Sean Conroy: “Football is reaching a point of digitalisation over digitisation”

Sean Conroy: “Football is reaching a point of digitalisation over digitisation”

Sean Conroy: “Football is reaching a point of digitalisation over digitisation” 5462 2897 World Football Summit
Just a few days before #WFS19 kicks off, we talked with Sean Conroy, Commercial Partnerships Director for Genius Sports, data and technology company that provides management and integrity services to the world’s main sports leagues and organizations. The company just recently signed deals with Superliga Argentina (SAF), Serie A and the German FA.

 

Sean Conroy, Commercial Partnerships Director for Genius Sports

Genius Sports works with football’s most important organizations like the Premier League, Serie A and the German FA. Football leagues and federations have recently started to understand the crucial value of collecting, processing and monetising their data. But why has this taken so long compared to other sports such as basketball or Formula 1 which have been data-driven for decades?

All sports are investing in technology that enables them to use their data to enhance all aspects of their operation. From creating new revenue streams, to enhancing the fan experience, performance levels and protecting their events from match-fixing, every sport now has to have an advanced data strategy. Sports such as basketball have always been intertwined with data and statistics, with the box score a fundamental part of the game experience. Football is undoubtedly moving in that direction, but some other sports have been quicker to invest in digital transformation projects that are powered by data. Major initiatives such as the AFC’s competition management system and FIFA Connect are driving increased digital maturity for football leagues and federations at all levels and it is hugely encouraging to see these organisations taking steps to take control of their audience, game and performance data.

In the last decade, digital technologies have had a huge impact in football, in the way that the game is played and assessed, in the way that the game is watched and also in the business model of clubs, leagues, etc. Based on your experience, in which aspect would you say that the change has been bigger?

I think the evolution in business models has been the biggest change in recent years. Although football may not have embraced this change as quickly as other sports, we are still reaching a point now of digitalisation over digitisation. Instead of just using digital technology to replace manual or paper-based systems, football leagues and federations are now using digital systems to totally transform their business models and operations. Digital platforms allow rights holders to provide their product directly to fans, removing the need for layers of agencies and intermediaries to provide direct revenues. New innovations such as automatic tracking technology and mobile streaming are also transforming sports’ relationships with their fans’, membership, TV partners and more by providing new levels of insight. Our competition management, live data collection, and publishing tools are built for sports of all sizes. Just this year, we’ve signed new partnerships with football leagues and federations from Bangladesh to Bulgaria, Vietnam to the Czech Republic. Going forward, the democratisation of technology for driving digital transformation will have a huge impact on the global game.

“The unpredictability and drama of football are central to it being the most popular sport in the world. Maintaining these values is absolutely vital but incidents of match-fixing and betting-related corruption pose the most significant threat to the sport’s integrity and future”

The digital transformation process is expected to take a huge leap forward with the introduction of 5G technology. Is it going to have such a huge impact as experts are estimating? How will it improve, for example, the services and tools that Genius Sports provides?

Genius Sports’ global operation is built on delivering fast, accurate and reliable data to our sports partners. Our Football LiveStats system enables our partners to capture real-time statistics such as goals, time in possession per team and shot locations form each of their games, direct from pitchside. These updates are then automatically published across a league’s website, mobile app and social media platforms, providing their fans with live updates across multiple devices. Sport is one of few entertainment formats that has to be consumed live and the introduction of 5G will have a major impact on how football leagues bring their fans closer to the action. As more and more football leagues look to proactively engage with the betting industry, the speed with which they can collect and distribute live data to betting operators is increasingly important. Our partnerships with the likes of the Premier League and Serie A are centred on us delivering live data or odds to the betting industry in under a second. 5G could not only feasibly reduce this timelapse but also create a greater gap between official feeds collected in-stadia and those captured through TV.

Do you also provide security services for clubs, leagues, etc? Is data piracy an issue in football as it has been in the past in other sports for example?

Football is the most popular betting sport in the world and the growing demand for fast, accurate data to create live odds feeds has led to a number of duplicitous practices. Leagues and federations have a right to control and police what happens in their stadiums, but many aren’t aware that unauthorised data collectors are covertly capturing live match data from the stands and distributing it to bookmakers around the world. Our partner Football DataCo, the official rights holder of UK football including the Premier League, recently launched its first rights enforcement programme. Alongside a specialist security company, the clubs are protecting the value and integrity of Football DataCo’s data by identifying and removing unauthorised data collectors from their stadiums. These data collectors are often unaware they are breaching both ticketing conditions and venue regulations, however, it is important that Football DataCo, and other football rights holders, have complete transparency and control over who is collecting their live betting data and where it is being used.

“Football has to be proactive with preventive measures such as player educational services and integrity audits that can provoke long-term changes in attitudes, understanding and actions”

Engaging with betting brings a number of challenges for sports. A significant part of your business is providing Integrity Services for leagues and federations, including educational workshops for players. In LaLiga we recently had several First Division players arrested for match-fixing. So how confident can football fans be that the games they’re watching are fair and transparent?

The unpredictability and drama of football are central to it being the most popular sport in the world. Maintaining these values is absolutely vital but incidents of match-fixing and betting-related corruption pose the most significant threat to the sport’s integrity and future. Our Integrity Services are designed to provide leagues and federations with the greatest level of protection possible. Our Bet Monitoring System, used by the German FA, Superliga Argentina and the English Premier League, provides round-the-clock protection, alerting our partners to potentially suspicious betting activity and cross-referencing the market movements with our predictive algorithms. However, this technology cannot be relied upon in isolation. Football has to be proactive with preventive measures such as player educational services and integrity audits that can provoke long-term changes in attitudes, understanding and actions. Leagues have to demonstrate to their players and officials the consequences of betting related scandals, the steps they should take if approached to fix a game and the importance of reporting intelligence. Equally, they need to put effective systems in place to collect and analyse reported information, run effective investigations and communicate their new rules and regulations. Huge progress has been made in the last few years and it is estimated that only a very small proportion of games across world football suffer from manipulation or betting-related corruption. But as public scrutiny grows, football leagues must be willing to invest in comprehensive programmes that identify, educate and respond to the seriousness of the threat they face.