By the time most of us saw Harrison Butker drill a 27-yard field goal with less than 10 seconds left to effectively ice Super Bowl LVII for the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday, fans at the scene had already had time to witness it and let all the emotions of a great game wash over them.
Most people viewing the Big Game certainly weren’t watching it live, despite what the little indicator on their TV may have said. The streaming technology company Phenix Real-Time Solutions tracked the latency time of each of the broadcasts of Sunday’s game and found that the gap between the action and the moment it flashed across viewers’ screens ranged between 23 seconds for those who streamed it via the Fox Sports app to nearly 77 seconds for those who watched it on Fubo. Most platforms, including NFL+, lagged by about a minute. Those who watched on TV had, on average, a 28-second lag.
In how many houses across the land did somebody glance at their ESPN app and see that the score was, in fact, 38-35 before the rest of the people in the room got to witness the winning kick tumble through the uprights? For those who wanted to interact on social media, spoilers — including from reporters and others on the ground in Glendale, Arizona — were hard to avoid.
True microbetting relies on fast streams
For the sports betting industry, latency is a pressing issue. For years, industry observers have been predicting that microbetting — wagering on highly time-sensitive events once the game has begun — could become a driving force for sportsbook revenue, but it will be hard for that to happen with one-minute latency.
“Right now, you can bet that Steph Curry will have more points in the second half than the first. Or, at halftime, you can make a bet on the second half of an NFL game, but imagine if you could bet in the Super Bowl on whether Patrick Mahomes will throw a touchdown on the next play?” said Phenix Real-Time’s chief marketing officer, Jed Corenthal. “As you’re watching the game, you’re able to get back-and-forth odds, and as they change you can make sure you’re betting on every play in the game. The amount of bets would, obviously, dramatically increase and, from a sportsbook perspective, the amount of handle would dramatically increase.”
Corenthal and others in the field call the current sports betting model a “bet-and-watch” experience. If latency were nonexistent — or reduced to as little as half a second, which Real-Time’s technology promises — the industry would finally be able to offer bettors a “watch-and-play” model on the most popular sports. Already, it is available on niche sports such as jai alai on the BetRivers app, while horse races in the U.K. and Ireland typically are steamed with little to no latency.
But latency remains a big issue for the NFL, NBA, and NHL if those leagues want to create one of the most intensive forms of fan engagement, in which some viewers are invested in the outcome of every play, no matter how lopsided the score. It’s less of an issue for Major League Baseball because of that sport’s more relaxed pace, though the new pitch clock for the 2023 season could create issues with microbetting there as well.
One-screen experience could be on horizon
Sportsbooks typically get the data to build their odds and the streaming video — if they want it — from one of four providers: SportRadar, Genius Sports, IMG Arena, and Stats Perform. Genius is the official sports betting partner of the NFL, and Phenix Real-Time Solutions works with the four companies to integrate its low-latency streaming technology.
Corenthal said the NFL wouldn’t be an obstacle to delivering real-time streaming to the sportsbooks since it sold the streaming rights for gambling purposes to Genius. It’s more a matter of those data providers paying extra for low-latency streaming before the true watch-and-play experience arrives for NFL games.
“The data providers need to feel the pressure from the sportsbooks to say, ‘We’ve got to deliver real-time streaming,'” Corenthal said.
At the moment, most serious microbettors follow games on ESPN’s Gamecast or a similar digital scoreboard since they get the results of plays quicker that way. What might things look like for bettors at the 2028 Super Bowl? Corenthal believes they’ll be able to enjoy a one-screen betting experience in which odds scroll across their mobile device while they’re watching the game and they can make microbets in the same app. He also thinks it will open up a whole new world of peer-to-peer betting in which people can make bets with each other using a betting exchange.
“Imagine you and I are watching the Super Bowl right now and we’re betting on the FanDuel app and you say to me, ‘Well, I think the Chiefs are going to score a touchdown on the next play,’ and I say to you, ‘I think you’re wrong.’ So, I bet you $5. Now, we’re not just betting the house, we’re betting against each other,” Corenthal said.
The watch-and-play experience may not be that far away, which could mean you soon might be able to bet on every play in the Super Bowl no matter how far away you are.