Marketing assets

MAC, Pac-12 just getting started as conferences eye major revenue streams from official data sales to online sports betting

When the Mid-American Conference finally reached its live data rights deal with Genius Sports, it resulted in a sometimes contentious and often confusing year-long learning process for conference leadership.

Although there have been concerns about the sale of official data to sports betting, the 12 MAC schools have seen the greatest benefits in additional revenue and more control.Images: getty

College presidents and athletic directors had dollar signs in their eyes after learning the value of data rights at the professional level, where the NFL and NBA each raise more than $100 million a year. This optimism was leveled by the realization that most of the money for any deal would come from the sale of real-time statistics to online sportsbooks, putting the league’s 12 institutions in business with gambling entities. .

Ultimately, the anticipated revenue and control that will come from the sale of official stats won out over the hand twist, and a five-year deal with Genius was finalized earlier this month. Just a week later, Pac-12 secured a full, multi-year deal for San Francisco-based startup Tempus Ex Machina to be the conference’s technology and data solutions partner in a deal that will does not include – for now – the right to sell official data to sports betting.

This is just the beginning.

If college conferences can figure out how to pool data from each school and provide sportsbooks with official statistics, it will likely generate a revenue stream second only to media rights, a proposition that could alleviate a long-standing aversion to sportsbooks. sports betting now increasingly legal. business.

“There’s a lot of pressure to try to normalize these things, but they haven’t happened yet,” said Matthew Holt, president of US Integrity, which screens betting data for irregularities and provides advice to many. many schools and conferences. “The one thing that there is unanimous agreement on is that if someone could take this huge, fractured, massive asset from 128 Division I college football teams or 352 Division I college basketball teams and unify that asset, then it’s the most valuable (sports betting data) active in the United States. It dwarfs the professional leagues. … How do we get there? Easier said than done.”

Some bottom-of-the-envelope calculations support this premise. College football is the second most-bet American property; college basketball the fourth most. And the menu of college games is head-spinning: nearly 900 in football, versus 283 in the NFL, and nearly 6,000 in basketball, versus about 1,400 in the NBA including the playoffs.

If professional football and basketball rights are worth nearly $250 million per year combined, what might the total be for all sports in college conferences, March Madness, college football playoffs, and balls?

Holt predicts he could approach a total of $500 million, using the pro leagues as a comparator. While he doesn’t discuss specific conferences, other optimistic sources have suggested that the highest-bet leagues, the SEC and Big Ten, could bank annual takeouts approaching $50 million if they include marketing assets and live videos in agreement.

The hurdle is that there is no one-stop shop at the college from which to acquire the data live.

The NCAA, which has an agreement with Genius to collect and distribute data at its championships, including March Madness, only controls the rights to those championships and has so far not agreed to sell them to sportsbooks. . Schools retain control of the data produced from their home games. The conferences own the rights to tournaments and football championship games. The PCP is entirely its own business.

The Pac-12 technology and data deal is a likely step toward selling to sports betting, with more conference deals to come.Images: getty

In a one-stop shop world, college sports is an open mess.

“As college sports will seek to aggregate and distribute their data for commercial purposes, fragmentation will not be its friend,” said Sean Conroy, executive vice president of North America for Genius Sports. “These organizations don’t want to integrate with hundreds of different sports data providers. It gets to a point where it’s too difficult.

Unlocking the value of live data is the biggest challenge in the highly fragmented academia. In MAC’s first deal with Genius, which it negotiated in consultation with media rights holder JMI Sports, Genius will pay a guaranteed annual royalty for near real-time data which it will then sell to media and, more lucratively, sports betting operators. who use this data to set odds and settle bets.

MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said the league is taking a conservative approach to what this deal could produce in new revenue. But he admits some of the pro league numbers “certainly catch your eye”, he said.

The Pac-12 arrangement with San Francisco-based Tempus Ex Machina is different. Part of the tech company’s game is installing cameras in every stadium — it already powers NFL venues — to track player movements and create betting and fan enhancement products.

While university presidents and athletic directors will have the final say on how their data is used, there is still another conversation to be had with each school’s media rights holders, such as JMI, Learfield and Playfly, who manage the sponsorship rights that many sportsbooks would like. to see included in a data package.

The NFL, NBA and MLB all require sportsbooks to buy official data in order to sponsor the league or its teams, and in some cases advertise on broadcasts, a tactic that has accelerated adoption. official data for everyone, at least among the handful of sportsbooks that now dominate American betting. College conferences may find that their data isn’t worth the rates fetched by professional leagues if they don’t include school logos and other IPs.

PointsBet USA Chief Commercial Officer Eric Foote had a deep pedigree in college sports when he joined the Denver-based Australian bookmaker in early 2020, after working in CBS Sports Interactive’s college group for more than a year. decade. He engineered the first sports betting sponsorship of a college program between PointsBet and the University of Colorado this fall, but has seen only three other deals with Power Five programs announced since then.

“We all know that most, if not all, conferences are considering something similar,” Foote said. “Everyone is trying to monetize their data and that seems to be something a lot of conferences are starting to revolve around. It will help the category grow in terms of sponsorship opportunities.

While locking arms and logos to promote sports betting through sponsorship is seen as a tricky proposition on many campuses, the sale of a school’s official data – seen as essential to maintaining the integrity and consumer protection by professional leagues – could be easier to massage.

While conferences strive to build campus membership, sports betting is developing betting products without using official statistics. When March Madness announced last week, all major bookmakers had at least a basic set of live betting offers on all games. Which begs the question: if operators can make do with unofficial stats now, will they still buy official stat packages?

“Everybody has a product, and a pretty broad product — a product that you can’t just use with human beings,” Holt said. “You have to have data streams. So how do they do it? There are many different options available. … If you say to a conference or to schools, “It’s the NCAA tournament and almost 70 different operators are offering live betting,” how do you think they get the data to do that? They would have no idea.

The answer is complicated. With no official data available, data distributors are working creatively to create their own streams, using broadcast links faster than what a bettor sees at home, repurposing data intended for other uses or by sending “scouts” to transmit the scores from a seat in the stands. . Big data companies generally avoid these practices when a property is ready to sell its official feed.

PointsBet is bullish on an in-game product it offers for March Madness, powered by multiple data feeds which it then uses to create and modify its odds on a range of bets, such as who will score next. If this product performs as well as its official NFL and NBA products, will it be willing to pay a premium for an official NCAA or college conference stream?

“That’s the million dollar question,” Foote said. “We need to see the quality of the data, the latency of the data, and the breadth of the data. And second, how will the conference and its official data provider market this? What else will they add to it?

At a recent meeting of college athletic directors in January, Kyle McDoniel, Sportradar’s head of strategic partnerships, delivered a data point that surprised many, revealing that the average grip for football games in the State of Georgia was $250,000. A game against Auburn, however, generated over $1 million in legal bets.

“I think a lot of jaws have hit the ground,” said McDoniel, who joined the company in 2020 after lengthy stints at Yahoo Sports, Fox Sports and ESPN. ” It happens. Our view is that if it happens, it must happen in the light and schools and conferences must participate in the value chain. We all need to work together to make it a safe, enjoyable and reputable space. »