Skip to Content

Data Sheet–Why Big League Sports Are Reaching for a Tech Connection

This is the web version of Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily newsletter on the top tech news. To get it delivered daily to your in-box, sign up here.

The San Francisco Giants won a thrilling come-from-behind extra-inning game against the Arizona Diamondbacks Wednesday. There was only one way to watch the game, though, and that was on Facebook, which signed a deal this year with Major League Baseball to livestream exclusively 25 games. Facebook reportedly paid more than $1 million per game.

MLB’s deal with Facebook is a slap in the face to traditional baseball fans, the kind who like to watch their local team on their local TV stations. San Francisco Chronicle columnist Bruce Jenkins calls this a “screw you” move by professional baseball. “Try to fathom the logic of a business model that states, in essence, ‘Deny your product to interested customers,’” Jenkins writes. “That’s MLB sailing cluelessly into the future, while thousands boo.”

I’m one of those traditionalists who finds it an abomination I’d have to log into Facebook to catch a game. But Jenkins unintentionally gets it right when he says “thousands” are booing the Facebook move. That may be. Yet Facebook and other tech companies promise to reach millions through their streaming deals (just on Thursday, Amazon announced a new deal to stream Premier League soccer games). And come on, Bruce. I try not to do it myself, but logging into Facebook isn’t that tough.

Analyst-turned-investor Gene Munster explores this phenomenon in an informative report that shows how much various streaming services are paying for various sports broadcast rights. The price-per-viewer varies widely among basketball, football, and other sports rights packages. But tech companies consistently pay far more per viewer than broadcasters, according to Munster’s research. Given that many renew their contracts, or at least try to, presumably they are “monetizing” their investments sufficiently.

Sports leagues like MLB certainly are sailing into the future. But not cluelessly.


Perhaps others made this observation too, but kudos to Stratechery’s Ben Thompson for pointing out that for the second time in three years Microsoft upstaged Apple during the week of the latter’s Worldwide Developers Conference. This year it was the software maker’s mega-acquisition of GitHub. Two years ago it was Microsoft’s uber-mega-acquisition of LinkedIn.

Stick around long enough and you’ll see everything. Microsoft outshining Apple with a splashy announcement? That was once unheard of. Seems like these days the impossible happens all the time.

Adam Lashinsky


Start your Xerox machines. Instagram copied rival Snapchat’s short video “stories” format with great success. Now the Facebook service is apparently taking similar inspiration from Snapchat’s Discover section. Instagram plans to add longer videos, up to an hour, produced by publishers, the Wall Street Journal reports. The news comes probably not coincidentally as Facebook itself announces video programming partnerships with news organizations CNN, ABC, Fox News, and others.

Buzzy. Larry Page’s flying car company Kitty Hawk showed off a working prototype of a one-person aerial vehicle. The electric-powered Flyer looks a bit like a cross between a miniature seaplane, with pontoons instead of wheels, and a drone, with 10 upward facing propellers.

Starting over. Speaking of the side gigs of rich guys, former Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs is partnering with two former colleagues to start a company called XCOM that will focus on 5G wireless technologies. Jacobs is also still trying to raise enough backing to make a bid for his old company, which was co-founded by his father, Irwin.

This could get messy. After becoming mired in several controversies over whether to distribute offensive games, Valve’s Steam platform will start accepting almost any title that’s not flat-out illegal while creating better search filters for users. “If you’re a developer of offensive games, this isn’t us siding with you against all the people you’re offending,” executive Erik Johnson wrote not entirely convincingly in a blog post. “There will be people throughout the Steam community who hate your games, and hope you fail to find an audience, and there will be people here at Valve who feel exactly the same way. However, offending someone shouldn’t take away your game’s voice.”

Ending up back where we started. Digital currency startup Coinbase is seeking licenses to become a securities broker-dealer and a registered investment advisor. The certifications from regulators of the traditional financial system would allow Coinbase to offer services like cryptocurrency securities trading, margin lending, and “new market data products,” the company says. Rival Circle is making similar moves. Also on Wednesday, one of those regulators made clear he doesn’t plan to do anything to accommodate bitcoin and its brethren. SEC chair Jay Clayton tells CNBC his agency won’t be easing its definition of a security and “if it’s a security, we’re regulating it.”

A company that hits the order button together. There are plenty of food delivery startups like Postmates or Uber Eats. Ritual, which just raised $70 million of venture capital, takes a slightly different approach, with a service that focuses on helping people in the same workplace order jointly. The aim is to make coworkers “feel like they are one team dining together,” CEO Ray Reddy explains.


As software algorithms increasingly make decisions that run the world, scientists are uncovering how such seemingly unbiased programs can still exhibit bias in their outcomes. Benjamin Fearnow at Newsweek delves into an effort by some MIT researchers to create a purposely biased AI program. Dubbed Norman, after the murderous Norman Bates character in Pyscho, the AI app was trained on photo captioning using only violent images found on Reddit. Norman then began to see the world through a rather jaundiced lens:

Among the Rorschach inkblots used to test the now-tainted AI, Norman said an image showed a man being “shot dead,” while a standard AI looked at the same image and saw “a close up of a vase with flowers.” In another, Norman said he saw a man being shot “in front of his screaming wife,” while the AI not exposed to sordid, disturbing images saw “a person holding an umbrella in the air.”

In one of the inkblot tests, the standard AI saw a touching scene of a couple standing together. Norman, however, saw a pregnant woman falling from construction. Having only been exposed to negative images and depressing thinking, the AI’s empathy logic simply failed to turn on.


Virginia Apgar, Honored by Today’s Google Doodle, Saved Countless Lives By David Meyer

How Athenahealth’s Jonathan Bush Lost to Elliott Management By Jen Wieczner

On Earnings Calls, ‘Fortnite’ Is Now Mentioned More Than ‘Bitcoin’ By Kevin Kelleher

Star Wars Actress Kelly Marie Tran Removes Instagram Posts After Harassment By Sarah Gray

A New Tetris Game Is Coming to PlayStation 4 and PlayStation VR By Lisa Marie Segarra

Microsoft Just Dumped a Data Center Into the Ocean By Jonathan Vanian

Apple Said It’s Going to Help Us With Our Phone Addiction. This Study Indicates That’s Probably a Good Thing By Don Reisinger


Everybody drinks coffee but nobody does anything about it. Well, now a bunch of researchers for the military, of all places, have designed an algorithm “to determine when and how much caffeine to consume, so as to safely maximize neurobehavioural performance at the desired time of the day, under any sleep-loss condition.” While waiting for the first phone apps to implement the algo in real life, I calculate I could use another cup right about now.

This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman. Find past issues, and sign up for other Fortune newsletters.