Biggest stories of 2019 will be driven by data
Data and analytics were a key underpinning of many of the sports industry’s biggest stories of 2018, including the arrival of legal sports betting around the country and baseball’s ongoing battles with diminished on-field action. That trend will only accelerate in 2019, fueled primarily by several key developments:
BETTING, BETTING, AND MORE BETTING: Operators across the newly opened sports wagering scene including MGM Resorts International, FanDuel, Sportradar and Genius Sports last year signed various agreements to use or distribute official betting data from major sports leagues. Many more such pacts are expected in 2019. But that development could be mandated if a recently introduced federal bill eventually becomes law. A bill proposed by Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), titled the Sports Wagering Market Integrity Act, would create a national clearinghouse for wagering data and require sportsbooks only use official game data from leagues.
Beyond using the data to create betting lines and monitoring for irregularities and potential match fixing, betting data will also be increasingly deployed for fan engagement and media purposes.
“What we’re watching … is how betting companies will look more like media companies using content to attract and engage users,” said Steve Byrd, Sportradar US chief commercial officer. “With the flip side of being how media companies will leverage betting content and move more closely to betting companies to monetize their audiences. Convergence!”
IN-GAME DATA USE: The last decade has seen a historic wave in the ability to track and measure player and ball movement with many developments such as RFID chips in football shoulder pads, MLB’s Statcast system, and an array of video-based tracking platforms. But the deployment of that generated data in live in-game settings has been far more measured as leagues have looked to ensure fairness and competitive balance. The accelerating power of those tracking systems and a continued thirst from teams for more data will heighten the push to allow more tracking and biometric data during live games.
INVESTMENT ATTENTION: Data and analytics are receiving heightened investor interest on two primary fronts. Not only is the rising prominence of data generating its own organic boost in investor focus on the space, but many more teams and leagues are building new investment vehicles and business accelerators, in turn creating forums for companies to access funds, industry insight, and the use of team and league intellectual property. But some executives wonder if all the investor attention could create a funding bubble.
“With the amount of money going into sports technology startups,  could be a key year to see some successful up-rounds or exits,” said Brian Kopp, chief executive of visual performance training firm Vizual Edge. “Otherwise we may be headed toward a bubble with some high-profile failures on the horizon.”
YOUTH EXPANSION: The youth sports market is being eyed as the next big target for many wearable technology and video-based analysis providers, with diminishing costs and increasing ease of use serving as key catalysts. The disparate nature of youth sports makes it much harder to develop larger deals. But the prevalence of data in sports makes a move into the youth space inevitable.