London Calling: How deep data is helping fuel MLB’s fan engagement drive

This article first appeared in SportBusiness Review Issue 252

When Major League Baseball (MLB) pitches up at London’s Olympic Stadium for the first time this month, it will not only serve as a vehicle to help grow the game in the United Kingdom and Europe but also offer insight into the contrasting approaches to sports and data either side of the pond.

Defending World Series champions Boston Red Sox will take on the New York Yankees at the Olympic Stadium, but the cultural approach behind an elite level ball game and the usual Premier League fare from tenants West Ham could scarcely be more different.

Traditionally, US sports have tended to lend themselves more to stats and data than their transatlantic counterparts – the prevalence and increased popularity of fantasy sports and drafts likely playing a key role in this.

Despite the legalisation of gambling and the repeal of PASPA only being a fairly recent milestone in the US sporting landscape, statistics and data have long been an intrinsic part of the fabric of how the States watches the likes of MLB, the NBA, NFL or NHL.

While innovations such as xG, heatmaps and player tracking have only recently made their way into the mainstream of football, or soccer, coverage in Europe, their equivalents stateside have become par for the course.

Earlier this year, MLB agreed to a wide-ranging, multi-year partnership with leading sports data intelligence provider Sportradar to enhance and expand the distribution of the league’s real-time game statistics across the globe.

As well as opening up potential avenues around the emerging US betting market, the provision of a platform by which to proliferate content and drive engagement is one MLB has been savvy to seize upon, according to Sportradar’s Managing Director of Sports Partnerships, David Lampitt.

“Data-driven content and the engagement that brings is a great tool for leagues and federations such as MLB, when it comes to attracting new audiences and building relationships with current ones,” explains Lampitt.

“What we’re also seeing over in the US space in particular – and this is something that remains key to our ethos as a company – is the growth of automated data-driven insights. You see it with our Radar360 platform and how that drives output for publishers and media houses, but increasingly what will become the norm is automated, personalised, targeted content that allows organisations to better monetise their product.”

Image via MLB

The legalisation of gambling in the US may only have been a recent development for leagues, bookmakers and punters to get on board with but the size of the country, coupled with its primary sports and their compatibility with betting, means the opportunities are vast.

Part of the aforementioned agreement will also see MLB and Sportradar collaborate on new products and services, using the former’s Statcast data and Steve Byrd, Head of Global Strategic Partnerships at Sportradar, says the level and depth of such stats can be a unique facet for both media content and betting operators to leverage.

“The international market is ripe for development for MLB, with a real opportunity to build a deeper fanbase, either with games abroad or with engaging, insightful online content,” he adds.

“We also believe an increase in betting markets internationally, as well as other media opportunities that our data can help provide, will further engage existing audiences and bring in brand new fans for MLB.

“Statcast data means deep, advanced insights including perceived velocity, spin rate, and exit velocity. This quality and depth of data adds a new level of intrigue and engagement for audiences and bettors, meaning they can get under the skin of the game in ways they might not have been able to before.”

In much the same way that consumption of media in the Europe has gradually become more inclusive of stats and data, the US betting panorama is still in its infancy and could match or even surpass its European equivalent.

The UK has embraced in-play markets as part of its football consumption and Byrd believes MLB is ideally positioned to capitalise on similar opportunities among its betting audiences both in the States and overseas.

“With the speed and accuracy of our data, the possibilities are endless,” he continued.

“Fans will be able to bet on a host of interesting and increasingly more in-depth markets which helps keep fans more engaged throughout the game and increases excitement for new fans.”

Whether it’s via the betting market or engaging media content, data is the fuel many organisations – including MLB – are using to try and gain that much-coveted fan engagement and open new audiences.

While many spectators and fans will have a keen eye on fantasy-defining stats like home runs and pitches, plenty at boardroom level will be keener on engagement figures, interaction data and follower numbers as organisations like MLB look to get ‘on base’ in new territories around the world.

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