This week we had the honor to interview Dr. Ron Dick, associate professor of sports marketing at Duquesne University in the school of business. Ron also worked for 20 years in sports, including 15 years in the NBA with the Sixers and the Nets, and then four years in the NCAA.
📝Show Notes: Throughout our conversation, we touched on his background, his view on the COVID-19 crisis, but also what teams and leagues should do to offset losses in ticket sales and sponsorship. And we talked about the financial impact of the COVID-19 on the sports industry.
🚀Best Quotes: Here’s some of the key discussion points and best quotes from our conversation with Ron:
On how he started his career in pro sports: “In 1982, I was playing baseball at St. Joe’s University, and at the end of that year, I was a sophomore. I wrote four letters to the major teams, the Phillies, the Flyers, the Sixers, the Eagles, requesting an internship. I got three thanks, but no thanks, except for the 76ers. So that was the year we won the championship in ’82-’83, and I was an intern that year, and then also a part time employee in the second semester I went down Broad Street and got a championship ring. It was a fabulous experience at 21 years old. And then when I graduated in ’84, they created a position and I was the director of group sales the last nine years from ’87 to ’96, and then the team was sold and I went to the closest NBA team, which was at the time the New Jersey Nets as director of ticket sales. That happened to be John Calipari’s first year there. And it was interesting to see what the Sixers did better than the Nets, and what the Nets did better than the Sixers and compare two different NBA franchises in the area of sales and marketing”.
On how the COVID-19 crisis compares to other events (strikes, lockouts..): “There’s a fundamental difference between a lockout and a strike. The fans, we just hear, “Oh, work’s stopping, work stoppage. I don’t get to watch my favorite team play, and that’s a problem.” But if we do a little bit of a deeper dive on that, a strike is when the players say, “We’re not happy with our contract” or “We don’t have a contract. We are not going to play.” Now, that happened in baseball on August 12th of ’94, and we did not have a world series in the fall classic of ’94. A work stoppage, the lockout, is when the owners lock the doors and say, “Players, you’re not allowed in to the facilities. You’re not allowed into the practice facilities and not allowed into the arenas. We are suspending business. We are not playing.” That happened in the NHL. They didn’t have a season the whole season, which was ’04-’05. NBA, in the fall of ’98, we only had a 50 game schedule that year, ’98-’99. And the Spurs won the championship that year, and some people think it’s tainted because it was not an 82 game schedule. I’m not one of those people. I think they earned their championship in a shortened 50 game schedule. So in those situations, it was negotiations between the owners, the league office and the players union. This situation is very unique in that the players are at risk”.
On his view on TV rights moving forward: “I think we should expect the TV revenues to be even stronger than normal, and I base that on the NFL draft where the ratings were through the roof, and I give kudos to the NFL for the way they ran that whole thing and sent the packages out with the cameras. They did it very nicely, and they followed the WNBA model on a little bit of a lesser scale of Nielsen ratings, but it worked. Now will we one day do that for the NHL and the NBA draft and the baseball draft? Yes, I think they will. When, I don’t know. I think the NBA draft’s still a go. So TV ratings should be high. I just think that you recoup the finances you can. You can’t cry over spilled milk. You’ve just got to accept the fact that TV revenue is not going to be there. If the players can take a little bit of a reduction this is where the argument comes in, and the group that’s really in trouble is the MLB, major league baseball, because the players have an extremely strong union with no salary cap, and they’re asking players that are going to make upwards to $40M this year to take a severe pay cut”.
On his view on the minor league baseball: “Into the MLB minor leagues, first of all, independent baseball is really in trouble. I don’t know if they will survive this, because those sports, those leagues, are always based on ticket revenue and the signage in the building, the people that are in the stands watching the signage, right? There’s the signage for TV. Well, we can recoup that, because millions of people are watching on TV at the highest level of sports, but there may be only 60,000 people there for a football game, where minor league baseball, there might be 3,000 people there. There might be 2,000 people there. Well, if we don’t have that revenue from the ticket sales, which then means makes the sponsorship worthless, because there is no TV, very little TV money and no radio money, then they won’t make it”.
On the impact of COVID-19 on sports leagues: “The fans, and some of the retired players in the MLB, have spoken up and they’ve said, “Listen, there are people right now that have lost their job, and they are filing for unemployment, and right now it’s billionaires arguing with millionaires, and the guy that just lost his job doesn’t want to hear that someone that makes $7M to pitch baseballs and that a billionaire wants to cut his salary to $3.5M.” Down in Tampa Bay, the average person doesn’t want to hear about him complaining about that”.
On the impact on the NCAA: “Sports does carry into college, especially at the five major conferences, the SEC, Big 10, the Big 12, the ACC, the PAC 12, so the question is: Are they going to play? And some schools can, and some schools can’t. And how does that affect the conference? The AAC is a pretty good athletic conference. It’s newer, but they have nine states represented in their conference. So the states and the universities that are in the center of the country are kind of like, “Hey, let’s go. We think we’re okay. This thing is not the same problem that you have in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, DC in particular, or in California, on the coasts, where the majority of the people live.” And what are we going to do about that? So the commissioners are scrambling. The athletic directors are scrambling. The presidents are scrambling, and who would want to be the president that would send students back into the dorms, and then God forbid something happens to one of the students. It’s complicated”.
On what owners need to do to mitigate the COVID-19 crisis: “Everybody’s got to chip in. Max Scherzer with the MLB, with the world champion Washington Nationals, he was very outspoken that there’s no reason for us to talk anymore to the owners and to the teams if this is going to be their attitude. They really want the players to share in the decrease in salaries. They want a significant decrease after they’re backing away from their original proposal, which seemed more acceptable. Again, for the common person, it’s hard for them and us to understand billionaires arguing with millionaires, but I think the owners, it’s easy for me to say, because it’s not my money, but they should bite the bullet, pay the players their salaries or something fair, a percentage of their salary. Look, my Los Angeles Dodgers are worth more than $2 billion. That’s what the team sold for eight years ago or so. You’re going to get yours. Take a little bit of a hit now. You know you’re going to continue to go up. I think it’s on the owners to take a little bit of a hit right now. The players’ window is limited on how many years they can play, and if they do that, we can get the teams up and playing and getting something for people to watch on TV, I think that they’ll be pleasantly surprised how much they make off the ratings of the television”.
On the impact that COVID-19 could have in the fall on US college campuses: “I think a lot of eyes and ears are going to be on Notre Dame, August 10th. And you say, well, what’s that? Notre Dame’s model is they’re going to start early on August 10th. They’re going to play their sports, and they’re going to be closed for business at the end of the semester by Thanksgiving. They’ll do their final exams online, and then they won’t reopen probably until the middle of end of January in case there was a second wave of this virus. (..) We’re supposed to open on face to face two weeks later on the 24th, so if we see this spread like wildfire through a college campus, I think we’ll all pump the brakes and go online, and that changes the whole dynamics of higher education if it’s online versus face to face but we can control our student as far as the classroom (..) But we saw what happened in March. The minute we closed down our college campuses, so many young people thought it was like an extended spring break and they went down to Florida, and then we had to use one of the Jenner girls to put out a public service announcement as an influencer and say, “Hey gang, you got to stop doing that.” We saw it spread like wildfire when they went down to the beaches of Florida and started partying. So that’s a real concern for us, dealing with younger people who think they’re invincible”.
This week we had the honor to interview Josh Margulies, Director of Integrated Brand Marketing for the Jacksonville Jaguars a top NFL team.
📝Show Notes: Throughout our conversation, we touched on his role at the Jags, the great job his team is doing in terms of fans engagement. Josh also gave us his advice for teams looking to offset loss in ticket sales due to COVID-19, and we talked about his team goals for the upcoming NFL season.
🚀Best Quotes: Here’s some of the key discussion points and best quotes from our conversation with Josh:
On how he started his career in pro sports: “Interestingly, I actually started my career off of the first 10 years in the Bay Area in technology. So I worked in gaming, I worked in technology companies like Logitech, and then I even built my own company for a little while. But ultimately what I always wanted to be was in sports. And so my first job in sports was running marketing for the Arizona Coyotes in the NHL. And then this opportunity came up with the Jacksonville Jaguars and as a diehard, lifelong football fan, I was that rare person whose dream was not to play sports, but to be the CMO of the 49s when I was a little kid. Thought this was a great opportunity to get to that next step and be part of the NFL, which is the Google of professional sports. And I had the opportunity to come in and run a number of functions. And it was too good of an opportunity to pass up. So that’s what I’m doing here. And then this is going to be my fourth season with the Jaguars”.
On the great work his team is doing in terms of fan engagement: “I think the report you’re talking to came from Zoom, which was monitoring fan engagement during the schedule release. What the schedule really is for those who don’t know. It’s like the Academy Awards for social folks in sports, especially in football. So every year, all 32 teams put out these crazy videos, trying to capture everyone’s attention as soon as the schedule is released. And this year we were fortunate enough to be number one in terms of fan engagement, which is pretty incredible because if you look across the NFL, we’re actually the smallest franchise in terms of a fan base on social. We’ve been 32nd, we’re trying to catch up. We obviously want to be higher, but as one of the newest franchises, only being 25 and a half years old, 26 years old, this coming season, we’re a little bit behind some of the iconic franchises in the NFL. So for us to outperform all of those franchises in terms of engagements and impressions and things like that for the schedule release was quite an honor. What we did this year. So we have this running joke with schedule release that every year we’re trying to brainstorm a new concept, a new idea, something that’s going to catch people’s attention”.
On his advice to any teams looking to offset losses in ticket sales due to COVID-19: “Honestly, it’s the number one thing that we’ve talked about the last two and a half, three months. There’s a chance that football comes back without fans in the stadium. And how do you make up for the loss of revenue between the ticket sales and the sponsorship revenue of the ads that go on in stadium? And so, we’ve become a social and digital company overnight. We immediately, when COVID hit, started to think of alternate content that would be highly engaging for our fans and sponsorable. So we came out within the first couple of weeks with something called 904 Workouts, which was our strength and conditioning coach teaching at home workouts with his daughter. So his daughter happens to be a part time employee on our staff and she was the guinea pig who did the workouts and our strength and conditioning coach was teaching our fans with three or four minute workouts exactly what you could do from your own backyard using nothing but stuff that you would find at your house”.
On the new things his team is doing to offset losses in ticket sales: “And now we have 95 to 100 people all working down this parallel path of trying to create great new content. And so some of the themes that we’re looking at, or some of the types of content or podcasts, photography, video, radio, TV shows, games, print articles, and interviews. And from a schematic standpoint, it’s things like behind the scenes, exclusive, lifestyle, game day entertainment. If there’s no fans in the bowl. Educational, we launched our kid’s corner, while we’re here, what can we do with local kids? And then fan focused and community focused types of content. And so we’re in the early stages now of building out all kinds of new pieces of content. And content can be, like I mentioned, it doesn’t have to be video. It could be print, it could be podcasts, like we’re on here. It could be anything that entertains. And our goal is to come out with all of these so that we have new sponsorship revenue opportunities to provide for our sponsorship team who might not be able to make revenue for having in bowl signage this year. And bowl signage makes up a huge portion of the revenue every year.”.
On the various scenarios and respective tactics that the Jags and his team are exploring at the moment: “We’re trying to look at the world in three different ways. There’s the no fans in the stadium, there’s some amount of fans, 25 to 50% of fans in the stadium, or, God-willing, full stadiums. And we’re trying to plan accordingly to those different scenarios. And so some of this content will happen no matter what, because it really just brought great ideas to the forefront. And some of it is more dependent on what is the world looking like in three or four months when the football season is supposed to start. If we know that our fans are not in the bowl, but are at home, how can we create a full second screen experience that makes them feel like they’re in the bowl. Could we have the prompts play on their app, where we’re getting people excited or streaming Duvall, or having players jump into their app and wave their hands up in the air like we would in bowl to recreate what they’re missing not being there. So those are things that we are really, really trying to get after and plan accordingly. It’s been a fun challenge. It has added seven, eight hours of meetings each week over the last couple of weeks and moving forward. But it’s what has to be done right now just given the uncertainty of the sports landscape”.
On his experience going through his first NFL virtual draft: “The virtual draft was something that none of us had ever experienced before, obviously. It was incredibly nerve wracking going into it just because there was so much unknown. Was the technology going to work? Was everyone going to be able to communicate? And look, I’m not on the football side, so their experience was different. I wasn’t at the home of Dave Caldwell, our GM, or Coach Morone, our head coach. They were dealing with their own stresses. But for us, we went from having a party every year at our facility where we have 10 to 12,000 people to trying to figure out how we could do that virtually. So how do we create a virtual party to get people excited for the draft?”.
On the NFL virtual draft and what they did such as bringing in influencers and interviewing coaches and players during the NFL Virtual draft: “ We didn’t know if it was going to work or how it would go, or if people would want it tune in. And we were thrilled when we were able to produce our first ever IG Live show. We brought in a local entertainer/influencer who happens to be a huge Jags fan. And he interviewed our coach, different players as they were getting ready for the draft. And it was really well received. It went off as well as we could’ve hoped. There were a technical glitch here and there where he wasn’t able to bring a guest on when we wanted him, because the IG Live wouldn’t allow it. But that’s the fun that you have flying by the seat of your pants in this digital age, which is so different. But it did take a lot of preparation”.
On how his team prepared for the virtual NFL draft: “I will say we did more practicing and prepping for that weekend than ever before. We also made sure that everyone had very specific defined jobs because we were all in our homes. So funny enough, like I don’t usually have kind of a in the weeds job on draft day. This year, my job was to literally watch every minute of draft coverage on ESPN and NFL Network so that I could pull quotes from the air that I could get over to our graphics team, that they could put on our IG graphics within an hour of that being drafted. Other people were pulling stats, other people were doing the interviews, other people work designing and creating. And we had five different designers working on different mediums, whether it’s Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook or YouTube. So it was a full team effort. Everyone was working the entire draft. And it really went off better than we could have ever hoped, but I think it was all based on the preparation we put into it”.
On his clubs’ goal for this year: “Goal number one is to try to be as flat to our revenue goals as possible. We all know we’re not going to exceed those goals this year, but we’re trying to save as much as we can. The goal of this company was to keep everyone employed and I’m so thankful for the club that we have not had any layoffs, nobody has lost their job during this time, which is different than what a lot of people can say. And that’s been our number one goal. And so as we go into the year, we’ve got to try to make up the revenue. This is why we’re trying to be creative with how we do it. I would say another one of our goals is to constantly entertain our fans. That’s the same every year, but how we go about doing it might be different. So this year we’re going to watch predictive gaming and we’re going to come out with three games. That’s a project that I’m leading and I am incredibly excited to be heading up. We’re going to hopefully add AR to our app. We are doing all these things with the goal of entertaining and with the thought that we might need to entertain them on their phone or on their computer instead in the bowl. So that’s what we have in our mindset and to give people an escape too. If people want the news and they want to go through and know everything that’s going on in the world, that’s up to them and we encourage it, but we want to be an escape to them at a time where there are no sports to escape to. So we’re trying to keep that in our framework as well”.
This week we had the honor of chatting with Len Zaichkowsky, PhD, retired Professor from the Boston University, World-class’ sports biofeedback expert, and performance consultant who has worked with many elite pro teams (Vancouver Canucks (NHL), Real Madrid, National Spanish soccer team…) over the years.
📝Show Notes: Throughout our conversation, we touched on how he started his career in biofeedback, how important biofeedback is to players’ mental health and how it can impact their performance over time, and his experience working with pro teams like the Spanish national soccer team (La Furia Roja) during the 2006 Soccer World Cup in Germany. We also touched on his experience as an entrepreneur and his view on emerging technologies.
🚀Best Quotes: Here’s some of the key discussion points and best quotes from our conversation with Len or Doc Z as many call him:
On how he started his career in biofeedback: “It started when I was really a graduate student. I’ve always had an interest in technology for sure. But interesting developments happened in the 1960s where people like Dr. John Basmajian in Ontario and Barbara Brown in California, Neil Miller, Joe Kamiya in California, also Tom Budzynski in Colorado, and others started publishing papers that described how with sensors placed on the human body, you could record physiological functions and if subjects could receive feedback (visual or auditory), they could regulate that modality. For example if a sensor was put on the frontalis muscle and the signal was fed back to the client, he or she could learn to raise or lower the microvolts of activity at will. Dr. Basmajian even taught his clients to self-regulate single motor units. Barbara Brown and Joe Kamiya taught clients to self-regulate brainwaves with feedback. And Neil Miller was incredible when he showed that animals and humans could learn to self regulate heart rate (..) At that time people thought that HR regulation was not possible, but it was amazing research which was then published in the best journals. And they formed a kind of a loose association that ultimately turned into be the Biofeedback Society of America and later BCIA. And when I was a grad student reading that literature, I said, this is all about self regulating stress responses. And at the time I was working primarily in sport. So, I thought: “Why couldn’t the same concept be applied to sport?”.
On how important biofeedback is to players’ mental health and how it can impact their performance over time: “There’s plenty of evidence in the mental health field and medicine in general that biofeedback technology used properly with guidance can really teach good, strong self regulation skills with different modalities. We use EMG for regulating muscle tension, temperature biofeedback for regulating skin temperature, heart rate, and now, heart rate variability for regulating cardiovascular responses. Likewise we use skin conductance feedback for regulating human sweat responses.And of course the brain, which is interesting (..) EEG measurement and training used to be part of biofeedback, but then later on, about two decades ago, neurofeedback became the term used to describe “biofeedback of the brain”. So as I said earlier, there weren’t many of us really working in biofeedback and sport in the early days. Sue Wilson in Ontario was doing sport in biofeedback. Eric Peper in California. Bruno Demichelis at AC Milan started using biofeedback and coined the idea of the Mind Room”.
On how he ended up working with pro teams: “When I retired from Boston University I went to work full time for the Vancouver Canucks in the National Hockey League (NHL) in 2010, I presented them with the opportunity to start what I call the “Mind Gym”. Essentially, it was psychophysiology /biofeedback to train self regulation skills to professional ice hockey players. And it was such a new concept to pro athletes. Although, as I mentioned earlier, it has been used in Europe at AC Milan and Bruno Demichelis later introduced his “MindRoom to the Chelsea football club. And I later assisted Real Madrid with their MindRoom when Valter Di Salvo was there. Di Salvo later introduced the “MindRoom” concept to ASPIRE in Qatar. I’d have to say I’ve had some really good success using psychophysiology/biofeedback when I was with the Canucks. We didn’t publish any of that data because it was considered to be confidential”.
On the necessity to educate coaching staffs on what neurofeedback is: “It’s a big educational effort with players. It was constant education. And of course you have to deal with the coaching staff too in pro sport. You have to try to explain that to them as well in manner which they will understand. And if they’re considered what we might call old school coaches, they’re skeptical of it. So it’s always pushing a boulder up a hill, but I think we’ve made some wonderful progress. In particular, the advancement of technology has allowed furniture size equipment to be reduced to devices smaller than a cell phone.
On the stress that many players have to endure right now due to COVID-19 and many uncertainties: “For sure and I’m certainly on a daily or weekly basis, working with professional clubs and talking to players and yes, there is that uncertainty there. They’re at the top level because they have a certain amount of resilience and mental toughness, but they’re human beings also. And they have this incredible uncertainty that brings upon increased levels of stress and imbalance in their sympathetic nervous system. Naturally, they are concerned about their own safety, and the safety of their families. They’re concerned about their careers as well, the season ending perhaps prematurely, when is it going to start again? So these stressors all pile up and the problem is that it came on so fast that most clubs weren’t in a position to get players and staff ready, that they’re away from the training facility, and they didn’t even have basic physical training equipment, let alone equipment that could help them in self regulation of stress”.
On the fact that coaches and players can use mental health and relaxation apps to teach them self regulation skills: “ The good news is that there are plenty of good apps out there. We just have to educate the players and the clubs about the availability of these apps to teach self regulation skills at home to help them with the stress response”.
On his experience working with the Spanish National soccer team in 2006 during the Soccer World Cup: “I would have to say, Julien, it was probably the highlight of my professional career, working in all sports around the world. It really opened my eyes to what high quality football/soccer is. Here in North America, up to that time, we weren’t getting much quality football. For sure the MLS was around then and reasonably good, likewise at the collegiate level, good competitive football, but certainly not at World Cup level. And of course the quality of the players on the Spanish team was exceptional in ’06. You may remember that the World Cup was in Germany then. Spain lost to France, I think at the round of 16, and it was a close game. But then the same team led by Luis Aragonés in 2008 ended up winning the European Championship. That was significant and the country just went nuts over that win. And then Aragonés retired shortly after that, and I’d moved to Vancouver by then and I was introducing sport science to the Canucks.
On if he was able to use biofeedback with the Spanish soccer team: “It was impossible because I had my lab set up in Boston at Boston University back in ’06. Portable equipment were just virtually nonexistent, but I taught them self regulation skills and the importance of regulating their respiration, teaching them breathing techniques as the stress of the contest was appearing. And then with all these players, they were so good that pre game jitters would disappear once the game started. They also had a tremendous work ethic and great respect for each other. I know that was one of the concerns that the coaching staff had, given that Spanish National players came from all over Spain and all over Europe and the trick was to bring them together for a short period of time, get them prepped for competing against the best clubs in the world. Would there be a little bit of dissension? They all had pretty big egos, but no, they blended so well as a team and in the game of soccer football, nothing is more important than working together as a team in order to be successful. And for that reason they were. But yes, we worked on the self regulation of the stress response as a big part of player preparation”.
On the fun part of his job and his work with elite teams: “I left academia to go work in professional sport. I wanted to give something back to high performance sport. Sporting organizations have historically been skeptical of “academic experts” and I was aware of this. I wanted to dispel the “Ivory Tower” impression. I virtually traveled all over the world, working with Olympic organizations and pro clubs and giving practical advice based on good science. So after leaving Vancouver, when the National Hockey League went on strike, I decided that I should try just doing some consulting work and a little bit more writing. The bulk of my consulting work is with lowering athlete stress responses and enhancing their performance. I learned a lot about the importance of physical and cognitive recovery and used heart rate variability for helping athletes recover, which is a big part of what I do now. And I’m also helping organizations with talent identification. Now that doesn’t involve a whole lot of psychophysiology, at least at this point in time, but I’ve had many years of experience in talent identification and professional organizations still want my expertise there”.
On the most challenging part of his job: “Coaches are resistant to change. But I think as good educators, we can change that a little bit at a time. And the other thing I’m doing Julien, you probably know that I wrote the book with Dan Peterson, my co-author, called The Playmaker’s Advantage, which was a pretty strong look at the importance of decision-making in sport and making correct quick and accurate decisions on the pitch, on the field, on the ice. Not many sport scientists have written about athlete decision making”.
On his latest venture called GameSense: “The company is called GameSense Sports. You can check it out on the web, but it uses the scientifically demonstrated and well-documented method of “visual occlusion”. And what that means is that if your audience appreciates baseball, the batter is watching on his tablet or his phone, real live pitchers throwing a baseball at 80 or 90 miles an hour plus. And you as a hitter have to anticipate/decide whether that pitch is going to be a fast ball, a breaking ball, or a change up, and whether it’s going to be a strike or a ball. The teaching method shows only the release of the pitch and not the full throwing action. The idea is to teach the batter to recognize what kind of pitch that is by studying carefully the “occluded” videos (…) So during this virus attack, we’ve had wonderful success with the baseball community where this allowed players of all abilities to “try it at home”.
On the emergence of new companies building contactless biosensors like Vayyar an Israeli company, that has built a tiny radar chip that can measure HR, stress, and even sometimes blood pressure, without any contacts to the skin: “The Israelis have always been pretty advanced in their use of technology and algorithms. (..) If we can move down into having sensors not even being attached to the body and the data are valid and reliable, that would be amazing. Now athletes don’t have to worry about how this might impede their performance on the field, on the ice, the pitch, having sensors on their body. Athletes have always resented wearing anything extraneous on their bodies. And in particular, when EEG started to make a move, nobody wanted to wear electrodes attached to their scalp. That’s why EEG has had such difficulty catching on as a feedback system in sport. Heart rate and heart rate variability are much easier and not as intrusive. That’s gotten some pretty good traction. Skin conductance is also relatively easy to use. So yeah, that’s great news to hear (about contactless biosensors), and I’ll be looking forward to reading about that”.
This week we had the honor of chatting with Richard Hanbury, CEO of Sana Health.
📝Show Notes: Throughout our conversation, we touched on how Richard got the idea of Sana Health, how his technology works, and how it can help players with sleep, recovery, pain, then we talked about his future plans for the next 24 months.
🚀Best Quotes: Here’s some of the key discussion points and best quotes from our conversation with Richard:
On how he got the idea of Sana Health: “The company name comes from Sana which is the capital of Yemen. And at the age of 19, I was driving down a road in a Jeep and I was given a choice of a collision with a petrol truck or to drive off a bridge to avoid it. And I drove off a bridge. I went down into a dry river bed, 60 foot down. The car crumpled up like a Coke can. And I had a spinal injury from the T8 to T10, which is at the belly button level. And all of that resulted in being clinically dead for eight minutes, then I got into a coma, then I was out of a coma. And the end result was the spinal injury that’s kept me in a wheelchair until now, and a nerve damage pain problem that was so severe that I was given a five-year life expectancy. So, the tech behind Sana came out of that needs to create something that was better than the standard of care, that then would be a better painkiller. And then, yeah, it turned out that by solving my pain problem, I came up with something that was capable of helping lots of people. So the very original concept came from them trying, after all, the drugs and all the devices to try to teach us meditation in the hospital. And when you’re already in pain or stress or under a degree of stress, it’s very hard to learn to meditate in that scenario. We have chronic pain levels of 20+. So in that case, there’s no point in even trying to meditate”.
On how he got the breakthrough moment: “Every time I tried to quiet my mind, my mind was screaming at me, “Pain! Pain! Pain!” So to try it on your own when you’re already in difficulty is a problem. But what I noticed was when I watched a particular movie that was good and bad the whole way through the movie, it put me in the act of what we would now call a “flow state”. And I realized at the end of the film, I was like, “Holy crap. I’ve changed my pain levels more than morphine.” And the second finding was that the bits of the film that made me feel that pain made me feel like what I used to when I was skiing or riding or as Americans would say, horseback riding. So, I was looking for that connection of how do I get into that state that I used to during sport that would then help my recovery. And the real breakthrough came when I started looking at the meditation research into the EEG profiles of long term meditators. So essentially the 50 years of research by that stage then I looked at how long term meditation changes your brain, because my thought was, well, I can’t learn to meditate now that I’m already in pain, but what would have happened had I been meditating all my life? That would give me a degree of control over how my brain works. It’d be useful. So, yeah. So that was how the whole thing started. I use audio/visual stimulation, so basically pulses of light and sound. And originally, an EEG feedback loop system. That was how I started looking at how do I get my brain from a state that’s in to a state that longterm meditators produce. And yeah, it turned out that it increases enough neuroplasticity of my in-brain to fix my pain levels”.
On when he expects to get FDA approval for his device: “So the first step for us is what’s called a 513(g) confirmation, which we’re already undergoing, and I expect it is going to be done in the next couple of weeks. But we are already on market as a wellness device. So, we can make claims around relaxation and improving sleep, and we’re hoping to get FDA approval either by the end of this year or early next year for the first indication, which will be fibromyalgia. And then, as further clinical trials prove our efficacy in other areas, we’ll make subsequent submissions to the FDA to increase what we’re allowed to say about how the device works. Because the whole FDA process is set up around proving, first of all, safety, which we’ve already done, and then proving the specific claims around pain and anxiety that we want to make, that we can’t make until we’ve actually proven that the results of the clinical trials”.
On how his product can help the teams improve the players’ sleep and recovery: “So the first team who did a mini trial for us was the San Jose Sharks in the NHL. And they obviously deal with the lot of what other sports teams deal with, with intense travel, games being played at times that are not good for your circadian rhythm. And then the simple thing is that you can put a device on, whether you are in bed in a hotel that you’ve got to attain in the morning when you’re high up on adrenaline, because you finished your game at 11 and then you were traveling all the time. One of my favorites is actually in Uber’s to or from airports, although obviously flying is something that we’re not going to do as much for a while. Or actually in a plane. So, the idea is that you can put the device on wherever you need it, wherever you want to use it, wherever you want to get some increased relaxation and improved sleep management, whether that’s in bed and you’re ready to go to sleep, or in transit. And you put it on, press play, and you’re getting a very highly coordinated sequence of light and sound pulses. You’re doing it through closed eyes, and you’re doing it at a very relaxing level. And typically, the majority of users are asleep within 10 minutes”.
On what sports would benefit from using their device: “Generally speaking, we get a greater change in someone the more wear and tear, and the more damage they’ve had. Our clinical trials show that the more severe anxiety someone is in before they use the device, the greater the degree of change. We also have some good, early anecdotal data on improvement of traumatic injury and concussion. But again, those are things that we are not approved by the FDA yet, but we are active in the process of setting up clinical trials to prove those out. We do very much want to work with NFL teams as part of our proving out process. And we’ve also got a very large amount of military testing lined up as well. And again, all of our data will be submitted to the FDA”.
On how to buy Sana device: “So right now, they can go on to our www.sana.io website and buy directly. We went live last week. And any teams that want to buy in bulk should definitely email me directly at email@example.com”.
On his future plans for the next 24 months: “We should have our first FDA indication hopefully by the end of the year. We’ve got clinical trials happening at Mount Sinai for neuropathic pain. The work we are doing with the Cleveland Clinic for multiple sclerosis should be later this year. We’re doing a trial on lower back pain with Anthem. So, we’ve got a very large number of clinical trials happening to prove out all these different areas. The aim really is to make the device as available as possible to everyone under our current clearance for wellness. In the future, we will have clearances in the other indications for pain such as anxiety and PTSD, and all the things that we have some early data to show efficacy that we are now. In the next 24 months, we will be going through most of our clinical trials to prove those out, and then submit the data to the FDA to then get approval to get to market for those things”.
This week we had the honor of chatting with Matt Arden the head of content and media at the NBA 2K League.
📝Show Notes: Throughout our conversation, we touched on the main reasons behind the launch of the NBA 2K League’s Three For All Showdown tournament, the new studio in New York, what the NBA 2K League has learned so far since the beginning of the tournament, and where the content and broadcast experience for the 3 by 3 tournament is likely to evolve in the coming years.
🚀Best Quotes: Here’s some of the key discussion points and best quotes from our conversation with Matt:
On the main goal behind launching the NBA 2K League Three for All Showdown tournament:“I think what’s going on right now is obviously pretty unprecedented. So, we wanted a fun way to engage with our game during these unprecedented times. While we were encouraged to practice social distancing, it was also important that we stay connected, and we wanted to keep our players and our teams engaged and we needed a proving ground to test remote gameplay and broadcast capabilities too. And so the league came together and very quickly came up with this tournament to sort of accomplish all those goals”.
On the new studio that they built in New York: “It is exciting. It’s obviously bittersweet that we haven’t been able to open the doors yet, but we’re hopeful we’ll get there. And so when the new arena opens, we’ll have moved from Long Island City in Queens to Hell’s Kitchen in Manhattan, which provides so much more access for fans, teams, our partners, and media to come explore and experience our game. From a broadcast perspective, we’re super excited. We’ve added a number of cameras. We’ll have a total of 25 to 30 cameras on the floor at any given time. The studio stage, we’d like to capture and game atmosphere and dialogue between players because the trash talk in our game is pretty famous, and while we never condone bullying, the trash talk in the 2K League is pretty intense and it’s a ton of fun. And so we want to be able to hear all that. We think it brings our fans closer to the game”.
On some of the new technologies in the new studio in New York: “We’ve got so many more exciting things. We’ve got a touch screen for our talent to use with play by play analysis. We’ve got tag board integrated this year, so social media conversations can be brought into the broadcast and the arena in real time and we can respond to them in real time. We’ve added a streaming pod for guest streamers and celebrities that want to come in and host or stream as well. We’ve added a small studio for content capture in the arena itself. So, my goal is just to make sure that that thing is ready to roll whenever we’re ready to roll”.
On what they have learned so far since the beginning of the NBA 2K League Three for All Showdown tournament:“First and foremost it was just how incredible our team is and how easily they adapted to this rather aggressive new environment. I mean, they pivoted. We’re 180 degrees different looking at broadcasting than we were a month ago. We turned the entire ship around rather quickly (..) One of the main things that we walked away was not only the confidence that we could produce a remote game or remote competition from both a game and league ops perspective to a broadcast perspective, but then we could do it at a really high level in a very quick turn. (..) And the truth is we continue to learn and iterate night over night over the course of the eight nights we broadcast that tournament. And we’ll take all of those learnings into the regular season when we begin remote gameplay to kick off our season.(..) So not only was the Three for All tournament an incredible success just from a gameplay perspective and a fan engagement perspective, but from a broadcast learning perspective, it was not only incredibly informative, but it was a ton of fun for us to create”.
On what is needed to make sure that the fan experience is the best:“It is, and obviously with the unprecedented nature of what we’re facing, I think for me it’s sort of three fold. One is replicate as much as possible, the broadcast that fans have come to enjoy. We’re really challenging ourselves to produce the highest quality show despite our obvious challenges. We have to have a really delicate balance between hardcore 2K game play and being really open to new viewers right now (..) And I think two for me would be the content part of it. We want more of it and we want to dig deeper into the stories that make up our league. We have some incredible personalities. The stars of our league are incredibly engaging and I think that they’re a key to even greater awareness around our league.And so this past off season, we adopted an always on mentality and that’s actually helped us sort of face this COVID-19 crisis because we were already in the mindset of producing content daily. (..) And the third is just this “stay connected”, from social media to the chat and both Twitch and YouTube when we’re live with the addition of tag board. (..) I think going back to my original point that we learned how quickly our team can pivot. I think we’ll see that as we begin to iterate our remote broadcasts as well”.
On where the content and media experience for the Three by Three tournament is likely to evolve in the coming years, starting with the virtual studio show: “ I think from the Three by Three, and even the Three for All tournament, we’ve learned one thing, which is that we were very bullish on creating a virtual studio. We felt having a home base was very important to us. And having a studio show was part of the offering that we offered in the live setting. So in a virtual setting, we should provide the same. So we rolled out a virtual studio with our friends from Live CGI, which we were very proud of it, and we look to continue in the future”.
On their plan to continue to offer more integration with their talent and personalities, and the integration of social conversations: “I think we also saw more integration of our talent and the personalities of our talent, particularly Scott Cole and Jamie “DirK” Diaz Ruiz in our broadcasts, giving them more opportunity to open up and be more a part of the broadcast and help drive the show. That was a nice unique learning that I think we’ll carry forward. Certainly continuing the integration of social conversations and helping that drive the narrative of the show as well will be something we’ll carry forward with us”.
On its future plan to bring back overlays as part of the experience: “One thing that we didn’t use in the Three by Three that we’ll bring back for the remote broadcasts and the live game play is our overlay, which we do with a company called Muxy currently, which in that offering will become a lot more robust and engaging. Including some staff feeds to allow some of our more diehard hardcore fans to follow the game a little differently than the traditional broadcast. So consumer choice, audience choice in how they watch us and learning from them as we go. I think those are the big things that we’ll carry forward into season three”.
Increasingly, our voice — and the voice of our apps, digital assistants and smartphones is having a larger role in the way we get things done both at home and in our professional lives.
Last year, we had the honor of chatting with Adam Cheyer, the founder of Siri (sold to Apple), Viv Labs (sold to Samsung), and known as a world’s pioneer in the world of AI.
📝Show Notes: Throughout our conversation, we touched on the legacy of digital assistants (and their role today), what it was like building Siri and working with Steve Jobs, and the implications AI will have for sports in the coming years, many of which will leverage the power of AR, VR, and more.
🚀Best Quotes: Here’s some of the key discussion points and best quotes from our conversation with Adam:
On the internet:“I never conceived of the internet, as having hyperlinks, and multimedia web pages. I thought, you’d just have an assistant. And we worked on that with Luc Julia. So, in 1994 he came, and he was really the user interface guru”.
On the digital assistants he built in the 90s: “You could say to your TV, “Pull up my meeting notes from my two o’clock meeting today.” And you could browse your notes, picture and picture, while you continue to watch the game. You’d head to your car, and you’d be driving around, and we had a 3D model of the world that we could imprint. So, you would be looking out your windshield, and as you pulled up the hill, you’d see this building appear behind you.
On digital assistants today: “The world that we imagined back at SRI in the 90s, still has not yet come to pass. I think, it’s getting closer and closer every day”.
On the haha moment when building Siri: “When we were now able to understand the complexity of all of these different requests from many different industries, and many different styles, in a robust way. I think, that was our aha moment, where we said, “You know, I think we’ve done something that no one thought was possible, and that’s going to change the world.”
On working with Steve Jobs: “The thing I loved about Steve, is that he had opinions, but he never felt that he was necessarily right. He was always open to hearing another perspective, and thinking about it. And if you couldn’t defend your position in a reasoned way, he’d like, “I don’t have time.” And he would knock you aside. But I never had a problem with Steve. He would ask me things, or we would talk about things..” (..) his method of always listening, and thinking about it, and hearing you. And then, saying, “No, we’re going to do it this way, for this reason.” I’m like, I loved that about Steve Jobs”.
On Steve Jobs being a great listener: “He was a great listener. So many leaders feel they’re the smartest person in the room, and they’re right, and they have their opinion, and it’s very hard to change their opinion. He always was looking to learn from someone else, someone smart. He wanted to be right. He wanted to win, and that meant he had to learn, and think, and listen”.
On the first time he saw the Siri logo at an Apple store: “And we walked up to that same Apple store, and now on the front door, next to the front door, they had this giant plasma display made up as an iPhone prototype. And above the plasma display, it said, “Introducing Siri.” And they had Siri use cases playing on the loop. And I got this chill, where I remembered so clearly wanting to be one of those advert icons on the wall, and now I was the front door”.
On the killer AI sports experience: “I think AI, in general, will transform sports in so many ways. And AI being both optimizing decisions, and letting athletes be their best selves. (..) To understand when does this team play best against other teams, what defenses work best, what player combinations work best.So, I think AI, in general, will absolutely optimize both the individual, how they perform, and teams (..)
On AI becoming a digital coach for players: “A coach will be able to say, “Bring up recommended plays that I should do in this situation.” Or, ask questions, “What is the success rate?” Players when they’re working out, can have a little earbud in their ear that’s giving them feedback based on how to shoot better, how to position better, what they’re doing wrong. And almost, get this real time adjustment, where they can talk to the assistant, the assistant can talk to them. And the assistant becomes an automated data driven coach”.
On the future of AI and betting together: “And as betting progresses, you’re not just going to bet on the score of the game. But there will be bets of all different sorts, right? I’ll bet that the first person to score a point in the half will be this person. And I bet that this person outscores the guy he’s guarding by this many points”.
On the future of digital assistants: “I believe ubiquitous assistant, that can do everything that we do on the internet today, or most things on the internet, will be here in full force within two years from now. (..) Whether I’m talking on a TV, or a refrigerator, or a smartwatch, or a phone, I want to know that Bixby knows me. If I told it something once on one device, it should know it over on a second device, it’s the same assistant. And so, we’ve designed it in that way, that a user can just think of it as, “It’s just my Bixby. And the fact that I’m talking to it over a phone or a TV doesn’t really matter.”
On the state of AR/VR: “For me, AR and VR are not ready to go mainstream right now. There’s too much still to be figured out. But 10 years from now, I could see AR being the next interface paradigm. That, as you walk around in the world, literally, we can read and write every pixel that we’re seeing, and really create the experience, the augmented experience that we want” (..) I’m kind of penciling out 10 years from now, that my next big user experience breakthrough will be based on AR”.
To read a transcript of our entire conversation with Adam Cheyer, be sure to check out our post here.