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‘The end goal is to turn fan engagement into fan monetisation’: Sportradar’s data-led approach to capitalising on the US$270bn sports betting market

SportsPro chats to Rainer Geier, sports technology company's chief product officer for sports entertainment, about how both media companies and rights holders can use advanced gambling tools to better engage sports fans.

18 May 2022 Tom Bassam

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It is no secret that the US sports betting market is growing at a rapid pace. Since the Supreme Court lifted federal gambling regulations in 2018 more and more states are coming online for bettors, perhaps the most significant being New York earlier this year.

The ability of betting to engage sports fans has long been common knowledge elsewhere, but rapid technological advances also mean that even businesses in well-established gambling markets are able to deploy new tools to further enhance the experience.

Sat in the middle of this equation is Sportradar, sports technology giant that has expanded rapidly as a business in recent years to meet the needs of both the betting sector and the sprawling digital media space. Over the past 18 months, the Swiss-based firm has agreed major deals with the likes of the National Basketball Association (NBA), the National Hockey League (NHL) and European soccer body Uefa, as well as raising a reported US$8 billion from its initial public offering (IPO) on the Nasdaq stock exchange.

In addition to its rights holder partnerships, Sportradar offers its betting services to some of the biggest brands in the gaming sector, such as DraftKings, BetMGM, PointsBet and Bally’s to name but a few, with those deals often also including integrated streaming tools.

A number of the betting brands mentioned above are also increasingly signing agreements with traditional media companies, offering a strong indicator of the direction of travel and the continued merging of the two industries.

To discover more about this trend, SportsPro spoke to Rainer Geier, Sportradar’s chief product officer for sports entertainment.

Why are sports media companies increasingly turning to betting in 2022?

Rainer Geier: There is one obvious reason, which is the overlap of the target group. Every sports bettor is also a sports fan, and the media companies have access to the sports fans.

Secondly, if you offer betting services as a media company then this enables you to also retain your customers (the fans) on the platform and the opportunity for fans to engage more deeply with their favourite sports.

That’s also the reason why an increasing number of rights holders, not only classic media companies but also rights holders, especially in the US, are turning to betting – because they see that the fans who bet are more engaged with their favourite sports. That’s one of the pieces of feedback we got from the rights holders, again especially in the US, because they see more engagement.

Thirdly, and likely the most important reason, is the huge monetisation opportunity – this also applies to media industries. The total addressable market for sports betting is valued at about US$270 billion, so of course media companies want to take advantage of this. They also see a chance to monetise their customer base, who will then also turn into customers with a greater lifetime value than before. Previously these customers were monetised by a subscription or via advertising, but betting is a completely new total addressable market which they can enter.

For me that’s a logical step both ways. Not only media into betting, but also the other way around.
Sportradar is one of the biggest live streaming providers to the gaming industry, serving more than 400,000 live streams. This means betting operators have already turned into an OTT provider of sorts. This comes with some restrictions – content needs to be behind a paywall and users must have an account with the betting operator and money in their account.

Nevertheless, betting companies are turning to live streaming and must think like a media company when deciding to present the content to their audience.

This is a very interesting development and we at Sportradar can support both industries.

Rainer Geier (centre) is Sportradar’s chief product officer, sports entertainment

As well as streaming and betting, Sportradar also does data collection. How is technology advancing to make this all come together easier?

RG: The keyword here is personalisation, and every technology that pushes personalisation will help to make convergence easier. Going forward, it’s not just about watching a football game in a passive manner, fans now also interact and transact via streaming. But you need to know the interests of the fan and also show the right content, at the right time, to the right user – that’s what personalisation is all about.

At the end you can build experiences on top of commodity tech, such as a video player that integrates data or a call to action – perhaps also into merchandising or ticketing – but based on the interests of the fan. A positive example in this regard is the Interactive Feed of our partner German Bundesliga (DFL) which is giving fans all of that in a combined experience. I believe we are going to see more of those experiences in the future.

How effective is betting as a fan engagement tool?

RG: Fan engagement is rightly the buzzword nowadays, not only in betting and media, but I think the end goal is to turn fan engagement into fan monetisation.

Sportradar’s role is to support our partners in fan monetisation, but the basis and foundation of this is fan engagement.

One concrete example of this is with Formula One. You know the sport is getting huge television audiences – 1.5 billion viewers globally last season – but it does not generate a huge betting revenue compared to the traditional betting sports like football, tennis and basketball.

The reason for this is that historically there has been no access to adequate real-time data for Formula One. That’s what Sportradar has changed now.

In a strong partnership with Formula One, we are providing our data and insights that enable betting operators to do everything from setting odds to attracting customers. All of a sudden, we have the basis to deliver these data insights and odds to more than 900 bookmaker clients. Formula One is now participating in this new opportunity and it perfectly shows how we can engage fans and monetise content.

What do sports media companies have to do to make these kind of betting integrations successful?

RG: The first step is to know the user better, which means you need to gather user data. Whilst gathering user data is one thing, taking advantage and using it in a smart way is something else. Data-driven insights provide the foundation for the personalisation and digital experience, with the end goal to really tailor and deliver the right content offerings accordingly.

Secondly, you need to have the betting knowhow within the media industry. There are trends emerging, for example, DAZN have hired a CEO from a traditional betting environment and their next logical step is the launch of DAZN Bet.

That’s the mixture. You need the right content, you need the user understanding, but of course you also need the betting knowhow. That, for me, are the ingredients to do this well.

You’ve already mentioned some individual examples, but where do you see Sportradar’s role in this broad landscape?

RG: Sportradar’s interesting proposition is that we sit exactly between the betting and media industries, which have a total addressable market of US$270 billion in betting and more than US$200 billion in the media industry. We build the underlying technology and the products for both industries.

Whilst Sportradar is well known for its provision of services to the traditional betting industry, we have established a range of services for media companies, which utilise the personalisation tools we have built, especially within our ad:s proposition where we offer dynamic creative optimisation (DCO). Last year Sportradar acquired Fresh 8 Gaming, whose technology has enabled us to build the leading DCO solution in the industry, with the aim to show the right content – and not only advertising – at the right time, to the right user.

Another example of how Sportradar is shaping the landscape is through EmBet, a solution that provides a video stream data overlay based on the behaviour of the user, by incorporating live betting content into OTT platforms by combining data, odds, insights and advertising.

For example, if we know a bettor is UK based, an Arsenal fan, and has already placed a bet, then they see a different advert compared to a bettor based in Austria, who is a huge tennis fan and who’s never placed a bet before. The engine recognises this and chooses the right call to action. This is real time both in video and in classic content.

These services are underpinned by our computer vision machine learning technology, that’s the foundation and where we are heavily investing.

It’s interesting you reference machine learning technology there. Is that the next phase in betting technology or are there other innovations to come, do you think?

RG: For now, computer vision is the enabling technology for the future benefit. Our vision to use this technology to understand sports on a much more detailed and player related level.

Computer vision enables multiple data sets to be ingested at the same time. This allows for that data to be contextualized, whether it be sharing a team’s pressure index with a Gen Z fan and prompting them to come back and watch the match or driving the future of fan engagement and involvement with the creation of the metaverse. Computer vision is bringing together the offline and online worlds to create a virtual-reality space in which fans can interact with each other.

We’re already deploying computer vision within our Live Channel Promotion service, using the technology to automate the production of near live short form video highlights which our bookmaker clients deliver to their customers mobile devices via a push notification. This creates a rich and immersive engagement experience for bettors.

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