Teleport to the stadium: Israeli sports tech reinvents industry

Check out the three hottest new startups in Israel’s growing sports-tech ecosystem: Texel, Heed and Pixellot.

By Abigail Klein Leichman, ISRAEL21c

At the summit, Colosseum Sports CEO Oren Simanian – a veteran entrepreneur and former Israeli soccer referee — launched an international sports-tech innovation center intended to put even more Israeli sports-tech startups on the global map. There are more than 100 in existence already, according to Startup Nation Central.

Sports-tech can enhance many different areas: fan engagement, ticket sales, athlete development, analytics, personal wellness and fitness, gaming and e-sports, event management and media.

Here are three startups making waves recently.

TEXEL: A virtual seat at the stadium

Founded in August 2016, Texel was focused on a different use of VR before Segev experienced an “aha” moment at a Barcelona game.

“I was sitting with all the fans and feeling the excitement with my whole body and mind. When I went back to my hotel, I realized how few people experienced what I experienced and the rest saw it on TV, which is totally different.”

Back in Israel, he led a pivot of the startup. “We took what we had already to the next level,” says Segev, who came to Texel after 20 years in media companies including Kaltura, LiveU, QuickPlay, Artimedia and Scopus.

Content owners and broadcasters can use Texel to offer virtual seats enabling fans to experience the game as if they were there, including the social aspect. Insights into viewing habits enable the client to provide a personalized content mix.

This year, the company launched a pilot with one of the leading sports broadcasters in Europe and is engaged with top-tier service providers in North America, says Segev. Texel is also in the Intel Technology Provider Program.

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In September, Deutsche Telekom’s tech incubator made a strategic investment in Texel as part of its 5G strategy, joined by European and North American VCs looking to define the next-generation viewing experience.

The company has its R&D and headquarters in Herzliya, plus a US base in Fair Lawn, New Jersey.

HEED: Who jumped the highest?

Heed has a platform using sensors, cameras and artificial intelligence to deliver live event content and video to users’ iOS or Android devices, starting with EuroLeague Basketball.

The company is a joint venture created in 2016 by data-analytics trailblazer Mati Kochavi’s AGT International and American talent agent Ari Emanuel’s Endeavor sports, fashion and entertainment company.

The technology behind Heed, developed mainly in AGT’s Herzliya data center, collects and analyzes physical, emotional and behavioral aspects of the game beyond what the eye can see: Who jumped the highest on a dunk? When is the crowd most hyped? How much pressure is a player under? How is the coach reacting to the play that just happened?

“Heed connects fans around the world with the excitement, experience and energy of their favorite live sporting events,” said Heed CEO Danna Rabin. “Our IoT and AI technology gets you closer to the game than you’ve ever been.”

Amir Segev is a huge fan of the Barcelona soccer club. Living in Israel, however, he can’t get to every game.

Through the magic of augmented and virtual reality technologies under development at his Israeli startup, Texel, anyone with a VR headset can “teleport” to experience the sights, sounds and smells of the stadium with fellow fans in 360 degrees and 8K resolution — no matter where they actually are.

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“We are using VR and AR technology to give you an extremely strong, immersive experience of presence, starting with sporting events. It’s a new way of media consumption,” says Segev, Texel’s cofounder and CEO.

Texel was one of about 100 startups featured at the Colosseum Sports Tech Summit held at the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange last July. Executives from the NFL, FC Barcelona and La Liga were there.

Sports technologies from Israel have been big winners in recent years. One high-profile example was Intel’s 2016 acquisition of Israel’s Replay Technologies to deliver revolutionary viewing experiences for sports fans.

During the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Playoffs last April, all players and coaches wore sensor-equipped “smart shirts” and every arena in the playoffs and Final Four was outfitted with IoT cameras and sensors — including face-recognition technology — gathering data that Heed then fused into bite-sized moments.

“EuroLeague is proud to be the very first sports league incorporating wearable sensors during live games to enhance the fan experience by partnering with Heed,” said EuroLeague Commissioner Jordi Bertomeu.

Heed, which recently got $35 million in funding in a round led by SoftBank Group International, also has partnerships with Ultimate Fighting Championships and Professional Bull Riders.

PIXELLOT: Automated sports production

Pixellot of Petah Tikva offers an automated comprehensive TV-like experience, from live viewing to highlight reels, for 10 different sports.

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Pixellot and Massachusetts-based HockeyTech have received a grant from the Israel-US Binational Research and Development (BIRD) Foundation to jointly develop a multi-angle, automatic remote system for ice-hockey game production. In September, Pixellot raised $30 million in a round led by Los Angeles-based Shamrock Capital.

Easily installed in athletic facilities, the technology generates panoramic footage of the playing field and follows the action, simulating a virtual camera operator using computer-vision AI algorithms. The footage is automatically streamed via Pixellot’s cloud to fans, family, coaches, and scouts on all platforms.

Pixellot users have access to production modules including game clock, scoreboards, high-end graphics, automatic highlights, editing tools and a play-by-play commentator.

More than 2,500 Pixellot systems have been sold worldwide since 2013, broadcasting more than 17,000 hours of sports monthly in countries like the United States, Canada, China, Germany, Spain, Austria, Netherlands, United Kingdom, Japan, and Mexico. The company has offices in New York, Madrid and Tokyo.

Pixellot also offers a video coaching system used by the Mexican Soccer Federation and clubs in Spain, Germany, England and China.

“We’re proud that our solution allows millions to watch their families, local clubs, and other athletes in real-time, on demand or via our AI-generated highlight reels. At the same time, we are also proud that coaching teams of some of the leading clubs in the world are using our tech to develop their players to perform at even higher levels,” said CEO Alon Werber in July, when Pixellot was chosen by The Marker as one of Israel’s top 20 startups.