Dave McDowell, CEO at FSB Technology, writes for Insider Sport to discuss the creation of the Remote Darts League (RDL).
On March 13 2020, I was at the pub near our office having celebratory pints with the trading team. Just a few days later, almost all top-flight sports would be suspended and our entire staff was working remotely. Little did we know that we would soon find ourselves hoping that Belarus football wouldn’t disappear too.
I have done a lot of risk mitigation planning through the years with FSB, mainly focussing on suppliers, servers and security. In all these years I never once considered planning for a time that live sports would disappear.
Once the most immediate content changes could be delivered, we quickly moved into trying to determine what would happen if there were no sports until the fall. What we did next was not only innovative, it also touched every stage of the sports and sports betting value chain.
FSB responded to the lack of sports by creating the Remote Darts League, where professional darts players can compete against one another without ever leaving their own homes. In about two weeks, FSB built all of the required technology to run in-play betting for the tournament and we had our product streamed and traded on hundreds of betting sites around the world.
The first thing we needed to do was to find out if it would be possible to produce the event with everyone from the players to the producers working remotely. The broadcast video feed would need to merge three different video feed sources in real time, two players and a commentator, and merge it with a live scoreboard. After a short period of time we found a production studio who agreed to help us professionally produce the live events.
We knew PDC tour players would be under exclusive contract as a condition of their tour card but we knew a few players who competed at BDO events. These players confirmed that they did not have the same restrictions and could participate in our tournament.
The next big piece of the puzzle was to produce a probability model for running the odds in real time. We regularly trade darts games, but we normally take the events and recommended odds from our data feed supplier rather than producing odds using our own statistical model. We then gave the project to our quant team and within 24 hours they were obsessed with checkout possibilities, average dart values and frequency of 180s. The traders then got involved and recommended that we produce odds for the match winner, individual leg winners, various handicap markets, 180 markets and correct scores.
? LATEST ODDS ?
7/4 Paul Hogan ???????
2/1 Jim Williams ???????
9/4 James Richardson ???????
8/1 Tony O'Shea ??????? pic.twitter.com/Q9csIVInwC
— Remote Darts League (@RemoteDarts) April 27, 2020
Back to the event management side of the project and here we felt it was important that the tournament would be managed independently from FSB. So we hired an independent consultant, Kevin Dale, to oversee the production side of the project and gave him a lawyer and introduced him to a few of the players and the production studio. He immediately set to work with the studio to set up test games between the players and deliver the best possible event production value, including being in charge of the player contracts.
The real stroke of genius was bringing on Richard Ashdown as our commentator and referee, given his experience at the darts World Championships.
Meanwhile, under Sam Lawrence’s (our chief technology officer) guidance the FSB tech team were focussing on live data collection tools. We needed someone to input the dart scores and this data needed to be fed into our new darts pricing models.
Although FSB had never collected raw data from sporting events, we knew what data we needed to collect and the format we needed to drive the models. We then built the data collection platform where we produced web-based tools to allow the team to set up the tournament events (player names, matches, start times, etc.) and other screens to capture the real-time data (game start, scores, leg winner and an undo function).
The traders also needed screens where they could override the models if necessary and apply margins to the probabilities. With the real-time data now being pushed into our platform, we had completed the full automation for the “odds lifecycle” (event creation, market setup, pricing, suspend, resulting).
All of our risk management tools and settlement rules were already in place on the trading platform and the trading team could now set the lines and oversee the markets like any other event we trade on the platform.
At this point, test games were being played, camera angles and lighting were being adjusted, real-time data was being captured and in-play markets were being pushed to the sports betting websites.
We spoke with the production studio to understand how we could produce dynamic graphics and insert a scoreboard into the real-time video stream. The team quickly built an application to ingest and display the player names, which player was throwing, match scores and current leg scoring.
Meanwhile, during the test games, the players were having trouble keeping track of their scores and so we built a simple website to display the live scoreboard for the players and referee to make it easier.
The last piece of the puzzle was video distribution and we needed to consider how the fans could watch the matches. We obviously wanted low-latency video to be included on our sports betting websites and we married up the low-latency live broadcast feeds with our existing client-side video player.
The video player was already available as a widget in our content management system and the front-end team made sure that all of our partner sites were configured properly to display the live streams. We also felt it was important that the games could be viewed for free and chose the YouTube Live platform to host the slightly delayed video stream.
In the end, we built the Remote Darts League to help our customers to get through this difficult time, but I really hope the Remote Darts League will exist long after we get past the Covid-19 pandemic.