The brand will appear on the front of the men’s and women’s teams' playing kits and training kit sleeve, starting with Chelsea Women’s FA Women's Super League game against Tottenham Women on Sunday.
The brand will appear on the front of the men’s and women’s teams' playing kits and training kit sleeve, starting with Chelsea Women’s FA Women's Super League game against Tottenham Women on Sunday. Infinite Athlete currently powers innovative technology enhancements for the club and its global fanbase, including the launch of Match View X via the club’s official app.
Infinite Athlete combines Tempus Ex Machina’s cutting-edge sports video and data technology with groundbreaking safety and performance analytics from partner company Biocore, and currently hold dynamic partnerships leveraging its proprietary technology across the NFL, Colorado Athletics, and more.
Tempus Ex Machina first entered the public consciousness via press release on Sept. 8, 2021. The understated news item was notable for a few reasons. There was minimal detail about what the company did beyond vague references to technology, data, machine learning and the “sports consumption experience.”
The release acknowledged funding from heavy-hitting investment firms Andreessen Horowitz, General Catalyst, Silver Lake, Endeavor, and Will Ventures. This announcement was for a Series B round despite no prior record of a Series A, which was mentioned only in the final sentence.
There was a quote from NFL EVP Troy Vincent, a courtesy not often granted by the league, suggesting deep ties with this heretofore anonymous startup. Former Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald Jr. joined the Tempus Ex Machina board. There was no mention of any of its executives, although a quick internet search discerned that the co-founder driving the tech startup was Alliance of American Football CTO Erik Schwartz.
Spring football was its public-facing product but, as AAF executives acknowledged, only part of their motivation. The other was to construct a modern and coherent technology stack that would make the transmission and use of data more efficient, useful and potentially lucrative.
While the Alliance developed a popular gaming app — it ranked No. 1 in sports in the Apple and Google Play stores upon its release — there were pain points beyond the league’s death knell of investment drying up. But the AAF executives learned from the experience, buoyed by recent hardware advances to maximize processor speed and efficiency, and they turned to a new coding language and started from scratch to build what is now Tempus Ex Machina.
“We're like the operating system for sports,” Schwartz said.
The core IP of Tempus Ex is that the system syncs all video and data at the point of creation. Those timestamps persist, no matter how and where the bits get used downstream through its FusionFeed, whether it’s to power the NFL’s football operations dashboard, generate new content for a Pepsi sponsorship, help Pac-12 football players monetize their highlights or help medical personnel triage sources of on-field injury.
“I love the product,” Vincent told SBJ, calling the technology a “godsend” that is saving his department 234 hours per week in reviewing and tagging plays. When college conferences visit the league’s command center to discuss best practices, Vincent said he tells them, “I would not do anything without moving forward with Tempus, just as a level setter.”
Those are existing activations, but the potential for further innovation is limitless. A partnership with Unity, the leading developer of mobile games, portends one area of exploration. The analogy that Tempus Ex executives regularly cite is of Google Maps, whose API is a wildly profitable business underpinning the ride-sharing industry and companies like Yelp and Airbnb.
“That lit up light bulbs for people when they're like, ‘Yeah, Google Maps is a core product that Uber, Postmates and all these other companies wouldn't exist without,’” Tempus Ex COO Annie Gerhart said.
The sports industry is similarly built on a licensing business model, and a platform like Tempus Ex creates utility by reducing the barrier for entry.
“We shouldn't be the ones building every new product,” said Sidhant Rao, Tempus Ex’s head of revenue and partnerships. “The business is successful if we find these strategic partners or developers anywhere in the world that want to build the next generation sports app.”
Just as the company’s core technology itself has been clouded in mystery until now, so too has the identity of its leader. Subsequent news releases typically quoted co-founders Schwartz, the company president, or Gerhart. A review of patents assigned to Tempus Ex Machina, however, included a recognizable name among the series of inventors: “Charles D. Ebersol.”
Indeed, the CEO of the Alliance is now the CEO of Tempus Ex, with the new company having made a concerted effort to downplay the identity of its leader in its nascent days.
“This company stands on the merits of its technology,” Charlie Ebersol said during several recent conversations, his first such professional interviews in years. “For the last three years, me being a public face of a company would have been a distraction, and it would have gotten in the way of the team building what they needed to build.”
Buried within the mounds of litigation still trailing the collapse of the AAF was a conspicuous note tucked into a complaint made in a West Texas bankruptcy court. This detail, first reported by The Athletic and later confirmed by SBJ, stated that in Jan. 2019 — before the Alliance had played a single game — the NFL had signed a binding term sheet to acquire a 15% of a technology company spun out from the AAF.
“The NFL was much more aware of what was going on inside the AAF than I think was generally understood,” Schwartz said, adding that after the Alliance ended, the NFL had “immediate interest” and signed an R&D contract “basically right away.”
A condition of the AAF’s term sheet with the NFL was a stipulation that Alliance engineers could examine the NFL’s tech stack and build an exact replica. What they found was a series of patchwork fixes and add-ons that solved immediate problems but suffered from being too convoluted. There was never any incentive to rework the whole ecosystem to reconcile all the latest advances.
“The technology stack around sports is, in a lot of cases, [assembled from] hacks that were built to solve a specific problem,” Schwartz said. “And then that became the canonical way to do it. And then they keep doing it that way for 15 years.”
“One, they're siloed,” Ebersol said of current NFL vendors and partners. “And two, they're very focused on the data as licensable content, which is understandable — the entire sports business is a licensing business. So if you take that model, and you play to its logical conclusion, what happens — and what we discovered at the AAF — is this is what your tech stack ends up looking like.”
At this point, he clicked his laptop and summoned the next page of the deck, the one the Tempus Ex team internally refers to as “the Chaos Slide.” It’s a labyrinthine diagram of workflows and data transmission, or else it’s an overzealous English student’s attempt at grammatically diagramming a sentence from William Faulkner.
The AAF brought a truck to each game stuffed so full that it resembled the “Ninja Turtles van,” Ebersol said wryly. There also came a realization that the focus of the Alliance’s tech efforts was misplaced. “It's like we were looking at a sapling in a forest of sequoias,” he said. “[We needed to] back off and get a better picture of where the opportunity is and stop trying to be the solution.”
MGM Resorts had invested in the Alliance for the gaming potential of its technology and held a lien on the tech after the league folded, but Tempus Ex represents a new evolution built from scratch. MGM has invested in this new technology as well, Ebersol said.
Prior to the 2021 NFL season, Tempus Ex installed servers in every stadium, ran new fiber in some and placed three 8K cameras around the fields: two high in the end zones and one high at the 50 yard-line. Those high-resolution feeds, the FusionCams, provide expansive coverage, filling in the gaps between broadcast cameras. Latency is improved but, Schwartz noted, even more important is that latency is known.
“The reason the company's called Tempus Ex Machina — ‘time from the machine’ — is because we developed a sync system that allows us to sync everything at creation,” Ebersol said.
The goal is to take all the cameras, all the live stats and all the live tracking data and marry them in a way that enables feeds that are better catered to viewers’ interests. Think ESPN’s ManningCast or Amazon’s Prime Vision, but with even greater variety. Further on the horizon are truly personalized streams; a fan can input his or her fantasy roster and have those players highlighted anytime on they are on the field, for example.
“Clearly, the broadcasters understand the idea that segmenting the broadcast to their different viewer cohorts is powerful for them,” Schwartz said. “What we're doing allows them to scale that as narrow as they want. You can literally build a broadcast at the individual level.”
The natural starting point was American football, but the system is largely “input agnostic,” Gerhart said, and is in development for use cases in other sports.
“We're generating new businesses,” Ebersol said. “We're creating the Uber of sports that then has to become a licensable partner of the league.”
Vincent took over as the NFL’s head of football operations in March 2014. Part of his charge is to scour the field to spot rules infractions, such as improper equipment or illicit use of video. He reviews plays that can be shared to teach officials, coaches, broadcasters.
For years, that was a manual process. A staff member would shadow him and jot down plays to review and clip later. Vincent would make other notations himself and later find himself flipping through page after page in stacks of notebooks, all a colorful patchwork of highlights and sticky notes.
“Just completely dinosaur,” Vincent said of the process, “but that was the world that we all lived in just a few years ago.”
When Tempus Ex was developing its current system, Ebersol asked Vincent, “What are your challenges?” An engineer shadowed the football ops boss for six weeks, listening to feedback and tracking all his actions down to the keystroke.
“My challenges are game video: being able to sync it, aggregate it, find it real time, tag it, note it, and so on and so forth,” Vincent said. “We had no ability to do it.”
The dashboard that Tempus Ex built — “interactive aggregation,” Vincent calls it now — solved for all that. The New York command center receives video of every play with about four-to-eight second latency, inclusive of every camera in every venue. Even the league office used to be beholden to what broadcasters showed on TV, but now every video feed is ingested.
Vincent can pin certain angles, add notes to others and quickly create collections of plays of varying specificity: every roughing the passer penalty, every replay review of a possible reception or even multiple layers of filters, such as every touchdown pass David Carr threw to the left of the field.
The 8K FusionCams act as all-seeing eyes that capture previously occluded details. When there are field incursions by wayward fans, the NFL used to spend days piecing together various video angles and syncing them to identify how the security lapse happened. Vincent said it commonly took until Thursday to complete the forensic video review; now it’s a quick review and immediately shared with security.
“When there is no dedicated angle that allows a user to isolate an incident that is not picked up, say, by way of broadcast angles in real time, I can do it with the FusionCam,” Vincent said, at which point he whispered into the phone for effect. “It’s amazing.”
And its support from the NFL extends to the very top.
“The commissioner is very, very invested in making sure that we are innovative in all that we do,” NFL chief administrative officer Dasha Smith said, who directly reports to Roger Goodell, “and certainly he views Tempus Ex as being a part of that and how we can continue to innovate and provide new ways in which our fans can experience the game.”