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MLSE launches new 'digital arena' for Raptors and Leafs fans – The Globe and Mail

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The pandemic has forced all businesses to pivot, including Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment in the absence of people in the stands.

While Toronto Raptors and Maple Leafs games go on, fans are forced to watch from their living rooms.

To help reconnect its audience to its teams and each other, the sports and entertainment giant has introduced a “digital arena” to its Raptors and Maple Leafs apps.

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MLSE has added a ‘digital arena’ to its Raptors and Maple Leafs mobile apps.

HO/The Canadian Press

“It’s the digital manifestation of being at a game,” said Humza Teherany, MLSE’s chief technology and digital officer.

For Teherany, the digital arena is a chance for fans to come together virtually, to “digitally enable” Jurassic Park and Leafs Nation.

“While everybody else is thinking about how to get sports back physically – and that is important and we are too, there’s tons of energy, the majority of energy goes into that – we didn’t want to stop there,” said Teherany. “We wanted to really think about what else sports would be about once we recover from this pandemic

“The experience is going to be different. Everything’s going to be different, even when we do have fans back at Scotiabank Arena We think a lot of these digital components, they don’t go away once COVID ends. They’re going to remain. We’re going to find ways to have both experiences.

“And now, frankly, if you’re a Raptors fan anywhere in the world, you can come to Jurassic Park.”

The digital arena has launched for the Raptors and Leafs. MLSE says it’s on the way for Toronto FC.

“Imagine the TFC supporters’ section coming alive digitally,” said Teherany. “That will be something interesting to see. Maybe not as wild, but definitely the comments will be flying.”

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The platform was developed by MLSE Digital Labs, the company’s in-house technology and digital team, with assistance from Vancouver’s Tradable Bits Media. The NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers and San Antonio Spurs have already bought the MLSE technology to showcase their own digital arenas.

“We’re seeing great interest from the sports community around what we’ve done,” said Teherany.

Prior to the pandemic, MLSE had been looking at ways to improve fan access outside of the venue. COVID-19 accelerated the project.

Entering the app, you see a box to enter the digital arena. That allows you to take part in a number of interactive games from “predictive trivia” to virtual T-shirt tosses (you’d don’t win a T-shirt but you earn points that can lead to prizes).

“We’ve seen tremendous response so far,” Christian Magsisi, MLSE’s senior director, technology and digital, said of the trivia. “I want to say we’re north of 55, almost 60 per cent of participation on the site.”

The idea is to give fans at home some of what they got at Scotiabank Arena. For tip-off of Raptors games, for example, they can click on a team logo to jointly increase the noise meter. And you can seen what’s on the arena Jumbotron.

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The digital arena also provides a live chat and statistics, which will be expanded in the months to come.

Friends will be able to set up private chat rooms. And the plan is to incorporate team alumni or media personalities to engage with fans – something that has already been done in a pilot TFC project.

“Sports is better with friends and sports is better as a community,” said Magsisi, who adds a test run with season-ticket holders showed people in the same section reaching out to each other.

Magsisi says the chat room has got interesting when the Raptors mascot joined the conversation.

“People quite literally just turn into children again. Everyone’s saying hi to the Raptor and asking weird questions.”

The stats side will grow considerably down the line, using NHL puck and player tracking data in the future.

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“In real time, in the very, very near future, over the next six months, you’re going to be able to seed how fast Auston Matthews is skating. Or how much energy he has left because he’s been on a long shift,” Magsisi said.

The Raptors and Leafs already have a good social media following. The Raptors have 2.3 million followers on Twitter and 3.3 million on Instagram while the comparable numbers for the Leafs are 1.9 million and 1.1 million.

The Raptors and Leafs apps also boast the No. 1 user base in their respective leagues, although MLSE won’t detail exact numbers.

The MLSE team apps started primarily to enhance the experience of arena fans, allowing them to store their tickets digitally or order food or merchandise from their seats. MLSE has expanded them since then, showing coaches’ news conferences or offering behind-the-scenes content between games.

“We don’t compete with other sports apps,” said Teherany. “What we do is give you a deep view and connection into the Raptors and into the Leafs.”

Early figures since the digital arena launched show users spent 20 to 25 per cent longer on the app than they normally would, according to Sumit Arora, MLSE’s senior director, strategy and analytics. And users return to the app more often.

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The digital platform also incorporates the MLSE Foundation’s 50/50 draw and allows MLSE to offer promotions with corporate partners – one offered an UberEats code for the first 500 people going into the digital arena.

Season-ticket holders can access their account information from their phone.

With leagues opening the door to sports betting relationships, the apps would seem well suited to connect another way. But Teherany says MLSE is holding back right now, seeing how the wagering landscape settles.

MLSE Digital Labs’ team has grown to 150 people from 50 since Teherany joined some three years ago.

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UEFA threaten to ban breakaway clubs from all competitions

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By Simon Evans

MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) – European soccer‘s governing body UEFA has warned clubs linked to a breakaway Super League that they face being banned from domestic and international competitions if they set up a rival to the Champions League.

In a joint statement https://www.uefa.com/insideuefa/mediaservices/mediareleases/news/0268-12121411400e-7897186e699a-1000–statement-by-uefa-english-fa-rfef-figc-premier-league-laliga-le with Spanish, English and Italian leagues and federations, UEFA said it will consider “all measures”, including the courts and bans from domestic leagues, in opposition to plans for a breakaway competition.

UEFA said it had learnt that clubs from those countries “may be planning to announce their creation of a closed, so-called Super League”.

“If this were to happen, we wish to reiterate that we….(and) also FIFA and all our member associations – will remain united in our efforts to stop this cynical project, a project that is founded on the self-interest of a few clubs at a time when society needs solidarity more than ever,” UEFA said.

“We will consider all measures available to us, at all levels, both judicial and sporting in order to prevent this happening. Football is based on open competitions and sporting merit; it cannot be any other way,” the statement added.

In January, FIFA had said that a breakaway league would not be recognised and that “any club or player involved in such a competition would as a consequence not be allowed to participate in any competition organised by FIFA or their respective confederation” – meaning players would be banned from the World Cup.

Sunday’s UEFA statement said: “The clubs concerned will be banned from playing in any other competition at domestic, European or world level, and their players could be denied the opportunity to represent their national teams.

“We thank those clubs in other countries, especially the French and German clubs, who have refused to sign up to this. We call on all lovers of football, supporters and politicians, to join us in fighting against such a project if it were to be announced. This persistent self-interest of a few has been going on for too long. Enough is enough.”

 

(Reporting by Simon Evans, editing by Ed Osmond and Christian Radnedge)

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Netherlands and Poland seal narrow Billie Jean King Cup playoff wins

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(Reuters) – The Netherlands and Poland both needed deciding doubles wins to battle through their Billie Jean King Cup playoffs on Saturday but Britain, Italy and Canada all enjoyed easier passages.

In Den Bosch, the Dutch were without world number 11 Kiki Bertens for the second day because of injury and found themselves trailing China 2-1 after Wang Xiyu beat Lesley Kerkhove in Saturday’s opening singles.

But Aranxta Rus beat Wang Xinyu to level the tie and then teamed up with Demi Schuurs to defeat Zhang Shuai and Zu Yifan to send the hosts through.

It was equally tight in Poland where the hosts were pushed to the brink by Brazil.

Brazil’s Carolina Meligeni Alves took the tie into a deciding doubles with a win over Katarzyna Kawa but the Poles prevailed 3-2 as Kawa and Magdalena Frech came back from a set down to beat Meligeni Alves and Luisa Stefani.

Kazakhstan also won a deciding rubber to see off Argentina.

Britain led 2-0 overnight against Mexico in London but Marcela Zacarias beat Heather Watson to keep alive the tie.

Katie Boulter proved too strong for Giuliana Olmos though to clinch the tie for the hosts.

Italy beat Romania 3-1 while Canada‘s teenager Leylah Annie Fernandez sealed her country’s path as she gave her side an unassailable 3-0 lead over Serbia thanks to a three-set win over Nina Stojanovic.

Ukraine eased past Japan 4-0 while Anastasija Sevastova secured Latvia’s 3-1 victory over India.

The eight winners move forward to next year’s qualifying round where they will hope to reach the 2022 Billie Jean King Cup Finals.

The old Fed Cup was re-branded last year and named after the American great and 12-times Grand Slam singles champion who won the inaugural tournament nearly 60 years ago.

This year’s 12-team Finals were postponed because of the pandemic and a new date has yet to be finalised.

 

(Reporting by Martyn Herman; editing by Clare Fallon)

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Motor racing-Canadian Grand Prix cancelled for second year

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(Reuters) -The Canadian Grand Prix scheduled for June 13 at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal has been cancelled for the second year in a row, CBC Radio reported on Thursday although Formula One said discussions remained ongoing.

With the spread of new COVID-19 variants and Canada battling to contain a third wave of the virus, Montreal public health authorities concluded that even if run behind closed doors without spectators the risks were too high, reported the CBC.

F1 officials, according to the CBC, wanted to bypass the mandatory 14-day quarantine for the hundreds of staff, crew members and drivers and rely on private medical staff and have the entire operation run in a bubble.

The race is scheduled to follow on immediately from Azerbaijan, whose grand prix is scheduled for June 6 in Baku and is due to go ahead after also being cancelled last year.

“We are continuing our discussions with the promoter in Canada and have no further comment,” an F1 spokesperson told Reuters.

The Autosport website quoted a spokesperson for the Canadian promoter as saying the radio report referred to “a document of recommendations from public health.

“We as an organisation have not had confirmation from our public health officials and won’t comment until we get an official confirmation.”

Canada, with some of the world’s toughest travel rules, obliges its citizens and residents arriving from abroad to self-isolate for 14 days.

International arrivals are required to quarantine for up to three days in a hotel.

One of Canada‘s biggest sporting events, it would mark the second consecutive year the grand prix has been removed from the F1 schedule due to the spread of COVID-19.

Media reports have suggested Turkey is on standby to be slotted in as Canada‘s replacement.

The Istanbul circuit is logistically convenient for freight coming from Baku and was brought in last year also at short notice to bolster a calendar ravaged by the pandemic.

(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto/Alan Baldwin in London; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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