The Gentle Giant

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 6.18.2017

1-4 in the UFC and being on the receiving end of the quickest knockouts in UFC history isn’t the way you’d want to be remembered but I am sure that’s how some will remember Tim ‘The Thrashing Machine’ Hague who passed away Sunday at the age of 34. I don’t remember his record in the Octagon. No I remember Tim as a Canadian version of a gentle giant.

I worked at the UFC for nearly seven and half years. I interviewed countless fighters before and after fights. While I remember a lot of them Tim stuck out. While he was built more like an offensive guard for the Edmonton Eskimos of the CFL, he was genuinely the nicest guy you’d ever want to meet. Which is why it came like a punch in the gut to find out that Tim passed away after being violently knocked out in a boxing match in Alberta.

Tim taught fourth grade. A 6’4″ 265lbs man teaching English to a bunch of fourth graders five days a week and then finds time to go train combat sports. That still makes me shake my head but it’s one of the big reasons why I remembered him. Calm, polite, pretty much what you would expect out of someone from Western Canadian.

A gentle giant. One who taught children when he wasn’t fighting and That’s how I choose to remember Tim. It’s sad to lose such a nice guy. Rest easy big Tim.

CTV Edmonton

 

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Diary of a Sports Cord Cutter: Carnage and Opportunity

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 5.23.2017


It’s what they call in Washington a ‘True Fact’ that cord cutting is affecting the sports world in a major way. North America’s biggest sport rights holder, ESPN, is front and center in this battle of the cord cutting and the traditional way things have been done.  Subscribers are fleeing at a rapid rate (down 12% since 2010) and ESPN along with the sports leagues are trying to figure out how to stop the bleeding or profit from the change. While the traditional powers are nervous, small leagues and up and coming sports are rejoicing.

ESPN has spent billions on sports rights between the NFL, NBA, MLB, college football and others. To give you an idea of how much they do spend a year, they spend over a billion dollars on the NFL alone and they only get one game a week! With the old cable and satellite model being blown up, the network and the leagues are looking at every option available to them which is partially why ESPN’s parent company, Disney, bought into MLB Advanced Media last summer.

The NFL, MLB, MLS, PGA and NBA are already reaching out in different ways to get their live programing to their fans. Whether it is the NFL cutting a deal with Amazon or MLB and MLS signing deals with Facebook, the sports leagues are already preparing for the day when they see a decrease in the value of their sports rights. Gone are the days of multi-billion dollar deals for the exclusive right to show a sport. In the near future the leagues and big time college conferences will have to spread the costs among several outlets.

ESPN is approaching this transition a little discombobulated. The fact is that live streaming on platforms like Amazon, Facebook and Twitter will not replace the loss of dollars from the traditional cable/satellite/TV world. However, these new platforms are a life saver to niche or relatively new entities like eSports, MMA and others.

ESports were born online and are thriving on platforms like Twitch, YouTube and even Facebook. These OTT platforms are also paying a whole lot less for the sports rights than ESPN, NBCSports and Fox Sports are paying for traditional sports like the NFL and NBA. These new platforms also provide these niche or newer sports the right demographic and a ton of exposure.

What does this mean? A lot more exposure for League or Legends, Overwatch and even the UFC if they play their cards right.

Remember, these niche and newer sports and starting from scratch in a way. An mid eight figure deal for an eSports league or new MMA organization is a windfall for them. The same can be said for a non-power five conference like the Mountain West who floated the idea earlier this year of going to straight OTT model.

The fact is that Disney, Comcast, and Fox are unlikely to retract the amount of cable outlets they have. And if they are unwilling to play these huge amounts for the rights to the NFL, NBA and others then they’ll have to fill the hours on their networks somehow. That could give newer, cheaper sports entities like Riot Games League or Legends or the UFC an opportunity to swoop in provide quality content that pull desirable demos for a reasonable price.

The winds of change are upon the sports networks and leagues. You are already seeing layoffs because of these changes and you are going to see more. But these changes are inevitable and disrupting but not the end all be all. Opportunity does exist for the traditional sports networks and leagues but the have to accept the fact their options may not be as beneficial to them as things were in the past. For the newcomers, get ready for a windfall of money and a lot more exposure. Here’s to hoping that you know how to scale.

The Next Big Thing Started Big

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 2.14.2017

Due to my day job, I had the opportunity to spend some time at RIOT Games recently. I knew that e-sports was popular but I didn’t know how popular it was until I spent some time with the RIOT Games folks. Afterwards I began to dig into the sport a little bit more and found some interesting parallels between e-sports the UFC and some of the bigger, established sports like the NBA.

The last ‘big thing’ was the UFC and you could argue that it still is. While the UFC was turned around by the near bottomless checkbook from the Fertiitta brothers and the vision of Dana White, it couldn’t have made it without the rapid adoption of the Internet in the mid to late 90’s. From bulletin boards to chat rooms to user groups, it was this medium that helped keep mixed martial arts alive while White and the Fertitta’s fought to get back the UFC back onto pay-per-view in the early 2000’s.

Full disclosure, I was a UFC employee from 2006-2013. 

Fast forward a decade and a half or so and e-sports is the now the next big thing. While the ‘athletes’ in e-sports wouldn’t last 30 seconds in the Octagon with a UFC fighter, most UFC fighters wouldn’t do well against any of these gamers either. But the Internet and global distribution are what both have thrived on.

It was a long, hard slog for the UFC to build up its global network. They built the brand up in America first and then slowly but surely locked in TV deal after TV deal in various countries around the world while also expanding their online distribution footprint to the point where they launched UFC Fight Pass in 2014.

E-sports on the other hand started globally because it was born online. From Asia to the Americas to Europe, it has been a global sport since day one. It is a sport that is thriving on over-the-top (OTT) networks like Amazon’s Twitch and Google’s YouTube.

lol

While networked gaming goes back two decades (LAN Party in the dorm anyone?) it has flourished in recent years drawing in several big name investors and sports organizations along the way to the point where the NBA is seeing this as a new vertical for the league and it’s teams.

Recently the NBA announced a partnership with Take-Two Interactive to launch a professional e-sports league with teams managed by current NBA franchises.

While other mixed martial arts organizations existed, the UFC was the premiere player. E-sports on the other hand have several big name players from the start like RIOT Games and Activision | Blizzard to name a few. Now with addition of the NBA and major soccer clubs like Ajax and Manchester City, there are multiple behemoths battling it out in the space.

The NBA wasn’t the first to see the benefit of e-sports or sign a major deal. RIOT Games, maker of League of Legends, signed a deal with the Big10 not too long ago to broadcast games between school sponsored teams. So Rutgers may not have a chance against Ohio State on the football field, but in League of Legends, only time will tell.

The investments by the NBA, soccer clubs, and the Big10 makes a lot of sense. Live sports have been under fire for a couple of years now. While previously seen as ‘DVR proof’, the recent decline in TV ratings for the NFL and the decline in attendance at sporting events has sent the leagues, conferences and even teams scrambling to find avenues of growth. While starting an e-sports team does not in anyway correlate to increased TV ratings or more butts in seats at a Denver Nuggets or a Purdue football game, it does provide the leagues, conferences and teams a chance to not fade into irrelevancy and leverage existing advertising and marketing partners by providing them a young desired demo.

This is good news for consumers and players in the e-sports realm. There is choice, diversity and no one entity running the show. It also means that e-sports will succeed by whatever revenue standard you put up against it. Wall Street and the NBA have a tendency to not bet on things that are doomed to fail and anytime you get college kids involved, there is no telling the innovation and growth e-sports could really have.

The NBA partnership with Take-Two and the RIOT Games deal with the Big10 can be a blueprint for other leagues and conferences to follow. If these can show short term success and projected long term growth, others will quickly jump on the bandwagon.

E-sports has an opportunity to be the biggest “sport” in the world due to it’s immediate global reach and massive backers. It is doing it differently by not having a concentrated center of power, an individualized rule set for each game and it’s reach across every existing sport and continent. Drop in the explosion in OTT providers from Twitch, YouTube and Facebook Live and you have the makings of something that can, over time, do something that UFC set out to do, eclipse soccer as the world’s dominate sport.

Further Reading

SF Chronicle

Venture Beat

ESPN And It’s Bad UX

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard

The fact is that ESPN has been the crown jewel of Disney for sometime now. It’s $6 plus per subscriber charge to cable and satellite providers (and that’s just ESPN, not ESPN2, ESPNEWS, etc) has been a cash cow for Disney. But just because they have clearly shown a mastery of their domain in cable television doesn’t mean that their online video presence is any good. In fact, it’s down right offensive and shows a lack of creativity from the ‘World Wide Leader in Sports’.

You have sit through a 30 sec ad to watch a 31 sec video? YouTube here we come!

ESPN.com has taken the ‘old school’ view of the Internet or at least the non-Innovators Dilemma view which is to say that by doing the right thing gets you exactly what you don’t want to have. ESPN wants to charge a lot of money for ads in front of videos and by going with that philosophy the are sacrificing the user experience. ESPN is putting an ad, of any length, in front of every piece of video they have (or so it seems). Hey this is capitalism and that’s fine. Where they miss is when they place a 15 second ad in front of a 13 second clip or a 30 second ad in front of a 31 second piece of video. It may make them money in the short term but it will push users away in the long term which means losing money down the road and opening a door for competitors to run through.

ESPN LENGTH

It’s not a one time thing either. We have looked at ESPN.com several times a day for a very long time and have noticed this trend for a while now. ESPN isn’t alone in this mind you, UFC.com was notorious for this in the pass. They would post a 30 second video masquerading as content and run 30 second ad in front of it. While it may gain ad dollars on the front end by capitalizing on current traffic trends, it’s a bad way to get people to come back to your site.

Screen Shot 2015-10-05 at 9.16.55 AM
15 sec ad in front of 13 sec video. Really?

There is a way to fix this, it’s called an ‘if/else’ statement in the ruby code. If video > 30 then play video ad, else don’t. It is possible. It is a choice ESPN makes to not do this that can drive people nuts and pushes users to the same video content elsewhere (YouTube are you listening?)

What ESPN and others have failed to realize is that ad inventory/space online is infinite. You can make a new page and create new ad space. You can increase the amount of videos you put online and increase ad space. It’s a TV way of thinking which makes sense since the people in charge are TV people. Problem is, this ISN’T TV!

TV has one giant luxury that the Internet doesn’t which is why TV will always be a revenue generator…there are only 24 hours in a day and that will not change as much as entrepreneurs and workaholics want it to. That means a finite ad inventory. You cannot create more time in the day to place ads and you have a hard time cutting any more time out of a show or event to run ads.

The proper way to generate ad inventory online, especially in video, is to wrap it. Wrap the player then have a 5 second billboard at the beginning of the video (max) and have, if possible, an anchor say something. If there is no anchor then stick with the billboard at the beginning and get to the video content. More people will view the video on the site because others are running a 15 or 30 second ad in front of the same video (it’s not exclusive people as much as you want to think that it is). You will make your money on volume and not on exclusivity.

Then again, ESPN may have gone this road to far that they may not know how to get themselves back.

Brand In Trouble

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard

Adidas is in trouble. No really. They are getting their ass kicked in just about every way by Nike and Under Armour. While one of their brands, Reebok, is doing the best they can at staving off elimination, it may not be enough for the iconic German brand to survive.

Nike is the best of breed and that’s a fact. From the Jumpman brand to a logo that doesn’t even need a word for you to know who it represents.

nike-swoosh

Under Armour is coming on strong. It signed a massive deal to be the brand for Notre Dame (some deal worth around $90 million) and have under contract the hottest player in the NBA (Stephen Curry), a future Hall of Fame quarterback as a partial owner (Tom Brady) and the best American golfer since Tiger Woods in Jordan Spieth.

Adidas meanwhile is losing market valuation. They are around $15 billion while Under Armour is around $20 billion and Nike is around $100 billion. The German company has pinned it’s hopes on the beautiful game. While that is noble, it is also falling behind in other sports and it recently lost an SEC school (Tennessee) to Nike which is never a good sign.

Like we mentioned earlier, the Reebok brand is making a noble effort. Reebok has become a title apparel sponsor for the UFC and CrossFit. While all that is well and good, it doesn’t distract from the fact that they are coming in a distance third in the originality department.

ReeboxTheir logo looks like the laser site from Predator and their image campaign uses the same song from the GoPro Hero 4 image campaign that came out last fall (‘Run Boy Run’ by Woodkid).

predator-laser-sightPredator_39Originality is key in this business. Nike and Under Armour have it and Adidas doesn’t. The cool factor plays in too which Nike and Under Armour have and Adidas doesn’t. Heck, part of the reason Tom Brady signed with Under Armour was the fact that that was the brand he was seeing in the locker room and on younger players.

Adidas needs a bad ass at the top to stop the bleeding. Nike has Mark Parker and Under Armour has Kevin Plank, two of the more respected CEO’s in America. Adidas has Herbert Hainer in Germany……..exactly.

Adidas is a solid brand. It can make good products but this business isn’t all about who makes the best product. It’s a coolness factor, the latest trend combined with innovation. Adidas better get it together because right now, they are an Under Armour purchase of Lululemon away from being completely irrelevant.

 

 

 

 

What To Watch Fri. 2/13 – Sun. 2/15

All times are Pacific.

 

Friday February 13th

Arizona Wildcats at Washington Huskies – 6pm ESPN: This is a good basketball game for a Friday night. It’s no gimmie either for the #7 ranked Wildcats.

Boston Bruins at Vancouver Canucks – 7pm NHL GameCenter: Two teams battling to stay in the playoff picture in their respective conferences.

 

Saturday February 14th

Baylor Bears at Kansas Jayhawks – 10am CBS: Not many top 25 match ups but this should be the best of the bunch.

Villanova at Butler – 3pm CBS Sports Network: This is the other top 25 match up worth watching.

Toronto Maple Leafs at Montreal Canadiens – 4pm NHL Network: Well the Leafs aren’t very good this year but the Habs are.

Washington Capitals at LA Kings – 7pm NHL GameCenter: Alex Ovechkin and the Caps head out west to take on the defending Stanley Cup champs.

UFC Fight Night – 7pm FS1: Either Benson Henderson is going to grind out Brandon Thatch for 5 rounds or Thatch catches Henderson early. Take your pick.

 

Sunday February 15th

Pittsburgh Penguins at Chicago Blackhawks – 9:30am NBC: It’s on national TV for a reason. You get to see some of the biggest names in the NHL.

Tampa Bay Lightning at San Jose Sharks – 5pm NHL GameCenter: The Lightning hit that tough west coast swing coming off two hard fought games against Nashville and St Louis.

 

The Sunday: Here Come The New Kids

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard

The weekend before the Super Bowl is usually pretty sparse on good sports storylines despite the NHL All-Star Game and the Winter X Games.  This weekend provided us some highlights including a big upset in the MMA world and the rise of a new star.

 

New Star Rising

Chloe Kim

14 year old Chloe Kim won the Women’s SuperPipe at X Games Aspen. Yes, 14 years old which makes her the youngest in X Games history to win a gold medal. What makes it even more impressive is that she had to rebound from a crash on an earlier run where she smacked her face against the ice and snow, chipping a tooth. That left her with one final run which she nailed with flying colors.

 

The Upset

The UFC pulled off another massive arena show, this time in Stockholm, Sweden. However the native son, and headliner, Alexander Gustafsson got knocked out by Anthony Johnson leaving most of the 30,000 in attendance in shock.

While it was a massive win for Johnson who will now face UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones, it was a disaster for Gustafsson. Visibly emotional, one can only imagine the disappointment he felt in front of 30,000 fans, most from his homeland.

As for Johnson, who once competed at 170 lbs, a massive opportunity has opened up for him, Once booted from the UFC for repeatedly not making weight, he now sits on the cusp of MMA glory.

 

The Slowest Days In Sports Find Some Energy

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard

Monday kicks off four of the slowest sports days in North America. MLB takes their All-Star break which use to mean that there were no professional sports played the day before or the day after the Tuesday game making it some of the only days of the year without a live professional sporting event.

This year is a little different. Three organizations decided to finally take advantage of this wasteland.

FIrst MLS. Major League Soccer will have matches on Wednesday and one will be televised nationally on ESPN2 (New York vs Philadelphia).

The second is the UFC. Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone will meet Jim Miller in Atlantic City, NJ on FS1. Why they won’t fight until around midnight east coast time is beyond reason but it’s a good fight none the less.

The third is the CFL. The Canadian Football League will have the Edmonton Eskimos  at the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Best part about this, both teams are undefeated at 3-0 and have looked very good in their first three games.

The MLB All-Star break use to mean that the sports world shut down for a few days except for the Summer Classic. But times are a changin and with it comes soccer, mma and football.

 

What To Watch Fri. 5/9 – Sun. 5/11

Friday May 9th

NFL Draft – 5-8:30pm ESPN/NFL Network: It’s rounds two and three. Why not? It’s something to go back to during commercial break.

Indiana Pacers @ Washington Wizards – 5pm ESPN: The Pacers are making the playoffs much more interesting than it should be.

Chicago Blackhawks @ Minnesota Wild – 6:30pm NBCSN:  If Minnesota can pull off a home win in game four then this could go all seven games.

Oklahoma City Thunder @ Los Angeles Clippers – 7:30pm ESPN: Just go watch MVP Kevin Durant’s acceptance speech & then tell me you don’t want to watch this guy.

Saturday May 10th

NFL Draft – 9am-5pm ESPN/NFL Network: It’s rounds four through seven. Again, it’s something to go back to during commercial break.

San Francisco Giants @ Los Angeles Dodgers – 1pm FS1: One of the best rivalries in all of baseball.

Montreal Canadiens @ Boston Bruins – 4pm NBCSN:  Series is tied at 2-2. It’s everything we thought it would be.

UFC Fight Night – 7pm FS1: Matt Brown vs Erik Silva. This is a stand and trade in the middle of the Octagon fight. They should walk into the cage around 9pm.

San Antonio Spurs @ Portland TrailBlazers – 7:30pm ESPN: Game three in Portland. It will be loud and Portland needs all the help it can get.

Sunday May 11th

Championship Sunday – 7am NBC Family of Networks: This is impressive. Every Premier League game will be broadcast on NBCs networks. This should be impressive. When has that much soccer been on TV at one time in this country? Hats off if you watch West Brom vs Stoke on Oxygen.

San Francisco Giants @ Los Angeles Dodgers – 1pm FS1: One of the best rivalries in all of baseball and today will be Tim Hudson vs Clayton Kershaw.

Seattle Sounders @ New England Revolution – 3pm MLS LIVE: See the best player in MLS (Seattle’s Clint Dempsey) and the best young player in MLS (Diego Fagundez for New England).

Defining “Great”

By Brad Hubbard @bradhubbard

Certain terms and phrases are thrown around in the sports hemisphere without out any structure or foundation. ‘Of all time’, ‘in history’, ‘the best’ and ‘great’ or ‘greatest’. While the term ‘great’ can be thrown out prematurely it can also be thrown out appropriately. This past weekend the term seemed to raise it’s head more than a few times.

Sunday night football and Cris Collinsworth throws out the term at towards the end of the 2nd qtr calling both Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck ‘great’. He didn’t say it specifically about each QB, but he implied it. ‘Great quarterbacks’ was the exact term. Is Luck a ‘great’ NFL QB? No doubt he’s good but ‘great’? He’s not even through his second season. Manning, most would agree that he is either ‘great’ or on the cusp of being ‘great’. Most would say that there are only a few who have been ‘great’ at the position. Those would probably include Joe Montana and John Elway among others.

Gilbert Melendez and Diego Sanchez had a very memorable fight on Saturday night at UFC 166. Some called it the ‘greatest fight’ they’ve ever seen. Others called the entire card the ‘greatest’ in UFC history. Why?
Is it the amount of finishes that were on the card (eight) or something else. Most would point to the fact that just about every fight was exciting regardless if it was a finish or not.

Almost two years ago people called the Shogun Rua vs Dan Henderson fight the ‘greatest’. A week before that was Benson Henderson vs Clay Guida.

There many ‘great’ fights just like there are many ‘great’ quarterbacks. But what makes someone or something ‘great’? Is it how many trophies they win? How many Super Bowls? How many punches they delivered vs how many they took? How long their winning streak was?

It is a combination of things boiled down to one simple point, standard. ‘Great’ can be associated to someone if they redefine they way we look at the sport, position or profession. They set the standard to which others will compare and judge.

Peyton Manning is a good example. He has the trophies to prove his worth but also set the standard at which others will be judged in how he prepares and operates on the field of play.

The Melendez vs Sanchez fight is ‘great’ because we will become the standard which other fights will be measured. The Chicago Bulls team of the 1995-1996 season and the 1989 San Francisco 49ers teams are a standard on their respective sports arenas.

‘Great’ is a term we should use. Just do not use it lightly.