Pivot to video: Going OTT with Sportradar

Sports data and content specialist Sportradar AG dramatically enhanced its over-the-top streaming capabilities with its acquisition of Sportsman Media Holding in 2016. A year on, the Swiss-based firm is eyeing further growth in a burgeoning OTT market.

Pivot to video: Going OTT with Sportradar

Sportradar AG is not necessarily known for its streaming capabilities.

The Swiss-based company has to date made a name for itself as a worldwide leader in data provision, statistics and betting services, while its proprietary Integrity Services and Fraud Detection System (FDS) are now widely used across the global landscape of sport, helping to safeguard dozens of organisations and governing bodies against betting-related corruption and match-fixing.

Last year, however, Sportradar dramatically enhanced its over-the-top (OTT) streaming operation through its acquisition of Sportsman Media Holding, a group of digital media production and marketing companies and platforms which, since its formation in 2001, has facilitated the delivery of more than 25,000 live events per year. Under the terms of the deal, confirmed in April 2016, Sportradar acquired all four entities under the Sportsman Media Holding umbrella: rights agency Sportsman Media Group GmbH, international online sports TV platform Laola1.tv and its owner Laola1 Multimedia, and live content production entity Unas Media Productions.

Though terms were not disclosed, the takeover represented a significant move into largely uncharted territory. As Sportradar chief executive Carsten Koerl noted at the time, the Sportsman acquisition “marked a shift” for the company, whose experience in the audiovisual sports content sector, while well established, had previously been limited to the betting and gaming industry. “It will upgrade our audiovisual portfolio,” Koerl said, “and will ensure that our clients will have the broadest and best range of solutions to choose from, whether on an individual basis, or whether on a bespoke bundle of solutions basis.”

Since the acquisition closed towards the end of last year, each of the former Sportsman entities has been integrated into the existing Sportradar business, which has grown to employ over 1,600 people in more than 30 locations across the globe. Now, Sportradar is plotting further inroads into a global OTT market that it estimates will be worth as much as US$80 billion by 2021 – around 30 per cent of which will be generated through sport alone.

Rainer Geier, managing director of OTT for Sportradar (centre), with his EHF Marketing counterpart David Szlezak (right)

“Our approach was not to dive into acquiring rights for our own TV platform,” says Rainer Geier, Sportradar’s managing director for OTT. “We don’t want to step into this market further because I think the market has really awakened now and you have the Skys, the BTs, the DAZNs and the Eurosports entering into this market.”

Rather than competing directly for rights alongside those existing distribution players in what is an increasingly crowded market, Geier explains that the decision was taken to instead serve as “an enabler” for rights holders wanting to set up their own OTT platforms. To that end, Sportradar has developed what is now known as the Sportradar OTT solution, a white-label video streaming product specifically designed for sports federations and rights holders.

“We developed a really highly flexible but scalable backend solution, which is based on video and also data delivery,” adds Geier. “We offer this OTT solution to different federations but also broadcasters, rights holders and other institutions.”

This June Sportradar OTT officially hit the market, its launch coinciding with the signing of a wide-ranging partnership with EHF Marketing, the commercial arm of the European Handball Federation (EHF). Under that deal, Sportradar became the official data and streaming partner of all EHF club competitions, including the men’s and women’s EHF Champions League as well as the lower-tier EHF Cup and Challenge Cups, while the company is also working with the EHF to build and develop ehfTV.com, a revamped direct-to-consumer digital offering powered by Sportradar’s OTT solution.

“At least for the first 12 months our target is so-called second-tier sports and federations because we have identified the most need within these federations,” Geier says, speaking to SportsPro from Sportradar’s St Gallen headquarters. “Now there are really a lot of dynamics in the OTT market and we are in good talks with really top federations.”

Among the other federations to have taken advantage of the solution are the European Hockey Federation and also the International Tennis Federation (ITF), with whom Sportradar agreed an expanded deal in September. Under the latter agreement, the company is now delivering live streams of all Davis Cup and Fed Cup matches outside of the US, part of a newly launched OTT service that enables tennis fans worldwide to purchase coverage ranging from individual ties and entire rounds to an annual package covering all rounds of each cup. The partnership also calls for the launch of a desktop live scoring centre and redesigned mobile app for both competitions.

But Sportradar OTT is by no means limited to federations. Sportradar is already working with national broadcasters such as Sportitalia who want to revamp and scale up their digital distribution alongside their existing linear channels. German 2.Bundesliga soccer side Eintracht Braunschweig are also using the solution to take their own club-branded subscription channel, Eintracht TV, to the global online marketplace.

For each of those offerings, Sportradar takes care of the technical aspects and maintenance of the platform while the rights holder produces and manages the content signal – although Sportradar also has the ability to handle on-site production in-house thanks to its acquisition, as part of the Sportsman takeover, of Unas Media Production. For the EHF, for example, the company produces a 26-minute magazine show every matchday, which is then distributed to broadcasters all over the world.

The differing nature of Sportradar’s early OTT clients speaks to the versatility of the platform but the real beauty of the service, says Geier, is its flexibility. Fully customisable and highly scalable, the solution’s advanced technological backbone can easily accommodate the specific requirements of the client, from bespoke branding and unique front-end user interfaces to the necessary geo-blocking and revenue share structures.

Sportradar announced its partnership with the EHF ahead of this year’s season-ending VELUX EHF FINAL4 in Cologne

In most cases, the solution is offered free of charge, and while the Sportradar OTT-powered services currently on the market are monetised through either a subscription and/or advertising-based model, all revenues are shared between Sportradar and the client. “I think that is really unique in the market,” says Geier. “We have put all this experience into the development of this product, and I’m pretty sure there is no other company that can offer this variety of technique with such a model here.

“The other thing is that we set up some digital advertising unit within Sportradar, because when it comes to the revenue share model we can help to generate revenues on this platform. Also the rights holder is allowed to sell advertising and they are really welcome to bring in their existing sponsors to this platform.”

Such is the flexibility of the model, Geier notes how a client’s commercial partners and third party advertisers can be integrated in different ways across the same platform. On ehfTV.com, for instance, the Champions League section is reserved for official sponsors of that tournament while advertising spots on other areas of the service are available for purchase by non-EHF partners. “We’re also trying to acquire new partners for the EHF on site and offline,” Geier adds. “That is our approach and when it comes to marketing and revenue streams, it’s really very aligned with the needs of the federation.”

In the few months since its launch, Geier says Sportradar OTT has already highlighted how combining data and data visualisation solutions – two areas ingrained in Sportradar’s “DNA” – with video content has “huge potential” to transform a client’s digital output. By incorporating elements such as real-time data or player tracking into their platforms, clients can go well beyond the provision of live streams to deliver an even richer, more engaging user experience.

“Once you have access to video signals and the data – which we have with the EHF because we are their official data provider – we are able to create completely new products which didn’t exist before,” Geier notes.

But the benefits of the solution do not end there. While Sportradar OTT is still a nascent unit and thus represents “a small part” of the company’s overall revenues at present, Geier adds that there is plenty of scope for “much bigger cooperations” with clients given that there are “a lot of other synergies” with various other divisions of the wider group.

“Once we have access to the signal, we could easily sell it to our betting companies, if the federation wants to, and drive additional revenues,” he explains. “We could make some data products out of it. We could, as we also have the infrastructure of a classic sports rights agency with the former Sportsman Media Group, we could help the federation to sell it to other broadcasters all over the world.

“We can offer integrity services, which is also a core of Sportradar, to the federations, and I think that is especially interesting when it comes to strategic partnerships.”

This article originally appeared in issue 96 of SportsPro Magazine. To find out more or to subscribe, click here.

Rainer Geier will be one of the speakers at the first ever SportsPro OTT Summit, which is being held in Madrid with the support of the Olympic Channel on 29th and 30th November. To register your interest and find out how you can be there, head to the official website.