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The Alliance of American Football (AAF), the latest effort to fill the post–Super Bowl void in pro football action, began its inaugural season on Feb. 9. The feel-good premise of the AAF is that it’s a “league of second chances,” where young hopefuls or veterans with something left in the tank can showcase their skills. AAF players sign three-year contracts but can leave for work in the NFL at any time.
Behind all the warm fuzzies, however, lurks a high-tech data collection platform, powered by wearable devices on player uniforms, that optimizes the league’s appeal for gambling. MGM Resorts International invested in the venture and has an exclusive partnership for gambling rights. Scott Butera, MGM’s president of interactive gaming, told USA Today the technology will “allow almost immediate transmission of data and what’s going on in an event to your mobile device, which will allow us to have play-by-play gambling, which is non-existent today.”
Bettors could relish dozens of bets within each game: Will the next play be a run or a pass? How many yards will be gained?
AAF co-founder Charlie Ebersol proclaims innocence: “We are not a gambling company.” He describes the league’s mobile app as something “for families to play. Think of it more like Candy Crush.” But last September he told CBS Radio that in-game betting would be available, with players “able to make money every time they get picked on a fantasy team, every time they get picked on a bet, every time a fan likes them on Facebook.”
For now, AAF fans will get points for correct guesses on game events, simulating the betting process. Actual mobile betting, which would flow through MGM rather than the league’s own app, requires wider legalization of sports gambling, but last May’s Supreme Court ruling gave states leeway, and many are moving that way.
In addition to MGM, AAF financial backers include PayPal founder Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund and the Action Network, a site focused on sports betting news and data.
—Laura G. Singleton is a World Journalism Institute mid-career course graduate; the Associated Press contributed to this story
Job-sharing is on the rise not only in many companies but in major league baseball. Advanced statistical analysis leads managers to piece together day-by-day lineups based not only on platooning—lots of right-handers if a left-handed pitcher is starting, and vice versa—but batter performance against specific pitchers.
As Tom Verducci reported in Sports Illustrated, from 2000 to 2007 most baseball teams had regular second basemen who started at least 125 games, but last year only 10 players were regulars at that position. Since statistics show batters do better when they’re up for a third time against a starting pitcher, managers are using more relief pitchers: The number of starters throwing at least 200 innings has dropped from 50 in 2005 to 28 in 2015 to only 13 last year, the fewest in any full season since at least 1889.
Teams are also doing more with players in their 20s and less with older players, since statisticians have shown that younger players are generally healthier and have more defensive range (and are also less expensive). From 2000 to 2009 an average of 26 players older than 32 started at least 125 games: Last year, the number was nine, with only two of them in the National League. That’s why players are pushing the NL to have a designated hitter spot: Old hitters go there to fade away. —Marvin Olasky