Perform Group Director of Integrity and Security, Matt Drew, explains how the content and media group is supporting the sports-betting industry, and why integrity is the cornerstone of the enterprise
Perform is a global digital sports content and media group. We are in the business of creating compelling content for our customers, be they sportsbooks, media partners, or avid sports fans, via our leading sports platforms. It is this model that has led to the success of sports properties such as Goal and Sporting News, and is powering our ground-breaking live sports streaming service DAZN. It also supports our supply of market-leading data and video content into the betting industry.
It is this breadth of operation in the digital sports business that gives us a unique position with respect to the integrity of our provision of betting content. At the risk of paraphrasing the Marvel Universe, it is a strong Perform value that our relationships with sports governing bodies and in betting organisations bring great responsibility. This fundamental belief in responsible partnership underpins the provision of our services into the betting market.
Up until now, betting integrity services have typically focused on the detection of match manipulation on behalf of governing bodies. While Perform provides such services, and believes they can be a constructive element of any match manipulation investigation and sanction, it is their belief that integrity efforts must start much earlier in the process.
Often overlooked from an integrity point of view is the quality of the content on which betting operators operate their markets and provide betting opportunities to their customers. Fast data is used by those operators to create, trade and settle in-running markets, and our RunningBall network is the leading provider of such data.
To understand why (this is often overlooked), the manner in which such data is collected and distributed must be appreciated. In order to achieve the speed required to be fit for purpose, the data should ideally be collected in-stadia. In order to achieve the volume of markets/matches preferred by operators, the collection needs to take place at matches all over the world. This results in global networks of data collectors (“scouts”) in stadiums at tens of thousands of events annually. With that comes an integrity risk, as scouts could be vulnerable to bribes or threats by organised criminals, or may otherwise be tempted into wrongdoing. These threats, and the resulting delayed or inaccurate data, could leave betting operators’ trading efforts widely exposed.
Given this, we have worked hard to significantly reduce this potential risk through the rigorous protections Perform has put in place. We believe that in order to provide premium quality data, it requires a number of measures to be employed throughout the process. From our perspective, these include thorough background checks of any potential scout, even before they move onto a face-to-face interview. All applicants would then need to undergo extensive training on un-traded matches and be required to meet fixed standards of quality before qualifying as a “rookie scout”. If they successfully pass this stage, they would only graduate to full scout status only after successful collection for the entirety of their first season.
Finally, all successful applicants will be subject to specific restrictions with respect to all gambling activity, and allow us to share information relating to their work with regulators, operators and governing bodies. This system and the pyramid structure used operationally, means that we have complete control over, and direct communication with, every scout in the network. The introduction of outsourced collection or agency relationships would necessarily limit that authority and introduce sizeable data integrity risk.
Data integrity is maintained not just with personnel controls, but also by utilising technology. A common tactic employed by would-be corruptors is to try and remove scouts from stadia and to relay events observed by a second individual in the stadium. We employ a combination of GPS tracking, photography, along with more traditional measures such as “mystery scouts”, which not only helps as a means of deterring wrongdoing but also creates a secondary dataset enabling performance comparison. In addition, scouts have a panic button, by which they can cease any data collection in the case of any threat or approach. Post-match, of course, all data is subject to thorough quality assurance review, and in the rare event of any issue, an integrity investigation in partnership with our customers.
As the industry continues to evolve, we believe that governing bodies or regulators will require fast data providers to have these, and additional customer selection and controls in place, in order to be eligible to acquire data or video betting rights. Perform is also developing industry-wide integrity best practice in the manner it proposes the acquisition of fast data rights. Our standard position with rights holders is that they should grant betting data collection rights on a non-exclusive basis. It is often considered surprising or counterintuitive for Perform to advocate for the grant of collection of rights to our competitors. However, we believe that by delivering the quality of collection outlined above, and requesting secondary official data sources, we can ensure betting operators have quality, multi-source data and are able to trade in markets safely and efficiently. Meanwhile, governing bodies can realise fair value for their inventory and be comforted that their sport is interacting safely with the betting market.
This progressive model builds a framework for collaborative relationships between governing bodies, betting content providers, operators and regulators. It is off the back of such an arrangement that efforts to work together in building capacity to eliminate match manipulation via preventative efforts, detection and sanction can be made. It is overwhelmingly clear that all collaborators around the world have a shared incentive in betting markets which operate with integrity.
It is essential, therefore, that those acting as the link between governing bodies and the betting industry, such as Perform and others in the betting content provision market, promote the ability of sport to govern itself. That is achieved both by the responsible creation of content, and by providing it back into sport for integrity uses on a cost free basis. When partnering with governing bodies, we fundamentally believe that integrity should be an obligation, not a commercial opportunity.
In practice, this requires that any responsible betting content provider must support any governing body integrity program, including match monitoring, alert investigation and stakeholder training. Centralised organisations such as FIFA EWS will increasingly be the focal point of efforts to tackle match manipulation with commercial providers as contributors. Given the range of matches under the microscope, the breadth of Perform data and video event coverage becomes crucial.
This means Perform provides access to the entirety of our resources, from across each of our divisions, not just betting. That includes alerts of suspicious betting activity powered by our partnership with TXODDS, RunningBall data, Opta performance data which can help to tell the detailed match story, data analytics to assess changes in team and/or player performance and the ability to review event footage. Further, we can offer observations from our scouts in-stadia at matches around the world, the local expertise of our integrity consultants and can broker information exchange between our betting operator customers and governing body integrity units.
Historically, governing bodies have outsourced the totality of their integrity operations to commercial providers. As the likes of EWS and the next iteration of the Tennis Integrity Unit emerge as effective internal integrity units, that is likely to change. For reasons of good practice and the enforceability of resulting sanctions, investigations will increasingly be taken in-house with betting content, trading alerts, and other betting market intelligence all becoming vital components of a broad spectrum of evidence used to build cases.
I would anticipate the emergence of similar bodies in other top tier sports such as basketball. This will have a positive effect across betting as the aspiration towards a reduction in manipulated events is realised.
In addition to a non-commercial and results-driven approach to working with governing bodies, Perform will continue to develop its provision into betting, via operators, regulators and, where necessary, law enforcement. We will maintain our work internally and as part of our partnership with TXODDS to create tools and services which empower our customers to operate and trade safely and securely, with increased support and understanding from our governing body partners.
It is clear that integrity issues will be a significant focus for all involved in sports betting in the coming years. At Perform, we are positively supporting industry efforts to operate with the highest standards of integrity. By continuing to provide betting content of the highest standard, and by building a framework for collaboration between our customers and our governing body partners, we can create an environment where both operator and consumer exposure to risk is minimised, the integrity of sport events is protected and those threatening it can be effectively pursued.
Matt Drew is the director of Integrity and Security at Perform Group. He oversees the Perform Integrity and Security function, ranging from our advisory work and collaboration with Governing Bodies on fighting match manipulation and other integrity issues, to the increasingly hot topic of the processes and controls around the provision of Fast Data and other products on which the betting markets rely. Having begun professional life as a commercial and sports lawyer, he moved into the sports content industry first with Opta and now at Perform