Andy Elliott, Sport Acuity: The exponential growth of data

Andy Elliott

Ahead of this week’s Betting on Football, we spoke to Andy Elliott, Founder and co-Director of specialist agency Sport Acuity, to give us the inside track on the increasing importance of data, and how it is transforming the betting sector.

Online Gaming is Driving the Data Revolution

Data is King. It’s not a new saying, but it is now more accurate than ever, especially where online gambling is concerned. Recently, F1 became the latest sport to monetise its data assets, continuing a growing trend that has proven the financial worth of information and statistics, particularly where live and in-play betting are concerned.

The days of putting your bets on a few races, or maybe a football match, on a Saturday morning and then settling down in front of the TV may not be entirely over, but younger people want more from their sports betting experience. To meet the demands of a rapidly evolving market, betting companies need to offer instant play solutions, and that’s where data comes into its own.

In the past, it was all about historical data. Many bets were based upon a careful study of the ‘form’ of a horse or team, and a million old men (Let’s be honest, they were nearly all men) across the betting shops of Britain could boast an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of how their favourite football team or racehorse had performed in previous outings.

This type of data still has a fundamental role to play, but it is usually available in the public domain. It is the live and in-play data that has a value and it’s this data that companies like Sportradar, Perform Group and GeniusSports have sought to license from governing bodies, federations and franchises.

The Power of Data

The power of data, and what you can do with it, is expanding all the time. Human nature dictates that the more information you possess, the more you can do with it, and this certainly applies to betting. We’ve already seen the growth of live betting in many sports and more markets are being added all the time.

It’s not just about time-related data either. In the UK and USA, sensors are being placed on racehorses that can actually sense the location, physical movement, effort and exhaustion of the animal and transmit it throughout the race, adding live in-race data and also facilitating additional innovations, such as virtual reality recreations of each event.

The real-time delivery of data gives bookmakers a real advantage, not only in the delivery of new and innovative betting markets, but also in their own battle against those who try to play the system by capitalising on the different transmission speeds of broadcast and online technologies. By using automated data gathering and analysis, combined with a human element of scouts in stadiums or even umpires (in tennis), companies such as Perform Group and IMG are able to provide instant, verified data to determine the outcome of sporting bets.

It’s not just betting that can benefit from live data gathering and processing either. This information allows operators to create themed games, based on the outcome of actual sporting events and played for cash or fun, which are specifically designed to appeal to a wider audience, such as millennials. The F1 deal was one of the first to directly facilitate this emerging channel, and the recent MLB deal with Sportradar includes a similar provision.

How Data Became King

Beginning in the 1990s, the data revolution has been driven by the growth of the internet. The market for sports information really began to develop in the early noughties, around the time that the Press Association did deals with the Premier League, Football League and other organisations. It’s only in the past five to eight years that things have really taken off, however, and the global revenue for sports data – currently estimated at up to $353 million – is set to grow exponentially over the coming decade, especially as the US market opens up.

Online sports betting has created an insatiable demand for new ways to wager, and technology has delivered the means to measure data in more ways, and more reliably, than ever before. As technology delivers, betting companies spot new opportunities and customers demand even more, so a self-fulfilling prophecy is created.

The sports data market as we know it was effectively created by separate events in 2010 and 2011. Firstly, Football DataCo – a company largely owned by the FA Premier League – did a deal with Satellite Information Services (SIS) to supply data direct to the betting market for $1 million per year.

The Revolution Takes Off

In 2012, the ATP and WTA Tour tennis bodies put their data out to tender, believing that not only would this raise revenue, it would also boost their integrity and allow them to exclude unofficial data gatherers from matches. They were blown away when bidding reached more than £40 million, far more than they’d been expecting, which made this the first truly big money data deal.

This deal has not only driven tennis to be the second biggest sport in betting after football (Yes, really!), it also helped other sports to realise that they were sitting on an unexplored goldmine of information, prompting a string of copycat deals around the world.

While different organisations have taken different approaches to the sale of their data, most have sold the rights alongside live video, allowing companies like Perform, Sportradar, IMG and Betgenius to offer integrated packages to bookmakers. Together, the two markets are conservatively estimated at $700 million a year, and possibly a lot more. In fact, I would estimate that Perform Group alone is generating $170 million in annual revenues from data and live streaming.

Destination: USA

As I’ve already touched on, the next phase in the data revolution will be driven by the growth of online sports betting in the United States. Even before the historic Supreme Court judgement overturning the ban in May 2018, US sports were already looking at partnerships and their data was a big part of that conversation. It’s no surprise that, after more than a decade out of the business for USA businesses, it’s the European data giants that are first in the queue to sign them up.

With New York and New Jersey expected to be the first states to permit online betting, the NBA, NBA and NFL are all doing deals that will drive forward in-game betting as soon as the opportunity goes live. The NFL and NBA have both done deals with Sportradar and we can expect more to follow.

What next for Data?

Although many were surprised that the sport with some of the most advanced data-gathering technology on the planet came quite late to the party, the opportunities presented by the recent F1/ISG/Sportradar deal are genuinely ground-breaking. F1 sold the betting data rights alongside the right to market trackside advertising and virtual ads to bookmakers, which means that information can be tailored to different territories.

As mentioned above, the F1 deal also included provision for gamification of the F1 data, statistics and results, thereby opening up new opportunities and helping to attract followers of all ages, whether or not they want to place a bet.

Around the world, data is opening up a new revenue stream for sports governing bodies, federations and franchises. As technology continues to develop, both in terms of data gathering and the betting markets it can power, the demand for control of, and access to, this data is only going to get bigger.

Andy Elliott is founder and co-director of Sport Acuity, an agency delivering high growth solutions for clients through bespoke content services and specialist consultancy. Andy has worked at executive level across the sports digital, print and agency sectors, including the Daily Express, PA Sport, SIS and Opta. He is also a media consultant for UEFA and European Professional Club Rugby.