Weeks before the start of the regular season, the NFL announced an expanded partnership with Sportradar Aug. 12, under which the league will distribute its official data to sportsbook operators for the first time ever through the Switzerland-based company.
One aspect of the deal worth monitoring throughout the season is whether the partners will work together to develop unique betting markets through the NFL’s Next Gen Stats (NGS) platform. Under a previous agreement reached in April 2015, Sportradar US became the NFL’s exclusive distributor of official real-time scores, player statistics and play-by-play data (Game Statistics and Information System GSIS) along with the league’s Next Gen Stats.
The advanced metrics through the NGS platform provide the league with thousands of data points to track and analyze from each game. Last season, for instance, Saquon Barkley hit a top-end speed of 21.91 mph on his 78-yard touchdown against the Redskins in Week 14. Had Barkley been stopped on the run, a Redskins’ defender could have qualified for one of the season’s longest tackles — another category measured by the platform. The longest tackle on the season went to Broncos wideout Courtland Sutton who ran more than 131 yards before tackling Jets safety Marcus Maye near the end zone in October.
As part of Sportradar deal, NFL's Next Gen Stats will be used to create unique betting markets, including on "speed and distance."https://t.co/82MQ0FcwxX
— David Payne Purdum (@DavidPurdum) August 12, 2019
The tracking data is made possible through RFID sensors that are embedded in shoulder pads and chips inside instrumented footballs. If the technology gains regulatory approval, bettors can theoretically wager on the fastest ball carrier each week for runs over 25 yards. There are also metrics on a game’s fastest sack in seconds and the vertical yards a pass travels on a completion. As a result, head-to-head bets on whether Patrick Mahomes or Tom Brady will have the longest completed pass by air distance when the Chiefs take on the Patriots may eventually be offered. How much interest bettors have in such propositions, or how much those offerings attract bettors in the first place, remains to be seen.
Recently Sports Handle discussed the ramifications of the deal with Hans Schroeder, executive vice president and chief operating officer for NFL Media. Although the NFL is licensing its official data to legal U.S. sportsbooks, it is still unclear on whether sportsbooks will need to pay a separate “license fee” to the NFL to receive the data feeds, the kind that MLB and the NBA has sought from licensed bookmakers.
The following interview was lightly edited for brevity and clarity.
Sports Handle (SH): Given that several other professional leagues already aligned with sports betting data providers in recent months, how critical was it to secure a partnership with Sportradar before the start of the regular season? What excites you most about the deal?
Hans Schroeder (HS): The deal is actually multi-faceted with a number of different components. The first building block is that Sportradar has been for the last four years our partner with the delivery of official data to media outlets and the distributor of our Next Gen Stats platform – our advanced analytics player tracking.
When I talk about the multiple components it was really important to find the right partner in delivering data in a high-quality, consistent, fast manner. It was important to find a partner that had broader data and analytics services and a partner that could expand in this new world of legalized sports betting to have other services like integrity monitoring.
Ultimately, going through the process it was important for us to have a partner before the season. I think it shows the value of what an official partnership can be, as more states roll out, understanding the value and the benefits of an official data feed was important to us strategically. When we went through that lengthy process and engaged a pretty broad set of the market, Sportradar really stood far apart and checked all the boxes for what we wanted in a good partner and what we think will be a market-leading partner for us.
SH: You noted previously that the latency or lag time in how quickly the data will be transmitted has the ability to be market differentiated through Sportradar’s technology. Should bettors expect sub-one second latency through the data feeds this season?
HS: I’m not going to get into sort of a quantification of it, what I would say is that the feeds that are generally in the market today are collected, then sent largely to people watching games that redistribute and input that data remotely. Our partner will have the benefit of being the only official partner in the stadium that is seeing it with their eye in real time, entering the data in real time and has dedicated connectivity to get the feed out in real time.
Based on the difference between what someone in an office collects and redistributes the data, there will be a material difference in the speed at which we get the data feed out into the marketplace….Anyone that is not in the building and there is only one official partner that can be in the building collecting it, will therefore by definition not be competitive in the speed of the feed that we can offer.
SH: Speaking of data collection, about how many Sportradar data scouts will be in an NFL stadium on average and how will the data collection process work exactly?
HS: The foundation for the feed over time will be the league’s own data collection platform – the league’s GSIS system in combination with Next Gen Stats. We’ll be dual situated in two places for data and capture for the two feeds that we’ll be putting out there – a primary and a secondary one if we ever need to use that. For us, the focus is to make sure we have a fully redundant system that is going to be incredibly stable, reliant and high-performing.
SH: At present Sportradar delivers sports betting data to more than 500 bookmakers worldwide. About how many legal U.S. sportsbooks do you anticipate will receive the NFL’s official data through the deal?
HS: We just finalized the partnership in the last couple weeks and they are just actively right in the market today. The way I would frame it is that we’re super excited that Sportradar is a market leader in their current customer base and their current market share. Taking that technology platform, combined with their sales and distribution team married to our feed, we’re really excited about what that will look like as far as the number of people in the market that want to use our feed to have the best feed in the marketplace.
We’re excited about what they’re going to do to grow that and for our fans to get a consistent, best in-class delivery across all the touchpoints where they can get this feed. We think it delivers against some of our core principles on sports betting which really starts with the integrity of the game and making sure that the model engages our fans in the right way.
SH: The NFL’s Next Gen Stats are extremely granular in tracking data such as runs against an eight-man box or yards after the catch by a receiver. What is the possibility that the stats could be used to power unique betting markets at some point this season?
HS: It’s an area where I look at it a little more globally, our Next Gen stats platform when we were halfway through the first season of collecting all the data I think we had more data points than in the history of the NFL up until that point. The amount of data and statistics and new information we’re collecting is really remarkable. We’re really still in the early days of figuring out across the board where and how that data can be deployed in really interesting ways that make the game better and create new experiences for our fans.
The exciting part is figuring out where those things can come to life and sports betting is no different. We’re excited to see how the market looks at that information and builds off it. There’s a lot of people with great ideas about content and experience, one of the exciting things about having a partner with a broad distribution network is getting that feed into more talented hands. That is a really attractive part of Sportradar, they have a ton of artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities in house which can augment Next Gen Stats.
Zebra will power Next Gen Stats and on-field player and ball tracking through the 2021 season.
Nearly 1,700 players to be tagged during the regular season; 20,000 instrumented balls will be used to collect data. pic.twitter.com/c6qPDOGD6s
— JohnWallStreet (@HowieLongShort) August 8, 2019
SH: There are indications that exotic bets on exit velocity and pitch speed may be available in baseball as soon as next season, but the technology needs to be approved first. Do you foresee that the NFL and Sportradar could encounter any regulatory hurdles before the bet types are approved?
HS: I think something like integrity of the game is a talking point and that is a real, foundational point to us that influences everything we do in the legalized sports betting space. The game has to be pure, it has to be the great game we’ve known it to be for 100 years now so that really shapes everything with bet types being a specific area of focus. We’re very integrated on this end with the holistic approach we have to a new area like legalized sports betting. Bet types are a really important manifestation of that and we spend a lot of time trying to make sure that the things we’re enabling don’t have any impact on integrity.
SH: Let’s say J.J. Watt sacks a quarterback in less than two seconds to record the fastest sack for the week, but the sensor in his shoulder pad malfunctions. How concerned is the NFL that those type of technological failures could adversely impact betting markets?
HS: It doesn’t start with the legalized sports betting output, it starts with the Next Gen Stats platform and the data capture and collection itself. We’re obviously using that in other areas today, you see it on our site and apps, you see it on Sunday Night Football every week. We have to make sure the platform itself is incredibly stable, consistent and reliant. We’re over 10 years in to the Next Gen Stats project so we’ve been doing it across the league for the last four to five years. We track week-to-week the data and tracking of players. We have not seen anything looking backwards that would give us a concern. We have two chips in most pads so there’s some redundancy there already. As we think about what things could happen in the future around Next Gen Stats we’ll be mindful of a lot of different considerations but the ability and the consistency of the data has not been a concern.