(Photo by April Joyner)
When we recapped the launch of Intel’s “innovation workshop” at New Lab last month, we came across both new and familiar faces among the featured residents of the hardware and tech hub.
One of them was Keemotion, which makes a motion-tracking camera system for sports venues that enables games to be broadcast without a production crew. Launched in Belgium, the company now calls Brooklyn home. Its CEO, Milton Lee, previously worked for the Brooklyn Nets.
Keemotion recently closed a $3.6 million Series A round, and its list of investors includes some high-powered names in the sports world. Among them: the Los Angeles Dodgers; David Stern, the former NBA commissioner; David Blitzer, co-owner of the Philadelphia 76ers; Jason Levien, the managing owner of Major League Soccer’s DC United and Mike Dunleavy Jr., NBA player and son of former NBA coach Mike Dunleavy Sr.
The funding, Lee told Technical.ly, will go toward adapting Keemotion’s technology for additional sports and adding new production features, such as graphics of players’ statistics. The company is currently working with the Buffalo Sabres of the NHL on a version of its camera system for hockey.
— Taylor Bloom (@taylorhbloom) June 28, 2017
As Lee explained, there are several factors that go into adjusting the company’s technology from sport to sport. Players on the basketball court tend to be clustered in one area, whereas hockey players are more spread out. For instance, the system’s algorithms have to be trained to ignore the goalkeeper at one end of the rink when the main action is on the other end. Color contrast is also a potential issue: white jerseys don’t stand out among ice as much as they do on a wooden floor.
Getting over those hurdles, though, could yield a huge payoff for Keemotion. The company’s sweet spot, so far, has been in broadcasting games from college teams and small professional leagues. For hockey, Lee explained, several colleges in a city or region often share a rink, and they may have games on the same day. Setting up production equipment and staff in between back-to-back games can be challenging. Having Keemotion’s system installed, in that case, would be beneficial.
“I think hockey is going to be uniquely situated to really take advantage of a system like ours,” Lee said.
Evidently, many boldfaced names in the sports world also believe Keemotion is well positioned for a big payoff. How exactly did the company round up all those names? The Sixers, for one, are already one of its customers. In the case of the Dodgers, the company had a couple of connections, both personal and professional. Last year, Keemotion participated in the team’s sports technology accelerator, which was held in partnership with R/GA. Lee also is friendly with the team’s chief financial officer — they’ve played pickup basketball games together before.
— Dodgers Accelerator (@DodgersAccel) August 2, 2017
As for David Stern, Lee’s past position with the Nets certainly helped. (Funny enough, Lee says, he first met Stern decades ago, as an intern during the 1992 Summer Olympics, though he joked, “he obviously didn’t remember me from then.” Among Lee’s duties: escorting the likes of Patrick Ewing and Charles Barkley — though not Michael Jordan — to and from events.) Stern’s role in expanding the NBA’s revenue from media rights, Lee told Technical.ly, brings particular value to the company.
“He’s always been close to sports media,” Lee said. “He was probably as important a figure in the growth of media rights as it pertains to live sporting events as anyone out there.”
That’s where Lee sees a golden opportunity for Keemotion: in making it easier for a wide array of sports to be broadcast. Lately, for instance, ESPN has faced rising costs and drops in subscription numbers. Much of the issue is the steep price for acquiring rights to broadcast games from the major sports leagues and college conferences. And, as Barron’s recently reported, television networks now face competition from deep-pocketed tech companies. (Amazon, in particular, has shown interest in sports: it won the rights to stream the NFL’s Thursday night games this fall, a contract previously held by Twitter.)
But another piece of the puzzle, according to Lee, is the vast expense associated with production for all those events. With tech companies venturing into livestreaming sports, there will be greater demand for a broad array of content — and hence more opportunities to pitch Keemotion’s technology.
“I think that as these other companies get involved with sports, more types of sports will be produced,” he said. “And they’ll be looking for more and more ways to produce them in a cost-efficient way.”