Dinos Stranomitis: Stats Perform has one leg in the US and one in Europe, and I understand, even with the US sports and the bet builder concept in the market, there is a demand when it comes to betting types for individual athletes or players. I know that you are doing quite a lot of work on that to understand the trend, so how is it going?
Shane Gannon: This was something we started seeing a couple of years ago, and it wasn't necessarily just within the betting space. Generally sports fans, as a result of social media, were becoming fans of individual players as much as they were becoming fans of teams. Cristiano Ronaldo I think has more Instagram followers than Real Madrid. So with our Opta data service and Opta brand, we looked at the marketing and thought, there’s probably going to be a lot of interest in soccer for player props in betting. Obviously it’s a relatively well-trodden path in US sports around prop style markets, like basketball with rebounds, free throws and three points, but it hasn’t necessarily been done in football. So Opta collects deeper data than anyone else in the industry. We're particularly well placed to execute on the strategy, so we developed an in-play, real-time data feed to deliver data points like shots, shots on target, tackles, passes and offsides to deliver that to operators, to allow them to create in-play and pre-match betting markets related to those kinds of individual metrics.
DS: I think this will be something interesting, everyone wants customization. We can discuss this type of data for many hours, but I want to move to Yoav because LSports has developed some kind of a niche product that’s boosting the appetite for such kinds of betting.
Yoav Ziv: I totally agree with Shane in terms of the needs of collecting new and unique data points in order to allow our customers in the sports betting industry to over-perform. And this is something we put a lot of emphasis on when talking about LVision. One of the latest products we launched a few months ago is an AI-based bet booster for betting tips. So it's AI analysing historical data combined with live incident that happens during the game. And then we have a fully automated system that generates betting tips both for pre-match and in-play. The best thing around this product, which probably should be the next hottest trend in the industry, is around personalisation.
Almost everything today worldwide is personalised. If you buy on Amazon or if you search on Google, everything is personalised. I think the sports betting industry is lacking personalisation, and this is something we're putting a lot of emphasis on, creating personalisation algorithms. So if we drill down a bit deeper into this product, we have it now on some big customers like STS with exclusivity in Poland, LVBet and Eurobet, which are owned by Betsson. Our product is acting as sort of a web component, and once it’s placed on the operator pages, we start collecting data anonymously on the players that are using the widget. Then after 30 to 60 days, different players can see different betting tips, so we have different layers of personalisation, which can be personalised according to the player’s betting habits. So if someone likes to play the Premier League Asian Handicap market, they’ll mainly see such tips or tips of other Premier League games or other Asian handicapping tier-one leagues. So it can be either the player’s betting habits, it can be personalised according to the country they are coming from, to their language, to IP, and to many other different players in order to make it much more engaging.
DS: I'm happy to see that there are prominent companies in the industry that are trying to create something new, especially when it comes to data and how to attract users. Altenar, in the last 12 months, is experiencing this new environment. We see a lot of challenge between official and unofficial data, so we had to reprioritise too many things, and if you see the roadmap, how it looked like last year, and how it looked this year, it looks like we’ve moved 10 years ahead. In Stats Perform, what has changed? What kind of re-prioritisation have you done because of the pandemic?
SG: Luckily, we’ve been investing heavily in official data rights worldwide, so we've been able to continue to go in stadiums where we've had official agreements and still been able to continue to deliver a top-quality product to customers. Obviously where that hasn't been possible, we need to adjust our working operations and our controls, and how we collect data. From TV pictures, it's not an ideal scenario for ourselves or the operators, but working in tandem with the operators, we've managed to implement new controls, checks and processes to ensure that we can deliver the best possible product. Regarding how our roadmap looks, we're three suppliers here, so we have to listen to our customers and we needed to be very agile in 2020. When we were all at ICE in February last year, we probably had very different plans than to how it has unfolded. We're a business that’s heavily invested in rights, and immediately what we looked to do was try and find more content because in March, April and May, operators were just screaming out for content. So we went out there and we acquired more, and we've seen the reports that certain sports massively over-indexed and so on. So what we needed to do was be agile in the short term.
I would say there’s a little bit more normality coming back. Yes, there was demand for more esports and table tennis, but we needed to make decisions around whether we solely focus on those, if they’re short term, or do we see those trends continuing. And I think we've probably made a relatively sensible decision in not shifting our priorities massively.
Carl Friedmann: Did the ability to go into table tennis and these niche markets teach you that, given these extreme circumstances, you were able to adjust and be nimble? And once things return, can you still have access to those markets but still broaden your scope?
SG: Yeah it did, and what the pandemic showed is that every part of the ecosystem and supply chain needs to be pragmatic and work together. Because, while there were some worrying times, I think everyone believed that the betting industry was going to come through; it was just a case of how do we support these betting operators when cash flow was a big problem, and being able to supply them with additional content during that period was really well appreciated. We got to learn some new things by trying out some new content, and as with everything, some work and some don't, and you learn and you move on from there.
YZ: I again agree with Shane. When Covid erupted, operators were mainly looking for coverage in the short-term. I think we identified that the most affected sport from this pandemic is tennis, because it's a sport that demands international travelling, so there were no competitions at all. So immediately we focused on this sport, and one of the solutions we introduced was a tennis simulator based on real-time historical data. So we were playing historical data in short, engaging formats, and running 300 of these each day, so we're talking about 9,000 live games per month, which is more than all tennis competitions together. And it's really gaining momentum. We can even see these days when tennis is almost back to normal, we still have tier-one operators that use our product, so I think this was one of the shifts that helped us maintain customers and support customers during these rough times.
SG: With more regulated markets, I think if this had happened maybe 10 years ago, there would’ve been even further uptake of more of the edge sports, simulated sports or the lower-tier content. But I think operators are certainly conscious of their local regulations and certainly conscious of some of the press that might come out. I think operators are rightly now thinking about the quality of the content they want to take in, and the quality of the content they want to present to their customers because last year was an opportunity for operators to offer much more lower-tier content than they might do in normal circumstances, and that comes with integrity risk. So it's imperative at times like this for suppliers to understand that their operators want more content, but to deliver it in a secure fashion, which was certainly one of the learnings we had last year.
CF: So it's a mixture of quantity and quality; it has to be the right kind of targeted content.
DS: What I noticed, Carl, in Altenar, we’ve seen a very clear trend that when it comes to the high-profile legs, it’s necessary to move ahead with official data. You can’t cover La Liga, Premier League or Italian Serie A if you just have TV pictures as data. You must have good quality, first-hand data that gives you a lot of proper stuff. But if there's not a local interest, it probably becomes less important and less interesting for the consumer. And then you have new products like the ones mentioned, like table tennis, or the tennis from LSports, the stuff that gives you a lot of content to bet on; something that is short term, fun, and goes up to thousands of live events per month. So unfortunately, it looks like some middle stuff is losing the battle a little bit. I wonder if this is a trend.
CF: I think everything is still in such a state of flux right now. Maybe it would take more time to really cement the fact that it is a trend or not. All the data has to be examined and calibrated, but this is something we should certainly keep an eye on and look at in the coming months.
SG: It's a really interesting point. We're very heavily invested in right-holder relationships both in a video and a data level, and we have been for a long time. But what's really important for us as suppliers is to ensure that we're not just utilising the acquisition of official or exclusive rights as an attempt to gain market share just for the sake of it. What's important for the betting operators is to ensure that there’s innovation and quality products layered on top of the official rights, because acquiring official rights and then going to betting operators with a sub-par product is not what the betting industry needs. Official rights are here and they're a good thing for funding sport and betting operators. It’s the most trusted data, but it needs to be done with quality data and with sensible distribution models.
DS: I want to be devil's advocate and say, for example, I’ve heard that sometimes unofficial data can become better quality compared to official. I’m referring to, for example, FIFA or UEFA competitions.
SG: Just because something is official, doesn't mean it's better. It should be better because being official means you have the advantage of being in-stadium and having the fastest feeds. But what we need to ensure, and what operators want, is that these official rights are going to companies who have proven themselves to deliver top-quality products.
CF: Has the implementation of VAR added to the dynamic of products or things that you can do in in-play betting?
SG: It's been a headache. We’re hopefully getting through it. We are obviously collecting data from thousands of matches around the world with local people who know the local league information, but as new leagues were rolling out new rules and potentially implementing them in a different fashion, it was undeniably difficult, and it was a significant shift for any business that collects data. We're through all of that, but I think anyone from any sports data business will be lying if they said it was a smooth transition. But as the different leagues moved through, we were able to find ways to deal with it. The crucial thing is that different operators have a different approach to risk. Some don't want to take any, and if there's any doubt about something, they want markets suspended. Some operators look to give their customers 90 minutes uptime, for example, so they want a slightly different approach. So it's about crafting new data points to ensure you give those customers the options to deliver the kind of product to their customers that they want.
CF: Do you feel you're better off because of it now, having gone through that?
SG: We're better off that it's done and dusted, and we don't need to think about it much anymore. As a football fan, I don't particularly love it, but it's obviously something that various leagues decided they needed to implement, so we just need to make sure we can deliver the right product for the customers on the back of what the individual leagues were doing.
DS: Yoav, what do you think about all this official versus unofficial stuff?
YZ: I think it's less important. In the past, oil was the most important resource, then real estate, and today data is the most important resource worldwide. It’s about what you collect, the quality of the data, and how you analyse it, and when it comes to business, what innovative solutions you deploy around it.