Ahead of the new NBA season next month, Sportradar’s Managing Director of Sports Partnerships David Lampitt shares his views on basketball and why it’s such an attractive betting proposition.
SBC: The NBA was one of the first professional leagues to step up and show a real acceptance of sports betting. What does basketball betting offer above the other big sports? In other words, why bet basketball above football, hockey or baseball?
DL: Putting the obvious game play aspects aside, I think one of the reasons that the NBA were first movers in this market is driven by the international appeal of the sport. The NBA is just a huge international property, massive outside of these shores and the US, and I think that has been one of the key drivers.
From a Sportradar perspective, it’s one of the top three sports we sell worldwide. We cover 24,000 basketball matches a year. Obviously, the NBA is a significant part of that. But, as is the coverage of FIBA and Chinese Basketball Association, it’s an enormous international sport with a loyal following.
And therefore, of course, it’s going to be interesting from a betting perspective because it’s another way in which that huge fan base engages with the sport and finds another way of expressing that engagement.
SBC: Official data has been a bit of a sticking point for regulators and sports leagues since the PASPA repeal. How necessary is this official data for a bookmaker to provide the best product to its players?
DL: We firmly support the concept of official data and have invested more than anyone in this market in the US. So, we absolutely believe in the value that can be created by having the best product on the market. The challenge for us as sports data suppliers is to deliver that best product through the official data proposition.
It’s about creating speed, quality and uniqueness; a high-speed product, a high-quality product – with additional elements that drive fan interest and ultimately mean that operators will demand the product and will be willing to pay a premium for it.
So, for me, it’s about working with the leagues to find the best ways to create that commercial value. That’s not always easy, especially when there is an unofficial data supply also in the market, but that competition is what drives us forward and forces us to innovate, and ultimately drives us to create a product that is just 100% better than the rest, one that becomes the ‘go-to’ product.
SBC: Are you at a disadvantage in terms of providing the best live betting offer for basketball simply because of the way that the game is?
DL: One of the reasons we invest from an official data perspective is because, when you consider how fluid the game is, you need the best seat in the house, the best connectivity – the fastest connections to deliver that data in real time is crucial. In the US, there is already a shift towards that live market that we’ve already seen from our experience internationally.
I expect that much of the innovation is going to come around player props. The US is a bit different from the rest of the world because of the legacy of daily fantasy and the fact that people have come to betting through the prism of betting on individuals rather than through the prism of just being able to bet on team sports in the normal way.
So I think we will probably see an even greater shift in the US market over the coming months and years in that direction.
SBC: How is Sportradar powering the demand for a player focused betting market?
DL: I think we’re only scratching the surface at the moment in reality – I look at the depth of data that we get through the tracking relationship that we have with the NBA through Second Spectrum, I look at the extent to which Statcast in the MLB is now an accepted part of the game. Again, through our partnership with the MLB, we get unique access to that data.
I think it’s a challenge that we relish to develop new and interesting markets to create new ways in which fans can engage with all aspects of the game including the superstar players.
SBC: Okay, let’s talk about baseball quickly. The sport’s superstars include the likes of Bryce Harper. If he is suddenly sitting on the sidelines for a big game, who finds out first? How can the league help its data providers to get ahead of things like this?
DL: Well, I think the way the MLB is approaching this has been pretty interesting. Knowing and understanding how this market operates around the world, the reality is, if there isn’t a fast official source for that data, a derivative market will likely appear where people try and get a hold of that data. As you say, you want to be the first to the button. And a whole lot of people who are placing bets might also want to be the first to the button.
The bookmakers need to be a step ahead in the arms race to get the information out there. So it’s been interesting – and progressive – how the MLB has addressed that by saying, actually, we’re the first port of call and we’re going to put that in the official data stream.
So, it’s in the market straightaway. And that takes away the opportunity, or the intention is that that takes away the opportunity, for a derivative market around those pieces of information before the start of the game.
SBC: And finally, taking it to the college level – such a massive market in the US; how important is it that the NCAA works with data providers, bookmakers and regulators to protect the integrity of its sports?
DL: From a sports perspective, integrity is always going to be a paramount concern. And the best way to engage in the proactive protection of the integrity of the sport is, as the NBA and others have done, to actually address that market directly.
The betting is happening anyway. So there may be a commercial advantage, but the real benefit is that by engaging directly, sports have the opportunity to have a direct contractual relationship with the betting operators. This creates the opportunity, therefore, to have information-sharing arrangements, put protocols and contractual terms in place that actually enhance the sport’s ability to properly control and better understand the market.
And we’ve seen over the course of the last 20 years that Sportradar has been around, there has been a great maturing of the conversation, of the discussion between betting operators on one side and sports on the other side. And I think that collaboration is a key to actually solving some of those integrity challenges, because the interests of both sides are often better aligned than any realize.
So we would always encourage rights holders to be proactive in entering this space because it’s the best way of protecting their interests in that environment. And that approach is certainly endorsed by the way in which the NBA and other major leagues have now engaged.