Today’s guest columnist is David Levy, chairman of Genius Sports and co-CEO of Horizon Sports and Experiences (HS&E).
Throughout my career, I have been around some of the biggest experiences in sports and entertainment, from the Super Bowl to the Oscars, but nothing quite captures the passion of the American people like three weeks of March Madness.
While the late David Stern loved to say that “sports is the ultimate reality show,” the NCAA Tournament is the ultimate real-life drama, with every human emotion on display. When I was at Turner Sports it became the one additional “must have” programming we felt we needed. I was proud to have been part of the team that brought the tournament to air, through a great partnership with CBS that put consumers in control of what game they wanted to watch and where they wanted to watch it.
But the constant challenge remains in how to make March Madness even bigger and bolder than it already is. The answer, we believe, is literally at the collective fingertips of all those watching on myriad devices, and it’s what, in my role as chairman of Genius Sports, I’m making sure we are looking into and working on.
The NCAA Data Revolution
The use of data to enhance the broadcasting experience for NCAA action started some years ago, with Genius Sports’ official data partnership with the NCAA. We launched NCAA LiveStats back in 2018 and began to harness the power and the complexity of in-game statistics for the coaches, the broadcasters and ultimately the fans, refining what that data could look and feel like without taking away from the raw emotion and passion of the actual games as they unfolded. The build was gradual, and we saw the impact we were having in engagement from the start, even in sports like volleyball and soccer. Our team continued to improve the product, especially as betting became even more of an opportunity, and the need not just for data, but for data that was fast and official in addition to being accurate, became a priority.
The NCAA and LiveStats have increased the value of game data while narrowing the gap between men’s and women’s sports by making vital insights such as shot charts and positioning available across every division. It has scored every March Madness game since 2019 and another 150,000 for 4,000 teams across college football, basketball, volleyball, ice hockey and soccer.
That leads us to to today, where NCAA LiveStats is courtside at every March Madness game, capturing the official box scores and powering live experiences for millions of fans. Whether it’s broadcasters such as CBS integrating official updates into their live coverage, NBA teams such as the Grizzlies and Pelicans scouting player performances, or brands powering their activations, the NCAA data revolution has created an asset primed for further monetization.
New Wave of March Madness
So where do we go from here, and more importantly, how do we know when enough is enough for fans? This is where personalization and gamification come into play. Working live in-game data into the gamification of assets will be key. We have seen the increased areas of engagement that alternate broadcasts have brought to sports, from Nickelodeon-themed NFL Games to the megacasts of ESPN, and we think that will continue to grow. The amount of content that seemingly insatiable fans want, tied to an event where instant heroes are made, like in March Madness, only keeps fueling that fire for gamified data, and soon all of it will be available in a custom fashion with a touch or a swipe in real-time as the games are progressing. But if, and only if, users want it. That’s where personalization of different feeds comes in.
Factor in the continued explosion of legalized sports betting, with more than 68 million Americans predicted to wager over $15.5 billion on March Madness this year, according to the American Gaming Association, and we are in a position not just to ride a wave of data engagement tied to compelling visuals, but we can help create the flow that literally builds the wave for all to ride.
The best part is that customization through streaming means everyone will be able to set their own experience as deep as one chooses. That means, as we look ahead, we can literally provide millions of options to millions of fans, who can decide what type of engagement they would like for every team from FDU to Alabama.
For the rest of this year’s tournament, you will see the enhanced statistics in macro, as we serve up deep visual data feeds to our broadcast partners and some other select outlets. We are also listening and watching to see what works, and what we can adjust.
While we will never be able to replace the unpredictable drama of March Madness and would not think to try, we can make the unpredictable more enjoyable by using data, gamification, personalization and all the new options at our fingertips, one gripping moment at a time.
In addition to his roles at Genius Sports and HS&E, Levy is founder of Back Nine Ventures, a senior advisor at Raine and at Arctos Partners, and a former president of Turner.