Nick Maywald, MD, Genius Sports, talks to Sport Industry Group about the all-encompassing global demand for data, and where the UK sits in the global sports tech scene…
How would you explain Genius Sports and where you sit in the industry?
A sports-based technology business would be the best way to describe us. We have an ambition to be the world’s leading technology provider and the world’s leading data distributor for sport. We’re very much focussed around partnerships providing technology to help sport organisations achieve their various objectives both on and off the field. We help with the performance on the field and also with commercialisation, fan engagement and more.
If that is where Genius Sports sits now, where did the company originate?
Genius Sports was launched as a brand in March this year formed after the merger of two businesses, sportsbook tech supplier Betgenius and a business I founded, SportingPulse. SportingPulse was a sport-facing technology business founded in Australia that focussed heavily on that market and in particular a top to bottom grassroots approach. We sold the business to News Corp in 2012 and then focussed heavily on the international business through SportingPulse International, particularly in basketball and more recently football. We provided all the tools from membership, competition management, and the capture and distribution of live stats.
The merger came together primarily because I had a strong commercial relationship with Betgenius. They had been around a similar amount of time and were focussed on commercialisation of live sports data into the regulated betting industry. What I found as I grew the business worldwide was there was more and more demand from our sporting clients to commercialise live sports data and betting was a growing and significant route for that commercialisation. So we went to the market looking for a partner that was a good fit, decided on Betgenius and entered into a commercial relationship in early 2014 and it very quickly became apparent that there were a lot of synergies between the businesses. We both had very similar values and a real desire to partner and make a difference in sport, so we decided to merge the businesses which we did in October 2015 and launched as a new brand, Genius Sports, in March this year.
Is there a limit to the demand of data and real-time analytics from the fans or will we ever reach a saturation point?
I think it will constantly grow. We always think these things will reach a saturation point but I think it’s a bit of a virtuous circle. As technology improves, fans, coaches and everyone involved in sport becomes more au fait with data and the way it’s presented. People are more converted to technology, they want to use, analyse and interpret data, how they want and when they want, whether that is from a fan experience perspective or a coaching and performance point of view.
As technology improves with wearables and courtside data capture and as generations move on, people are expecting more and more engaged experiences. Whether that plays out as improved visualisations to do augmented reality on broadcast or OTT broadcast – fans are expecting to see more engaging data and broadcasters are constantly trying to improve what they offer.
Coaches and performance staff at all levels are becoming more and more advanced as science increases so data is being constantly used to help with decision making live in-play. The way that data is presented and used is rapidly changing such as visualisation in graphic overlays into virtual reality for instance. Rapid increases in processing power of computing continues to skyrocket so the ability to do more and more with masses amount of data in quicker and quicker times continues to increase. So I personally can’t see the demand for data slowing down.
Fans and broadcasters have a demand for data, what about the rights holders and event organisers that you work with – do some need a little more help and guidance than others?
It has changed massively. I have been in sports technology since 2000 and that knowledge and awareness of sports data has never accelerated as fast as it has in the last three to four years. Though it would still be fair to say there is some educating that we need to do. If we use basketball as an example again, we deal with every single league from the very top right down to the 200th most professional league in the world and it does obviously vary. We help make people aware of the value of data not just from a commercial point of view but also performance analysis, health and wellbeing and how data is used to manage an entire sport.
For instance we recently did deals with Euroleague Basketball and one of the best country leagues in the world, Spain’s ACB. Both organisations, as you would expect, have an extremely high knowledge, very professional performance staff and people who are constantly educating themselves in sport science and the use of data. But we also provide technology and support leagues such as Ivory Coast Basketball League who won’t have the same sort of resource or capability but their awareness is growing about how data can help their sport and the wellbeing of their athletes.
With your global experience can you give your opinion on where the UK sits in the global sports tech scene?
There are a few hotspots around the world, being an Australian and patriotic I would say Australia, especially as having built my business there, is clearly one of them. Now being based in London I can say that it is very strong here, there are some great technical resource and capability, people are very passionate about both sport and technology and we are well paced to access the wealth of talent both in the UK and across Europe. If I talk specifically about Betgenius and SportingPulse one of the key attributes is the technical capability and the ability to draw in the best technologists, developers and operational people that exist and have a real passion for sport and technology. I think London compares very well with the best places around the world.
In addition to the technology and the people is there anything you would pinpoint as key to your success?
One thing I always highlight is our ethical approach around how we commercialise sports data. We could obviously make more money if we were prepared to deal in unregulated betting markets and, for example, supply certain bookmakers in the Caribbean which purport to be regulated but are in fact taking illegal bets from the US. We just don’t touch that kind of business. We are very up front with our partners about that and they want to side with us on that. That, coupled with a very strong integrity division and what we do with sports to help protect, maintain and improve integrity and governance in sport is absolutely crucial for us.
This helps us all over the world and in particular in the US, where betting is illegal in all but a handful of states, and where we have good relationships with all the major leagues. I Discussions over the need to regulate sports betting in the US have ramped up in recent months and years, and if the major leagues aren’t already aligned I think they are very close to agreeing that sport wagering exists in a massive way in the US, on an illegal basis, and that’s just not good for the integrity of the sport.
Sports betting and in-play betting, particularly on the internet, is definitely not going go away and we are very active in trying to help US sports and lawmakers better understand this and how it can be regulated in the right way to look after sports’ interests. Which is ultimately the most important thing.