Lessons in data from the US

Sportradar chief executive Carsten Koerl reflects on the experience of breaking into the US sports data market, and discusses ways in which sport data can generate engagement and insight like never before.

Lessons in data from the US

In the few years since Sportradar acquired US sports data specialists SportsData LLC, the Swiss-headquartered company has gone on to round up an impressive roster of partners, including the National Football League (NFL), the National Hockey League (NHL) and, most recently, the National Basketball Association (NBA).

With data creeping ever further into the fan experience, Sportradar chief executive Carsten Koerl reflects on what those years have taught him and how those lessons can help showcase sport data’s ability to generate engagement and insight like never before.

How would you describe the experience of breaking into the US sports data market?

We identified media companies – and digital solutions –  as an untapped area for our data. That naturally led us to the US market. In a short time, we were also able to develop Sportradar’s footprint in the US, which now includes partnerships with the NFL, NBA, NHL and Nascar. We are hyper-focused on our digital business with a focus on product development. Our partners are asking us to provide tools that will allow their audiences to utilise and customise data through dynamic applications and products that will truly engage fans. 

After some time getting settled into the US sports data market, which organisations are you finding most interested in receiving and utilising the data you have?

One of the truly fascinating aspects of the sports content business is that you work with really innovative companies from all corners of business. We are actively working with companies who want to utilise sports data in ad tech where our real-time play-by-play triggers specific consumer ads based on game action. The focus can then switch to AI and machine learning.

There are incredible opportunities there where our content is accessed via a data lake and very deep analysis is compiled in seconds - and, of course, there is our work with traditional media companies. Turner Sports, Google, Facebook, Twitter and Samsung are among the leading companies in sports and digital media relying on Sportradar for innovative content, comprehensive applications and product development.

What differentiates the US sports data market from other markets around the world?

While the US market has been ahead of the curve with data, everyone now understands that we are in an era of big data. Fans have rapidly become more sophisticated in this regard. For one, they are better versed in advanced stats for their favourite sports. Secondly, we are seeing a consumer data movement with wearable devices that allow you to track your fitness and activity at home. It has become incumbent on media companies to satisfy that thirst for information. That is why Sportradar has developed its content offering to become the partner that allows companies from every sector of the sports industry to satisfy fans with rich data and content.

Talk of NHL’s HITs and NFL’s Next Gen Stats suggests that these types or tiers of data are above and beyond standard data collected and distributed. What do these types of data add to the mix?

Sportradar believes that player tracking has an incredible upside and that solutions and analysis derived from tracking data will be highly coveted by digital media companies. Our goal is not only to license this data, but create innovative solutions that help fans enhance their understanding of the game. Our clients and partners have let it be known that there is a strong appetite for this information from their audiences.    

Sportradar's Next Gen Stats widget helps NFL fans enhance their understanding of the game, according to Koerl.

A few years ago, STATS had all these partnerships and now you have picked them up. What is it that differentiates Sportradar’s partnership offering?

Sportradar has gained the reputation as a valued partner to leagues as evidenced by our 65 league and federation partnerships globally. We are the global expert in monetising sports data and the company best positioned to help leagues thrive in today’s dynamic digital media environment.

To win these partnerships, it was crucial to offer a true development partnership rather than a pure distribution deal. With new content like tracking data now available in real time and fans’ increasing hunger to consume entertaining data visualisations on multiple devices, the demand on data partners has increased significantly. 

Leagues want creative applications: they want visualisations across multiple platforms, they want real depth of data, they want companies that can see data consumption and commercialisation trends, and they want partners that have the credibility and resources to activate those trends. We are able to take data and then bring it to life, in terms of value or engagement, and across a range of sectors, in a way that no one else really can. 

As an example, we built a state-of-the-art research and analysis tool for the NFL that is not only used by every team but also the league’s media and digital partners - allowing them to access historical data, in-season data and player tracking data – and derive real-time implications from our data.  

You unveiled new products, tool and services last year, including Acceleradar and SportServ. What are they, how are they being applied, and what’s take-up been like to date?

Sportradar has been able to establish its position at the frontline of the sports data industry by innovating and bringing new services to market. Acceleradar and SportServ are two great examples. 

SportServ is a patent-pending technology that uses real-time game events to trigger creative advertising with optimal impact. Advertisers can now tailor their message and target their delivery as the action unfolds. We know that brands and agencies are in a sprint to master digital advertising and our solution is to enable ads to be smart, real-time and contextual. The results so far have been staggering and have dramatically increased the effectiveness of our partners’ advertising efforts.  

Acceleradar is the industry’s first free data programme to support early stage startups. The programme, which has launched in the US, speaks to our commitment to serve the entire sports ecosystem, including startups. Eligible participants will be granted free data access, for up to one year, via Sportradar’s industry leading API. Our goal with this programme is to stimulate innovation by boosting startups who have great ideas and need help getting them off the ground.

We meet numerous companies who are stuck in exactly that situation. We’ve also seen multiple startups flourish by using our data and creating products that the sports community desperately wanted. We want to create disruptors from places where funding isn’t necessarily available. If we can provide an avenue for creative people to make a successful product, where they otherwise would not have been able to, then Acceleradar has accomplished what we set out to do.

The fight for viewers is so competitive. Our aim is to provide unique, creative and bitesize content.

What are other new products, tool and services in the pipeline?

Every product released by Sportradar is built with a focus on storytelling, an intuitive user experience that is customisable by the end-user at home or in the stands. Artificial Intelligence is already here and in a big way. Pro teams are already running game simulations to test out different lineups and match-ups and to predict a player’s value over an upcoming season. As a result, fans want to know why a coach or manager is making certain decisions, and they want to know, based on statistics and analytics, why a game is moving in a certain direction. That’s information that we will automate and the result will be fresh, provocative content for fans. It’s coming and it’s very exciting. 

What are your plans in South America and specifically soccer on the continent?

When Sportradar first began making inroads into North America, it was through our peerless Integrity Services, where we partnered with Major League Soccer (MLS) back in 2013 and then Concacaf. A few years on, we now have established wide-reaching relationships with the NHL and NBA that cover data, but that still have integrity at their heart. We are looking at moving into South America in a similar way.

Our first partnership was with the Brazilian Federação Paulista de Futebol, an incredibly important regional soccer league. Just this month, we have built on that with a comprehensive integrity partnership with the region’s confederation, Conmebol. So we are very focused on helping football and other sports in this region leverage our local and international expertise to safeguard the integrity of their leagues and tournaments.

As for data partnerships, I would not be surprised if our dedicated teams in South America gets pen put to paper soon on some regionally important sports and competitions in the not too distant future!

Looking forward, how do you see sports data and content being used to continue increasing insight and engagement? What is around the corner?

The fight for viewers is so competitive. Our aim is to provide unique, creative and bitesize content. If you can provide fresh content in a way that is easy for fans to consume, then you will stand apart and be successful. Over the coming year, our partners will see a range of offerings from Sportradar that allow them to pick data solutions and visualisations which are relevant for that particular moment in time, create context and tell a story with the data.

You have to get very granular and understand what your customers actually want and build products that engage them. Real-time data consumption during the game is crucial. We’ve invested a lot into this area of our business. As for what we at Sportradar have on the horizon, well that would be telling…