Sports data firm Sportradar is making its fraud detection service free for leagues and governing bodies across the globe, a move that should help the international sports community combat match-fixing while allowing the company to build relationships with future partners.
Starting in October, Sportradar will offer its bet-monitoring program at no charge to roughly 300 sports entities. It’s the core of a service that the Swiss firm has been offering basically at-cost to its partners for years. The company expects the change will cost about $1.21 million (1 million Euros) in 2021, depending on how many new leagues enroll.
The new set-up is akin to a ‘freemium’ model. At no cost to a league, Sportradar will monitor betting lines and detect suspicious activity. If there’s evidence of match-fixing, the sports league will have the option of handling it on its own, or paying Sportradar for a deeper level of protection, which includes an investigative unit and coordination with police departments.
“We can send a blinking red light to raise the alarm,” Andreas Krannich, Sportradar’s managing director of integrity services, said in an interview. “Then it’s up to the sport as to how they proceed, which can include asking Sportradar to help them investigate it further or to go directly to the police.”
These are services that Sportradar has offered in some form since 2005, when it set up its fraud detection system. The company has classified more than 5,330 sporting events as suspicious to date, with 400 cases leading to sanctions and more than 30 to criminal convictions.
Internally, Sportradar’s 110-person integrity division is looked at as a loss-leader of sorts. It doesn’t generate any profit, but its work is good PR, and most importantly, gives the company credibility with the leagues and federations that help its core business—packaging data and selling it to media companies and gambling operators around the world.
This move also comes at a time of potential change for the company, which was valued at $2.4 billion back in 2018, and whose investors include the NFL and a trio of NBA owners—Mark Cuban, Ted Leonsis and Michael Jordan. Sportradar has spoken recently with multiple SPACs about the possibility of going public through acquisition, according to people familiar with the talks.
Match-fixing is a concern for sports large and small, as it can affect both fan enthusiasm and the value of a league’s commercial rights. While there are high-profile examples of corruption from some the world’s richest leagues, the vast majority of corruption happens at lower levels, where regulation is less prevalent, and match-fixing syndicates can more easily infiltrate groups of players, coaches, referees or executives.
In many cases, the crime doesn’t get as much attention as other forms of fraud. By offering its detection services for free, Sportradar is hoping to assist federations that lack the funds to pay for it at-cost. Those are often the same groups most susceptible in the first place.
“At the end of the day, betting-related match fixing is not that different from insider trading on a stock exchange—someone knows upfront what’s happening,” Krannich said. “Usually if there’s evidence of insider trading, law enforcement directly starts its investigation, but not for match fixing.”
Sportradar’s software pulls in betting patterns from legal and illegal sportsbooks around the world. The data is combed by analysts and algorithms in search of irregularities that might indicate corruption. In 2020, the company monitored 650,000 events across more than 25 sports, and found suspicious activity in 526 matches.
Sportradar says the free monitoring service, called the Universal Fraud Detection System, will launch in October. That gives the company eight months to assess how many entities will enroll in the program, and sort out those contracts. It expects to have around 30 groups on board at launch.
The free fraud detection is part of a wider suite of integrity services that Sportradar offers to its current partners. In addition to monitoring patterns, the company also has a team of 30+ intelligence analysts (some former law enforcement or CIA) who can conduct their own investigations, and who interface with local police departments and larger bodies like Interpol and Europol. It also offers education services and works with dozens of freelance journalists who provide information related to local matches and media coverage.
Any entity enrolled in the free service can choose to pay for some of those additional services. Sportradar will also adjust its contracts with its current partners to reflect the fact that the core detection system is now free.