IN-DEPTH 12 April 2016
Beware illegitimate data
Stephen Taylor-Matthews speaks out against those scraping sports data
By Stephen Taylor-Matthews
Year-on-year, at the ICE conference, the sports-betting area grows and becomes more impressive. From the well-known media data companies to staple B2B providers, all the big-hitters were well represented in 2016. However, if you were walking around the South Hall of the ExCel you would have also noticed a mini-explosion of new service providers. At first glance this may not be such a surprise as there are profits to be made, but what was astonishing is the amount of live data these new platforms seem to be offering, and at a bewilderingly low price in comparison to other providers of the same data. So what’s going on?
The sports-betting industry currently has a handful of key sports data suppliers including Perform (RunningBall), IMG, Betradar, SIS, InPlay Sports Data and SportingPulse that offer live data in an official, authentic, timely and accurate manner to operators. From the outset, companies like Perform used their existing relationships to create a bedrock of legitimacy and commercial viability for the sports’ governing bodies to finally engage with the gambling industry. As a consequence, the sports gambling operators were invited in from the data wilderness and used this new, fast data to push the revolution and profits of in-play betting. Needless to say, in this era of unrestrained sums for sports rights, this access comes at a cost. Most recently the International Tennis Federation signed a five-year pact with Sportradar for an eye-watering $70m, for example. These agreements are an increasingly important part of solidifying the governing bodies’ engagement with the gambling industry, but over the past year a pattern has emerged that undermined this.
As the standard cost of official or scouted feeds can take a significant part of a B2B's operating profit margin, some sceptical service operators have started to source and offer illegitimate feeds. This practice appears to have turned into a cottage industry if ICE 2016 is anything to go by, with over 75% of new B2B sports-betting companies offering data without any agreement with the appropriate data companies that have acquired the official rights, or even taken the effort to create the data themselves. These feeds are, in the main, being parsed (copied) using scraping robots from existing bookmaker websites that display the data in real time, for marketing purposes, and sold on unofficially to the industry. With just a simple Google search you can find the source code for these data scraper robots being sold openly for around $1,000, which would give you access to an astonishing 30,000 live events a month being produced by the authentic data suppliers. Obviously, not all B2B sports-betting companies are openly admitting to undertaking this crude operation to garner their data, with some even setting up faux sports data companies as a front in a hope to legitimise themselves, but it is apparent that this practice is now pervasive in the sports-betting industry.
Clearly this inauspicious scheme purveyed by these crafty providers leaves the sports-betting industry open to many problematic scenarios. From a customer’s perspective you are being told that this information is legitimate or authentic and that you are being given a feed direct from the stadium in some cases, when in fact it is coming from a third-party website where you have no control over the speed or accuracy of the data and leaves you, as an operator, woefully open to any errors. There is nothing to stop these copied feeds being blocked at source, which could turn your whole operation off from one minute to the next, and your business could be sunk overnight.
From other B2B platform providers’ perspectives it is undercutting their commercial models as they are trying to legitimately work with official and authentic data suppliers while offering products that create a stable environment for trading solutions. And, most importantly, it has the potential to harm the current relationships with sports rights holders as it undercuts the value and integrity of the data being used in the betting industry.
If you are sat at your desk after ICE flicking through the business cards of platforms you have seen, then just ask yourself a very important question: “Where is this business getting its sports data from and is it authentic?”.
Stephen Taylor-Matthews has over ten years of experience working in the gaming industry and has worked in the Asian market as a key supplier for Perform Group. Most recently he was the Head of Commercial for the Pinnacle Sports brand. Stephen now runs his own gaming software and consultancy business Onnisoft (onnisoft.com).
This article appears in the March/April issue of Gambling Insider