Gooooaaaaal! Digital Helps Sports To Win.

Image credit: iStockphoto/Rost-9D

For Switzerland-based Sportradar, which provides services for bookmakers, national and international sports federations, and media companies, COVID-19 ushered a problematic dry spell. With nearly 53% of the year’s sporting events becoming restricted, it knew it had to change its gameplay to survive.

“So, we worked closely with our sports partners to help create new and unique online events, offering a mixture of live odds, data, AV, and streaming,” said Biplay Gautam, head of partnerships in APAC for Sportradar. It ventured into offering official coverage, betting, and streaming opportunities for several specially-designed esports tournaments.

The bet worked. And the resulting hybrid sports fan experience offered clues into the future of sports.

Data-driven defense

The pivot to online is changing the nature of how sports teams, advertisers, and fans interact. Central to the evolving relationship is data.

For example, Sportradar worked with K League to bring live matches beyond TV broadcasts to online platforms worldwide. The digital nature allowed the company to track viewing data, letting the league know where their fans are viewing from.

Gautam expects digitalization to expand the sports varieties. He already believes the growing popularity of esports events will drive the global sports market, which is now seen as a potential Olympic candidate.

Advances like D2C services allow organizers, stadiums, venues, teams, and sponsors to rethink how they deliver live shows and sporting events. They can extend their marketing pre-, mid-and post-show through more quality content while adapting to more innovative platforms.

China will continue to be a growth market for international rights owners, and navigating the complex landscape of creating a fan base in China would mean a continued growth of digital consulting and activation work for agencies,” said Gautam.

AI is also entering the sports mainstream. Sportradar is already using its historical sports data to train its AI model and create a Simulated Reality product in less than a month.

“We launched it in April to cover the top-tier football leagues from England, Germany, and Spain. This included playing the postponed European Championship in Simulated Reality,” said Gautam.

Simulated Reality offered sporting fans life-like entertainment, modeling virtual matches and events in the same fashion as a real-life competitive counterpart would.

Gautam views it as a pandemic-proof model. “As a vertical, it can both withstand global pressures of the pandemic and continue to drive growth for our partners. It will produce some of the most dynamic and memorable ‘always on’ sporting experiences that sporting fans can engage with 24/7, no matter where they are or what sports they love.”

Cutting-edge midfield

Sportradar understands that the future of sports lies in data. The company offers the whole data value chain for over 1,200 clients and partners in over 80 countries, from the collection to the visualization and commercialization of live sports data.

The company developed data collection systems for more than 75 different sports, whether football, basketball, rugby, or tennis. All collected data is deposited through its independent server centers in Europe. Every match runs through a post-validation process to ensure all results are accurate.

Speed matters for players like Sportradar. “We are among the fastest data providers in the market. We utilize quality management systems in tandem with machine learning and artificial intelligence to ensure the data we collect and distribute is accurate, reliable, and fast.

Machine learning is changing the way companies like Sportradar play in the industry. “Machine learning is transforming the way sports data is being designed, digitized, and delivered, from instantly modeling new sports, sporting formats, and future events weeks ahead of schedule to the rapid creation of new data-driven digital products,” said Gautam.

Data visualization is also vital. So, the company is integrating cutting-edge content solutions for sophisticated data visualization.

“The majority of our clients are in the media and betting platforms, so we have a relatively clear picture of what has traction and not, and we tailor our solutions accordingly. Furthermore, we are always communicating with our partners and effecting modifications to our solutions based on their needs and wants; all our processes are reviewed and improved regularly to keep up with the growing demands for sporting data,” said Gautam.  

Reimagining the forward play

Currently, many of the advancements are an improvement of current offerings. Most of these were seen as an answer to the disruptions posed by COVID-19.

However, Gautam sees the future of sports becoming very different due to advancements in technology and the availability of data.

“Within data sets, there is a trove of information and insights. As a data scientist, you can uncover key trends and preferences within the demographics such as income levels, game attendance, favorite athletes, and so much more,” said Gautam.

This allows companies to try real-time hyper-personalization to create a new experience while allowing advertisers to get more intimate with targeted fans.

“The key to obtaining access to this data is the right coupling with the right technology. Sports marketers and advertisers should actively innovate on new data-gathering tools and content-driven initiatives. They can use those data-backed insights to deepen understanding of their audience to build hyper-personalized content to amplify the engagement,” said Gautam.

With specific data, which coaches formerly used to finetune their lineups and match strategies, available to the public, it alters the way fans, federations, the leagues, and the media interact.  It brings the industry closer to the fans, which is where Gautam believes it should be.

Sports, as a fan-driven entertainment business, is going through rapid digital transformation. The use of data, powered by advanced technology, has evolved beyond statistical analysis into much more sophisticated artificial intelligence (AI)-powered applications. Innovations in computer vision, data analysis, and 5G adoption from both first-party interactions with fans and through partnerships with third-party data sources such as Sportradar are making this experience possible,” he said.

Soon, Gautam predicted that the “symbiosis of mobile smartphone adoption, increased levels of social media and data applications” will provide opportunities for fans to become immersed within the sporting, social experience like never before.

“Ultimately, it is the fan-club relationship that will surpass the boundaries of the physical game itself and transcend into the digital and hyper-social,” said Gautam.

Image credit: iStockphoto/Rost-9D