Mixed reality specialists and lifelike experiences experts at ByteCubed Labs received investment from the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) and their accelerator, One-Team Collective, last month. This sports tech partnership centers on using the likeness of current NFL players like Tom Brady, Odell Beckham Jr. and the more than 2,000 current players, as well as augmented stadiums, within a suite of training products and analytical tools designed to take advantage of data, artificial intelligence (AI) and augmented reality (mixed reality) through advanced technologies tailored for players and coaching staffs. In addition, they plan to use athlete-driven components for development of new fan engagement experiences. The Sports Techie community blog chatted with Troy Jones, VP of Business Development and Strategy at ByteCubed Labs, about the startup experience, their NFLPA business partnership where he was a former employee, and the latest rendition of AR/VR, player data and AI to create training and fan engagement products for professional and collegiate sports teams. Their first user was the Baltimore Ravens followed by the Chicago Bears with several more teams to be announced shortly. I was involved with a revolutionary VR training bid with the Seattle Seahawks 21-years ago so it is amazing to see the technology come full circle. The marketplace finally seems ready for this and ByteCubed is poised for the challenge together with the NFLPA. The future of consumer-facing applications is being led by ByteCubed and One-Team Collective. Together they will also tackle mobile games, fantasy sports and the event gamification space. The competition in football is never far behind, which is truly the NFL way.
ByteCubed Labs launched in November, 2018 in partnership with Spectre Holdings and Enlightenment Capital out of advanced defense systems. ByteCubed founder, Ahmad Ishaq, is a serial entrepreneur and investor passionate about building highly disruptive and impactful companies. He is a board level executive that has won numerous industry rewards and successfully built companies from startup to exit. Ahmad founded ByteCubed Labs (now U Group) 8 years ago and has grown the company from his living room to 300 plus employees headquartered in the Washington D.C. area.
Jones is former University of Maryland and Western Kentucky quarterback. He said, “ByteCubed are a subsidiary of a government services company called U Group (Formally ByteCubed but they changed the name after acquiring a creative agency).”
Company Core Competencies
• Advisory & Support Services
• Data Science & Management
• Mixed Reality
• Software & Systems
U.Group and their ByteCubed Labs division launched a first-of-its-kind mixed reality training platform focused on incorporating game-day and playbook data in order to generate simulations in an ecosystem used to recreate realistic competitive environments. In other words, players and fans can now put on an AR headset enabling NFL and college football teams the option to run interactive plays on a virtual field against imagery that looks and acts like opponents such as superstars Baker Mayfield, Saquon Barkley, Julio Jones and Kahlil Mack. Jones says their client list consists of college and professional football teams.
The initial offering is known as PRE-GAME PREP, the world’s first holographic training platform for football. Their Pre-Game Prep content and data enhanced solution pits actual NFL players against mixed reality opponents. The Microsoft Hololens augmented reality headsets and video wall technologies power the unique system.
“The Pre-Game Prep solution allows our coaches and players to prepare for a team in a unique and interactive way,” — Baltimore Ravens Head Coach.
This is “ByteCubedLabs_PGP” by Omar Najibi on Vimeo, the home for high quality videos and the people who love them.
Jones says players are able to study opponent activities like they do with game film only their platform allows safer player training sessions inside a hologram type setting.
During the off-season, coaches prepare 16 separate game plans based on their opponent’s schemes, alignment and formations then tweak it in-season after breaking down even more film, and using NFL Next Gen Stats, other data sources and analytics to fully optimize the game-planning process. ByteCubes produces actual game-day plays. Whatever game-day look a NFC or AFC team tries to run, they can model any such play precisely. The added benefit besides this type of learning being proven with the likes of the military, fire fighters and medical procedures, is users are not prone to injuries that occur during practice or even a simply walk-through of the weekly playcards, Mixed reality sports technology training is cutting edge and it works.
NFLPA OneTeam Collective
According to Jones, ByteCubed Labs is the 10th portfolio company obtained through the NFLPA’s OneTeam Collective, a groundbreaking sport initiative and athlete-driven accelerator designed to give innovative companies the opportunity to leverage the player association’s exclusive group player rights and access over 2,000 current players for product inclusion, activations and endorsements. Current partners within the OneTeam Collective portfolio feature blockchain, wearables, voice recognition, digital media, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, health and wellness, active gaming, and live video streaming.
Jones said, “Our partnership with the NFLPA and the OneTeam Collective ensures that the perspective of the player will be the foundation of the products we introduce to athletes and fans worldwide.”
The ‘PA’ as Jones refers to the NFLPA receives royalties from sales. The PA members are equity owners of ByteCubed and received royalty checks for endorsements and image usage.
The current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the NFL owners and NFLPA began in 2011 and runs through the end of the 2020 season. Of major importance is the focus on reducing the number of off-season practices, prohibiting training camp “two-a days,” while limiting contact practices during preseason and the regular season. This will be a major factor for further negotiation when the two sides meet to discuss the new CBA.
We all know how physically demanding football is as a sport. What the public did not know back in 2011 like we do in 2019 is the real danger presented by concussions and resulting CTE, along with improper ‘load management’ regarding player training and gameday performance. Old school thought processes continue to drive practice habits from the pro’s to collegiate, high school and youth football organizations even though the science says to change their ways. This is no different than how humans around the world treat the environment, without rapid change the earth may not recover for future generations. Football also faces imminent but correctable threats to their very existence.
Yes, limiting training time negatively impacts performance during competition. What are teams to do? One answer is through technology and finding more creative ways to train while lessening the probabilities of injury during a highly physical practice. Herein is where U.Group and One-Team Collective came together to introduce and promote a new way to train football players using sports tech while bridging the gap between players and fans.
“At ByteCubed Labs, we are paving the way for how data and sports can converge to reconfigure the way sports training is done, while bringing fans closer to the game,” said Ishaq. “Our strategic partnership with the NFLPA and the OneTeam Collective will extend the reach of our technology by providing a unique set of capabilities and content driven by professional athletes in a fashion the world has never seen.”
The company has plans to activate distribution channels and engagement models as new forms of fan-player interaction, as well as evolve athletic training and game-day preparation. Among the products being developed by ByteCubed Labs is a first-in-sports mixed reality training and fan interaction platform powered by AI.
“Developing cutting-edge, player-driven fan experiences is what really excites us about this collaboration,” said Eric Winston, NFLPA President. “ByteCubed Lab’s approach to content through the use of mixed reality and artificial intelligence could be a game changer as it relates to fan engagement.”
Another component being added to the solution involves augmented stadiums. Whether it is CenturyLink Stadium, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, MetLife Stadium or Gillette Stadium, ByteCubed’s tech developers are working on integrating these iconic stadia into the offering for both players and fans to enjoy.
Sports Techie, currently NFL Legends meaning former players, are not a part of this deal but that may change in the near future as players, coaches and fans want to load the likes of Joe Montana, Barry Sims and Reggie White into the solution and play football against them.
Look for Raven’s QB Lamar Jackson and new safety Earl Thomas to try their hand at Pre-Game Prep during OTA’s and training camp this season.
What is next involves integration with Facebook Oculus headset and Sony VR to make the mixed reality experience even better for the end user at the training facility, stadium or at home. I mentioned to Troy my recent user experience with Sony VR at Perimeter Mall here in Atlanta and playing a racing game which left me nauseous after about 10-15 minutes of use. Jones is aware of this issue and Facebook and Sony are addressing the virtual reality part of the solution to compensate for any motion-sickness. For now, he is pushing the AR portion of the mixed reality solution with the VR competent soon to be ready for consumers.
Competition includes EON Sports VR, VR 360 Video and 2MD Two-Minute Drill. On the NFLPA website they feature a relationship with Altered Reality Corp. (ARC). I asked Jones about how the ARC relationship with the NFLPA affects ByteCubes. He replied, “The ARC/NFLPA relationship does not effect what we are doing as we are focused on two different types of AR experiences using player holograms. We have outlines specific use cases in our agreements that will prohibit anyone from getting in the particular areas we are focused on with our products.”
Their business plan calls for revenue to be made through a yearly subscription model.
Jones added, “Once we raise our series A we will become our own entity.”
I empathize with Jones as he sells their wares because every NFL team is so different in term of the sales process like they were over two decades ago with me when I was selling the ahead of its time, GridIron 2000, expert game planning system created by Sports 2000. Some Head Coaches are hand-on, others not so much and one team, apparently doesn’t really use analytics much. Troy also has to deal with the coordinators, IT department and finance departments all at the same time making it a tough sell through but I am confident he can do it as this gentleman is smart and well versed in what ByteCubed brings to the table for potential customers.
I am privileged and honored to be contacted about this story. I can only imagine how amazing these training technologies will be in 20 more years time. There is a bright future ahead for mixed reality sports tech thanks to ByteCubed and the NFLPA OneTeam Collective partnership.
The real winners are us fans!
See you later sportstechie in Seattle, Atlanta and around the world!
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