Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, Sport Industry Group's partners have each taken steps to innovate, survive and excel during the lockdown period. From new product launches and pivots in strategy, to serving the market, clients and staff in innovative ways - we want to celebrate their work.
To begin our new series, Working Through Lockdown, we spoke to David Lampitt, Managing Director, Sports Partnerships, Sportradar, about the sports data and intelligence provider and their role in bringing live tennis back to our screens during lockdown.
In addition to working with The Tennis Channel International and other partners to help produce the Tennis Point Exhibition Series in Germany (pictured above, image: Rene Weiss), the company has recently signed a deal to work with the Eastern European Championship 2020, taking place through June and finishing on 26th July, working at the forefront of live sport's safe return.
Can you give us a summary of your involvement in supporting tennis events in the US and in Europe during the lockdown period? How did it come about?
Our involvement in tennis goes back further than these past few months. Over the last 10 years we’ve developed strong relationships in tennis working alongside the ITF and TIU [Tennis Integrity Unit], as well as Grand Slam rights holders like Tennis Australia, who manage the Australian Open every year.
When the crisis first arose it had a huge impact with 90% of live sport content disappearing in the space of a week. Our customers rely on us for that live content, so we had to immediately pivot our business and our resources to fulfil those very real and urgent client needs.
It’s been a period where we’ve had to move quickly, draw on the full breadth of our technological capabilities and look at how we can work effectively with our network of partners in the sport to facilitate the return of live tennis in a safe and timely manner.
Throughout this period, we’ve supported numerous tennis events including the Tennis Point Exhibition Series in Germany at the start of May, which was one of first Covid-compliant live sports events to take place, as well as numerous other events in the US and other territories. Now, we’re excited to be supplying a range of services to the Eastern European Championship 2020, which will see 352 men’s and women’s tennis matches take place in Belgrade, Serbia, throughout June and July.
When did you previously start working with Tennis Channel International, and have you had to pivot anything about the offering to adapt to the pandemic?
Our relationship with Tennis Channel dates to 2015. Our original scope of work with them was limited to data provision within the US market, however we extended this last year signing a global deal for tennis data with the addition of a technology partnership as the provider of their international OTT platform.
That OTT service is for Tennis Channel International, a premium app-based product that was launched in Austria, Germany and Switzerland in May to provide fans with access to live tennis, including coverage of the Tennis Point Exhibition Series.
Launching a new live streaming service during a global pandemic is not without its challenges. But we have not adjusted the quality and robustness of our end product, despite working with increased health and safety requirements.
How have you been able to adapt to the safety restrictions put in place, specifically in terms of delivering coverage of the event?
The key element we have emphasised throughout this period is that the safety and security of colleagues involved in delivering the broadcast is paramount. Technology has been a major factor in making sure we’re compliant with COVID-19 restrictions.
To minimise the number of staff present on site all production has been done remotely. We’ve used remote cameras instead of camera operators, and only the players and the umpire have been on the court.
Our on-site operations have also changed to ensure we were compliant with social distancing measures. For the Tennis Point Exhibition event in Germany we reduced the amount staff in venue to just two, both of whom were required to work remotely in separate isolated rooms, communicating via intercom to ensure those social distancing measures were strictly followed.
We’ve been sure to follow the guidance set out by the local and national authorities to ensure we’re providing a safe and compliant working environment to bring back live tennis.
Have you been able to offer similar data output to betting partners as you would normally? How has this been received?
The situation has forced everyone within the industry to be more innovative and resourceful. Sportradar’s strength has certainly been the speed with which we’ve responded to the needs of our customers, helped by the fact that we are able to provide a turn-key solution for many sports including tennis, where we can bring together solutions for data, streaming and production needs along with our integrity coverage and a global distribution network.
We have also been able to quickly pivot our strategy and redirect resources towards delivering a range of new services and products to support our clients when they need it most. Simulated Reality, our new AI-driven betting product for professional sports, is an excellent example. In under a fortnight in April it went from an outline concept, through development and licensing and into the market with many of our global clients. We’ve leveraged our technological expertise at this critical time to effectively create a new betting category which plays out football, cricket and tennis matches.
The situation with COVID-19 has certainly forced us to be resourceful and adapt our content offering to support our customers. This has also led to further diversification of our product portfolio, introducing a broader range of esports and virtual sports betting products.
I’m pleased to say that the whole team has shown great resilience during this time, such that within a month of the crisis hitting, we were able to deliver an 11% increase in the event coverage we offered our customers compared to the same period last year.
Tell us about maintaining the integrity of competitions - have lockdown restrictions and behind closed doors matches changed anything?
We’re pleased that there has been an increased focus in recent weeks on the importance of integrity measures in the crisis as well as in a post-Covid landscape. The crisis may have prompted some of our competitors within the industry to review their integrity practices, but we have always had, and will continue to have, robust and rigorously tested integrity measures in place.
This has been a key factor for Sportradar and one of the areas where we have been actively able to support several recent tennis events as well as many other events across different sports.
This has been a critical issue for Sportradar and we've made sure that all of the events we’ve covered have been supported by our Integrity Services Fraud Detection System and that we continue to work closely with the TIU to ensure tennis is safeguarded throughout this period and beyond.
In addition we’ve remained in close liaison with the TIU to ensure tournament organisers are meeting the necessary integrity requirements, including the Tennis Anti-Corruption Program (TACP).
Do you think the pandemic has allowed you to be more agile and creative when delivering for partners?
We’ve certainly had to be agile because the situation with COVID-19 has been so unpredictable and changeable. Our clients were looking for us to help them solve a problem, therefore we listened and responded quickly with a number of new commercial solutions.
We’ve demonstrated great innovation and creativity through the development and launch of our Simulated Reality product. Over a short period of time it’s become a credible and authentic alternative to traditional live sports betting. And it continues to fill the void left by live sports, with football in particular, as we are set to play out the European Championships in full via Simulated Reality, which started on 12th June.
Within live sport, and tennis specifically, one of the reasons why we’ve been able to respond so quickly is that we already have the technology available such as the umpire scoring technology for the ITF which is already integrated with important operating systems on the production and betting operator side.
Additionally, the long-standing industry partnerships we already had in place have enabled us to operate and extend our services. For example, we were already integrated with companies such as PlaySight - an automated video production company. In these unique circumstances, being able to provide an automated video production without any personnel around the court has proved crucial. It’s thanks to this long-term commitment to an integrated approach for technology and partnerships that we have been able to respond so effectively.