NFL buys stake in stats firm
The NFL has invested in European data company Sportradar, which will displace longtime incumbent Stats LLC in September as the league’s exclusive statistics distributor.
Sportradar will pay about $5 million per year, industry sources said, over four years for the league business, in addition to the NFL taking its undisclosed equity stake in the company.
The deal immediately shakes up a market for American sports data that’s been dominated by Illinois-based Stats. Sportradar signed a deal with NASCAR in February, but aligning with the NFL represents its boldest signal yet that it intends to be a serious player in the U.S. market.
“With the NFL, we will be a very strong competitor over the next four years,” said Ulrich Harmuth, Sportradar US president.
The NFL in the new deal will assume a much more hands-on role with its data distribution than it’s had in the past, a sharp departure from how league data partnerships typically operate.
“We have a very distinctive viewpoint of what data we want to get distributed and how we want to distribute it,” said Vishal Shah, NFL vice president of media strategy and development.
As fantasy sports has mushroomed in popularity, the market for statistics, traditionally sports news sites and newspapers, has exploded with new consumers. Key to the NFL-Sportradar deal and to the league’s decision to walk away from Stats is what the league calls “next-generation stats.” These statistics — the reflection of motion-based data culled from radio transmitters embedded in players’ shoulder pads — allow for the tabulation and analysis of a theoretically limitless amount of information, such as how fast specific players run over certain distances, which areas of the field they favor, and how far the ball travels. Such analytics supplement traditional, counting-based measures such as yards gained and lost.
By September, Zebra Technologies, which produces the transmitters and culls and tracks the data, will have outfitted all 31 NFL stadiums with its technology, up from 17 facilities this past season. The Sportradar partnership, in turn, allows for the selling of that captured data.
The NFL, not Zebra, owns the collected data, making the related business with Sportradar possible.
“We have identified for some period of time there has been a limited amount of stats collected,” Shah said. “Technology has evolved to actually collect all the movements of the players on the field. For us, an overarching vision was to be able to collect proprietary, differentiated real-time stats.
“Part of that, as we established this new data, was to really work with what we think are emerging players in the data-distribution world,” he added. “So the transition away from Stats was driven by our belief in Sportradar’s … technology innovation in the data space.”
Eighteen months ago, Sportradar acquired Minneapolis-based SportsData Inc. as its first step into the American market. That unit has been rebranded as Sportradar US. The company has done its expansion strategy without using a U.S.-based sports advisory or consulting firm.
For the NFL, the Sportradar deal is the most recent investment by the league in a business partner. The league recently took about a 20 percent stake in a private equity-owned holding company that acquired a 10-year license to run the NFL’s event hospitality business, NFL On Location. Last year, the league invested in Outerstuff, an NFL licensee of children’s apparel.
Stats will continue to work with individual NFL teams, particularly with regard to its scouting and player evaluation products, and will still maintain its own independent feed of football data that it sells to various media and fantasy football clients. Company officials said they placed an aggressive bid with the NFL to maintain the contract, but acknowledged they were outbid by Sportradar as that company sought to boost American market share.
“We felt like we presented a solid and competitive bid. But some of the restrictions that were proposed to us in what we could do with the data were things we felt were not in the best interests of our clients,” said Bill Squadron, Stats executive vice president. “We actively look forward to remaining active in the NFL business through our various client teams and partners, and we certainly respected the process.”
The loss of the NFL contract represents another sizable shift for a Stats company in marked transition. Purchased nearly a year ago by San Francisco-based Vista Equity Partners, Stats has used that private-equity backing to acquire several other players in the data and analytics space, including Bloomberg Sports, The Sports Network and Automated Insights. Vista spent well into nine figures on those acquisitions.