Driving player engagement

By Carl Friedmann
Michael Maerz, deputy CEO Asia Pacific at Sportradar, talks to Gambling Insider about the role data and technology can play in improving the sports betting experience, focusing on the Asian market

In sports betting, bookmakers balance their risk against the profits and losses of punters. Technology can seamlessly access, process and gain insights from data that gives bookmakers and operators the competitive leverage for the best possible odds. From pre-match odds to in-play odds based on historical results and player or team strengths, the slightest bit of data can elevate turnover and margins. Cloud computing and machine learning are increasing the amount of data we can process. The more data is available on what's happening on a playing field or a court, the more enhanced the betting experience.

The amount of data coming from operators, federations and the teams or leagues is unparalleled when compared with other industries. Fan engagement is a critical component for sports betting as it opens up a huge opportunity for data and revenue generation to come together in a way never before seen.

At the start of the pandemic, we worked with our clients and partners to provide more digitally data-driven virtual events and content in the absence of live matches and competitions. Using our database of          historical sports data combined with our AI and machine learning capabilities, we developed our Simulated Reality product and 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.

The first simulated reality games offered a comprehensive range of pre-match and in-play betting opportunities. The simulations reflect team form and normal match play, which created an advanced gaming experience. As a vertical, it withstood global pressures of the pandemic and continues to drive growth for our partners. Betradar, a brand of Sportradar, has been pivotal in utilising this entirely AI-driven and algorithm-based solution to create a product that allows fans the same experience as they would feel while watching and betting on a real game. 

As the pandemic stabilised and live matches resumed behind closed doors, we too resumed our operations with our partners, albeit with strict social distancing measures. We work with our network of over 7,500 data journalists to monitor live events or result streams, and we also make use of official representatives, known as scouts, who collect and transmit data from a live sports event while taking advantage of broadcasting time delays to formulate betting odds.

The pandemic taught us the importance of business continuity through adaptation and innovation. Furthermore, we’re always communicating with our partners and effecting modifications to our solutions based on their needs and wants. In addition, all our processes are reviewed and improved regularly to keep up with the growing demands for sporting data.


Appetite for sports betting growing in Asia

What has the Asian market’s reliance on live sport been like in 2020? Considering the impact that Covid-19 has had on the market and new trends that have emerged as a result, we’ve noted a pent-up demand for live sport consumption in terms of viewership ratings and betting patterns following the reopening of live sports. So we have aligned our efforts to grow Sportradar's market share in the region by delivering robust data, betting and integrity capabilities. China in particular is a global sports powerhouse, with a rising domestic sports market and the eyes of the international sports industry trained upon it and its 1.37bn citizens. The Asian Cup hosted by the AFC in China is the start of President Xi’s 2050 Plan, which outlines that China will qualify, host and then win the World Cup by 2050, so there
is significant investment to grow grassroots and professional football in the country.

The Asian market has strived to emulate Europe’s mobile gaming popularity and adoption; over 60% of the total revenue reported by bookmakers come from mobile devices in the region. Asia’s mobile betting market will continue to grow exponentially in the next several years. However, the figures are expected to match or overshadow the European betting markets in the years to come. Combined with the high-speed 5G network, this will provide sporting fans with more powerful and sophisticated technologies that will allow them to engage with sports content faster, more profoundly and in a more meaningful way real-time.


Adapting to the new sporting environment

The pandemic has caused a vast majority of sporting events to be cancelled or postponed. Social distancing measures, brought in to limit the spread of virus, have had a significant effect on sporting fixtures and the way matches and events are being conducted.

For a period of three to four months, events were cancelled or delayed in a wide range of sports, including football, basketball, cycling, athletics, rugby, and Formula 1 racing. Globally, it’s been estimated that the industry will now generate $70bn in revenues, missing out on $60bn in revenues from 2020. The majority of major sports are reliant on broadcasting and betting income for revenue, and the lack of it is why many sporting leagues have developed contingency plans for games without live audiences as we’ve seen with the K-League in South Korea, the Bundesliga in Germany and the English Premier League in the UK.

We feel that there will likely be an oversupply in 2021. There is a feast of sporting action scheduled to take place around the world this summer and beyond.
If there is a time for bookmakers to push, it is now, with people desperate to watch and bet on sport. We are confident that regardless whether it's behind closed doors or with full houses, the sports economy will thrive once again as soon as the virus has subsided fully.


Combating match-fixing

Each year, we monitor around 600 bookmakers and operators and cover a staggering 720,000 matches annually across more than 75 sports, helping global sporting bodies and law enforcement organisations all over the world crack down on match-fixing. This is done using our in-house Fraud Detection System that has been in operation since 2005.

Using the data we gather, we are able to seamlessly generate data-driven statistical models that reflect the likelihood of trends and indicators across match results and athlete performance. Data anomalies can
be identified and then analysed by our team of analysts in order to understand the context and root of it. These anomalies are usually isolated instances outside of the expected range of data points. But where those anomalies are unorthodox enough and where no legitimate context can be identified, match-fixing, point shaving and illegal betting may well be attributed to in those cases.  

Sportradar works with a host of regional partners such as the K-League, Formula 1 and Tennis Australia for a host of engagements pertaining to integrity services and fan engagement. We have also renewed our working partnership with the AFC for a further four years that will see our integrity services utilised for the upcoming 2023 Asia Cup in China. In November, we renewed our partnership with India's premier football tournament, the Indian Super League (ISL), by signing a multi-year renewal of our four-year integrity partnership. The evolving intelligence capabilities of Sportradar will also allow the AFC and ISL to take advantage of their expertise in the areas of fan engagement, integrity and compliance matters in the years ahead.


Data trends we can see in the sports betting sector this year

Machine learning is transforming the way sports data is being designed, digitised and delivered, from instantly modelling new sports, sporting formats and future events weeks ahead of schedule, to the rapid creation of new data-driven digital products. We will see a rise in automated sports betting bots powered by artificial intelligence, which are built on top of sophisticated forecasting and statistical models that can instantaneously identify both performance abnormalities and odds-setting opportunities during live matches.

Combined with the high-speed 5G network, this will enable sporting fans with more powerful and sophisticated technologies that will allow them to engage with sports content faster, more profoundly and in a more meaningful way in real time.

Bookmakers and operators have always been pushing to create new engagement platforms. We will see mobile betting app adoption increase with bettors, allowing betting on-the-go from anywhere and anytime seamlessly rather than being tied to betting at home on a computer. 

The pandemic has elevated the pertinence of fantasy sports in Asia, especially in some specific regions like India. Tencent, Alibaba and SoftBank are investing hundreds of millions of dollars in Indian apps around fantasy sports. The emergence and popularity of sports leagues in the Asia-Pacific region, coupled with the rapid development of digital infrastructure and payments, has led to the rise of fantasy sports as another means for sports enthusiasts to connect with their favourite sports, and test their skills and knowledge of the game.