David Lampitt, Sportradar’s Managing Director Sports Partnerships, shares his thoughts on data’s role in sports betting, OTT, AI, fan engagement and more…
Can you give us a very brief overview of how the company was formed, the current structure and key personnel?
The company which exists today as Sportradar began life as a software program developed by two Norwegian tech entrepreneurs who had identified anomalies in sports betting odds, eventually taking that technology to form Market Monitor AS in 2001.
Our current CEO, Carsten Koerl, was a major investor in that company, and from that point forward the company has grown beyond its foundation and now employs more than 2,000 people in over 30 locations around the world. We sit at the intersection of the sports, betting and media landscapes, and this has helped us to attract prominent individual and corporate investors from Michael Jordan and Ted Leonsis, to our main strategic investment partners, the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board and Silicon Valley-based growth equity firm, TCV.
Run us through how you collect your data? Do you think we will ever get to a point where data collection can be entirely automated?
There is an ever-increasing demand for new and exciting forms of betting, and this needs data. The challenge is that more granular data is more difficult to collect, validate, quality-assure and deliver in real-time.
Our focus is on procuring the most reliable, high quality data, and we do by employing over 7,000 data scouts worldwide, covering over 20,000 live events each month. This comprehensive high-quality data supply would not be possible without our longstanding partnerships with many of the world’s major sports leagues. In addition, we invest continuously in a quality control environment as the only data supplier to have our data production processes ISO certified since 2014.
When it comes to automation of our data collection processes, this is a major focus in the ongoing development of our data collection technologies. And whilst we are already deploying automation and machine learning into a number of our back-end systems, we are also realistic about the fact that there is also a need for human management and supervision. The trajectory is clearly there and will come faster in some sports than others particularly where objective decisions can be more easily automated, such as line-calling in tennis and badminton. We are investing in this area and working with our major sports partners who are also convinced of the transformational impact of technology in this space.
How important is collaboration between sports organisations and sports technology companies when it comes to providing an engaging OTT solution?
Collaboration is central to success here. We’re lucky to be able to combine our AV and streaming capabilities with our data expertise. And an OTT platform with fully integrated data and video gives businesses an even greater and more refined ability to create and share their content, enhance user experience, engage with fans, increase audiences and therefore generate more revenue opportunities.
Working in open and ongoing dialogue with our partners is central to our position as the foremost name in sports content. We support tailored solutions for a suite of OTT partners from Borussia Dortmund and the World Rally Championship to Deutsche Telekom. The range of bespoke extensions we support includes mobile and smart TV apps, recommendations, data features, automated content, personalisation and DRM, truly setting our offering apart as the most flexible in the market.
Where is the innovation coming within sports data and how are media and betting companies using that data to boost fan engagement?
Technology and innovation are at the heart of everything we do. We ingest billions of data points. We use cutting edge technology, including machine learning and artificial intelligence, to make sense of this vast data pool, transforming it into live entertainment and insightful stories.
Within our sports trading, for example, our Quantitative teams use data and technology to expand the range of markets available to increase engagement for betting companies. For our Betting Entertainment tools, we use similar AI technology to generate additional statistical content, automated data visualisations, as well as Virtual Sports where we also use Motion Capture technology to create a rendered version of reality that is as realistic as possible both in terms of graphics and game-play.
On the media side, we’re seeing similar innovations, with sports data being used to drive personalised and automated insights. Our Radar360 platform is a good example of this as it provides the fuel for the output of publishers and media houses across the world. It’s already begun to happen Stateside with our InHabit product, which reads and scans an article using AI before placing relevant, engaging quizzes and widgets into it based on the tone and subject of the piece.
That will increasingly become the norm in other areas too such as OTT, and we'll see automated, targeted and personalised content in real time during a match - allowing organisations to better monetise their product. NBA teams, for example, have gone to great lengths in recent years to gain a better understanding of who is actually attending their games and the consumption habits they display in the arena. In this instance, fan behaviour and consumption data can be used to create personalised in-arena experiences driven through the team apps. It’s an opportunity that betting could be part of, which is why we’re starting to see sports media and betting merge more.
What part is AI and gamified data playing in enhancing the fan experience?
Our customers on both the betting and media sides of our business are looking for new innovations in order to increase dwell time and enhance customer retention – AI and gamified data have a crucial role to play here.
To take the example of one major league, the NBA uses Second Spectrum for its player-tracking technology and Sportradar is the NBA’s exclusive partner for this data layer. The data from Second Spectrum’s player-tracking system for the NBA, WNBA and NBA Development League, which Sportradar is distributing to more than 80 countries, includes advanced statistics such as speed, distance, drives, paint touches and defensive impact. Such detailed data sets, and their smart implementation, are the key factor in increasing engagement and driving the value of a betting or media proposition.
Personalisation will also continue to be part of any serious sports organisation’s digital strategy as a means of boosting fan engagement. This includes, for example personalisation from a broadcast perspective, enabling audiences to choose their own ways to watch the game, or from a betting perspective, providing the data and technology to allow punters to build their own bets. Ultimately, though, it comes down to understanding the user. We’re now operating in an ecosystem where we have the opportunity to create a personalised ad experience which speaks directly to the user.
Can you highlight any sports (leagues or organisations) that are doing particularly interesting things when it comes to fan engagement?
There are now a number of different ways in which technology is being used to drive automated access to data, much of which can be used to fuel the fires of improved fan engagement. The US is leading the way here. The NHL is looking at player and puck tracking, the NFL has its Next Gen stats, and the NBA has the tracking set-up with Second Spectrum, while MLB is probably the best known for activity in this field through the Statcast feed which has become an integral part of broadcast presentation.
When it comes to integrity in sport, how do you weigh up the importance of official versus unofficial data?
We’re transparent about the fact that there is a place for both official and open-source data in the market. This has long been the case and every major data supply company provides a mix of official and open-source data. Having said that, the majority of Sportradar’s data is official and we invest in official relationships with sports where there is genuine value that can be unlocked and protected.
For sports bodies, having an official supply of data can enhance integrity as, importantly, it enables a contractual link between the sport, the data supplier and the betting operator which can help with setting requirements around information-sharing for integrity purposes, for example.
However, there is also an integrity benefit to having multiple sources of data. This is simply because having a single source of truth leads to at least two problems: firstly it means there is a single point of failure which can potentially create significant financial risk in the betting market; secondly it can lead to “information monopolies” which stifle competition and innovation in the data business, ultimately leading to consumer harm (through increased cost or lack of choice). This means that generally speaking we advocate for non-exclusive data partnerships, particularly outside the very top tier of sports competition, as well as for the fact that open-source data collection has a valid part to play in a healthy market.