A Safe Bet: Innovation in US Sports Betting

This article first appeared in SportsPro Magazine

By Javier Altamirano, Director of Innovation at Sportradar

The next big innovation in the world of betting will come from the USA. That’s what a close associate said to me earlier this year when I was running him through some of the promising startups we try and help develop as part of the Acceleradar programme at Sportradar.

Discussions centered on the States’ reputation as a hotbed for innovation and technological advancement in the sports space but there are myriad other reasons why I’m inclined to agree with the aforementioned colleague. In the sports media space in particular, organizations in the US lead the way when it comes to growing fan engagement and enhancing the user experience, often with innovative new ways of analyzing and leveraging the statistics that are so prevalent and deep-rooted in American sports.

The work done by MOCAP Analytics, now part of the team here at Sportradar, to utilize player tracking data and Machine Learning to generate storytelling for fans but also enhance performance analysis for teams is just one example of that next-generation thinking the US is synonymous with. Other factors that point to the States as a likely spot for future innovation milestones is the breadth of expertise spread across the country.

In California, you have the big entertainment and tech players, while Vegas brings about plenty of intrigue and opportunity given its rich betting landscape. Throw in the East Coast’s penchant for fantasy products, and you really do have a country full of post-PASPA opportunity. While there can be misconceptions about the USA’s proclivity for excess, glitz and glamour, I think the US mentality of being innovative and client-focused is often understated and that is what will help lower the barrier for more casual fans.

That means offering encouragement to more casual bettors and thereby seeing a continuation of the merge between traditional betting and social, or non-monetary, gaming. That continued blurring of the lines between traditional and social gaming is a showcase example of how startups are helping shine a light on new trends and possibilities.

Goodbookey – a graduate of the Acceleradar program – helps raise money and awareness for charitable causes by allowing friends to bet against one another around various sporting events. Alongside Goodbookey, other graduates include live TV, AR experience provider eyecandylab, language generation solution Narrativa, and Skill Corner – a real-time automated data collection platform.

Without innovation and new ideas, nothing would change within a longstanding global industry such as the betting market and, to me, startups can be equated to birds that predict the weather. They see what’s coming next in the market and bring freshness to a space that is relatively fledgling in the US. With that comes a fresh outlook regarding demographic changes, diversity of thought and backgrounds as well as changes in values such as social conscience and sustainability.

Rather than fantasy and betting being the preserve of middle-aged males, new thinking and fresh approaches can open up gambling and make it easier for other types of consumers including the increasingly female-dominated millennial sports market.

Making betting more accessible can also lead to new types of products – such as gaming as a means of interaction rather than financial reward as an outcome in and of itself.

Several Acceleradar startups are looking at how to make gaming easier for different types of markets, making it more conversational and less formal, with avatars, characters and other UX-focused overlays.

While the current status quo may not be perceived as an entry barrier if you fit the existing demographic of bettors – primarily male, white and over 35 – it might do if you are a female, 21-year-old casual baseball fan who sees sports as a way to connect with others. Time will tell, but the birds are pointing that way and these kinds of developments open up the entire landscape to new opportunities.

Despite Acceleradar only starting in 2016, the breadth and innovation we have seen so far means we’re confident of a continued increase in the quality and quantity of candidate companies as well as a crossbreed of betting with other industries eager to jump on the betting train.

By its very nature, innovation and its impact on the future is unpredictable but it seems a safe bet that the USA, enthused by its recent introduction to the world of sports betting, will be where it comes to fruition.

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