By Clint Vojdinoski, Editor at Bullpen Media
Helping to power some of the biggest brands in sports and entertainment is technology and data provider Genius Tech Group.
The company builds scalable data and content products with their flagship product iSport Genius central to their global business growth. iSport Genius is their data insights and analytics solution that delivers interactive and informative sports content for fans and consumers.
The Melbourne based company has locked in a major deal with US fantasy sports and wagering operator DraftKings with iSport Genius to be rolled out to DraftKings’ sportsbook consumers.
DraftKings currently operates their online sportsbook in New Jersey, and with the likelihood of expanding to other US states as sports gambling continues to be legalised across the country Genius Tech’s footprint will continue to expand.
What’s the background of the DraftKings deal? How did the deal come about between yourself and DraftKings?
Nathan Rothschild: “I was speaking at a conference in London in September 2016. The topic was US sports data and sports data more generally. At the end of my talk Jeffrey Haas, the Chief International Officer at DraftKings, came up to me. He said, ‘what you’re talking about is interesting, we should really catch up away from the conference and continue the conversation.’ I stayed in touch with Jeffrey and then in March he sent me an email looking to investigate working together on the sportsbook side of things.”
How is the partnership going to work? What are you going to provide DraftKings in terms of service, data and product?
NR: “DraftKings is an extremely professional organisation to deal with. We share a really close and creative relationship which is the way we like it and I think that has manifested in an outstanding product for their users.
“Essentially what we do is build digital experiences through our proprietary platforms. With DraftKings, users will have access to a cutting edge sports data and insights platform powered by iSport Genius which is our content engine. This offering is embedded quite centrally into the customer journey and customer experience within a sportsbook offering. From there it’s about creating a more informed consumer which drives really high levels of engagement with sportsbooks’ end users.”
Jared Hopping: “As a business we exist to give users experiences that they have never had before. I think that’s a mantra that is reflected in the products that we develop. First and foremost, iSport Genius is a product which is literally a form guide on steroids, where we give unprecedented insights into sports for consumers. We’ve got match previews done by our content team who do so much work such as previewing every single game of the NBA season. We also do fun facts or ‘Genius Facts,’ which are really interesting and unique data insights, recent encounters and a lot of other cool content. So what we try to do is package the content and data into bite sized pieces of information.
“When we were starting this business we did a lot of market research and found that data and sports information itself was really scattered around the internet and the world. You couldn’t go to one place and find information that you were interested in, dig into it, and find really unique insights. We decided to address this problem by developing the iSport Genius platform. At the other end of the spectrum we also wanted to automatically generate really unique and compelling insights backed by hardcore sports data. We had a number of significant challenges to overcome initially in terms of bringing together a product that not only made data digestible, especially on mobile, but also let you dig down into it.”
NR: “What powers a lot of iSport Genius is that there’s just so much data. An NBA example is how the Golden State Warriors perform as a home favourite at night after a win coming off a two day break when they’ve travelled more than 200 miles and playing at an altitude increase of more than 500 feet from their last game. With all these, what we call different filters, it allows for the production of a huge amount of content and really interesting insights.
JH: “Essentially what we do is we take all the data and we put it into a pool, we then create rules that relate to the upcoming condition of the match, how many days between matches, and all the filters we’ve mentioned and we automate content production off that data. The content pieces are then put through a ranking system where the ‘coolness’ of each fact is determined, and the best facts or the coolest facts go to the top. We have an automated engine that can generate all of this which means we always have content ready to go in any situation.”
The amount of automated parameters for each match is really fascinating.
NR: “It’s a lot of fun but it also presents its fair share of challenges. We spend a heap of time cleaning data. We have a six person team whose full time job is cleaning data because there is so much inaccurate data out there. You can’t have a data point that is 90 per cent correct, it’s either right or wrong and if we have wrong data, that’s unacceptable for our business.”
That’s your philosophy that runs through your entire business, accuracy matters.
NR: “Absolutely. That mantra is well and truly ingrained.”
Getting back to DraftKings, did you feel the need to move quickly due to the federal ban on sports betting in the US being lifted?
NR: “The general consensus leading in to the ruling was that there was likely to be a partial or complete repeal of PASPA, which was the Act preventing sports betting being offered throughout the US. When the repeal was announced, people were jockeying to move quickly. The US is quite different to Australia in that it’s going to be regulated State by State. Some States will probably never have sports betting although eventually most states will. In terms of the population size of the US, we’re looking at well over 300 million people, with the majority being of legal age to place a bet. Many are very engaged in sport and their socioeconomic background indicates that a lot of them will have the financial capability to place wagers.
“From a commercial perspective, it’s lucrative. And when there was the opportunity to actually launch a sportsbook with the ban no longer being there, businesses were looking to move quickly. There are many aggressive commercial moves being made. Almost by the day there are announcements of new joint ventures coming out from the United States with tech platforms and casinos partnering. That’s because it’s a land grab as it is such an untapped market. A number of publications have called it a gold rush.”
With a major US partner, is there anything that your business has to adapt to?
JH: “Definitely from a product perspective we have to consider the market we are servicing. There are terms that are really commonly known over there like ATS which is ‘against the spread.’ It basically means how many times a team clears the line or handicap in betting markets and that’s been an ingrained term in US sports philosophy for such a long time now.
“Another thing to consider is spelling. For example favorite, not favourite. We really go into detail to make sure it’s appealing to the customer based on geographic location.”
NR: “While the top four pro-leagues in the US, namely NHL, NFL, NBA and MLB are just massive, there is also college football and college basketball which are huge – there are so many teams and so much data. It’s a prerequisite that we cover those sports to the same level of depth that we cover the pro-leagues if we want to succeed in the US. Thankfully our tech is set up to be able to handle this, we’ve spent years delivering to clients in Australia and our tech has been developed to easily handle deep-dive data analytics at scale and with additional coverage continually being added.”
And your business is agile enough to cope with the increased amount of data and content?
NR: “Our technology sets us up really well to be agile across multiple jurisdictions and it just scales really nicely. We invested heavily initially into our tech development and played the long game from the start, which meant that things took time initially but it’s made subsequent iterations to our offering far easier.”
JH: “In terms of just being agile, we’re rapidly approaching having 100 staff so we’re actually building customised content and we can do that at great pace. You can ask any one of our clients and they will be the first to say how quickly we do move with our content and our products.”
Your business has a tech fund to assist other younger businesses. What’s the motivation behind it?
NR: “What we were finding was that we possessed really good tech capability and experience which had the potential to be applied in a wide variety of applications. We sort of took a step back and asked where we were five years ago, would access to this capability be something we would have been interested in utilising?
“We agreed that this would have helped us significantly and we could add a lot of value to start-up or early stage enterprises that needed technical assistance. Rather than investing with cash we felt that we could provide significantly greater value by delivering access to our group’s networks and tech capabilities, with the expectation that this would accelerate an early stage venture really nicely.
“What we’ve seen now is that there’s competition for this resource; do we allocate our tech capabilities externally which is via the Genius Tech Fund, or do we allocate to internal projects? We’ve been blessed with so much opportunity internally, particularly with the US market opening up, but it does become quite challenging in terms of priorities because you can’t do everything, but it’s obviously nice to be in this situation and we certainly don’t take it for granted. We recognise that there is still so much for us to achieve and we’re relatively early on in the race we’d like to run. We’re still looking at investment opportunities but as better options come up internally we have to be more selective.”
What kind of opportunities are outside of the wagering or bookmaking areas? What kind of opportunities are there for further growth?
NR: “Very much media. That comes back to the way US sports fans love sports data as part of their engagement with sport. If we strip away the odds from the content we deliver to our sportsbook clients, it’s no longer a betting proposition but we show our true colours as a unique sports content provider. The ability to deliver really interesting insights to so many people who already have a predisposition to this sort of information is a really significant opportunity.
“We’re doing a lot now by way of gamification of sporting experiences. That’s another division within the business, we have a games engine that we use to power customised products both in the wagering and non-wagering verticals. We’re doing arcade style games, which is something I never thought we’d do, and that is a bit less data related. Games and data go very much hand in hand because the content helps you make better predictions, whereas arcade style games are very much about a short burst of fun with less thinking. The common link though is that they are both developed with the same aim of generating consumer engagement. That’s a reflection of the growth of the business and our expanded capability.”
JH: “As a general fan engagement business, we’ve got sports content that can be served up in many different ways, a key focus for us is in stadiums as well. We have ways to blend content and game experiences to deliver a really compelling fan experience in stadiums. One of the things we’ve seen here in Australia is you go to the football and at half time, people are pulling out their phones to browse at pretty random things, and to get active on social media. People are craving entertainment which augments rather than disrupts the sports experience and it’s a real opportunity for a company like ours to help organisations that run sporting events at such venues.”
Have you been able to trial or pilot such in-stadium fan engagement ideas in Australia?
NR: “We’re working through that at the moment. An executive director within our group is Anthony Charles, previously he was group managing director at Aegis Media Australia. He is a real stadium and media guru and has worked with AFL, with cricket and with football and he provides a whole lot of experience in terms of customising our product to service those kinds of entities and opportunities. It’s a specialist product that requires a different level of technical delivery to the way we will deliver a digital platform to an online sportsbook. There is a massive opportunity around at-venue fan engagement, particularly at the end of periods, and it’s certainly underserviced in Australia but there’s room to innovate in the US as well.”
Clint Vojdinoski – Bullpen
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