Today’s guest columnist is David Levy, chairman of Genius Sports.
Two years ago, our collective business, and the world overall, came to a standstill on March 11. We can all look back on the moments of how we endured these challenging times and know that not only sports and business, but our entire lives, have changed forever.
While many will point to the NBA halting play and all leagues following suit, one thing that stands out to me personally was the cancellation of March Madness. Throughout my time running Turner Sports, we had put in so much time and innovation over many years reimagining the broadcast and digital presentations with the NCAA and CBS. Our continued refinement of all aspects of the broadcast—from new talent in the studios and play by play, to the inclusive look at every game, to a national audience across four networks, to the creation of March Madness Live—had made March even more special with every passing year, and the silence of 2020 was really deafening.
This March, joyfully, we can all say that March Madness, as we know it, is not just back but is bigger and better than ever before, and I feel that same excitement of reinvention now working with Genius Sports that I did in 2011. At Genius Sports, we are again working with our partners—Turner/CBS, the NCAA, and now ESPN on the women’s side—to expand and revolutionize fan engagement on whatever device consumers choose.
Taking a step back, when Genius Sports first embarked on our 10-year agreement with the NCAA in 2018, engagement in women’s sports, and for that matter college sports, outside of football and men’s basketball, needed more attention, focus and investment. Our first step was NCAA LiveStats, which we knew was a vital part of the growth of engagement for content viewing on all platforms.
LiveStats, an in-game live data capture and distribution tool, has been rolled out across all three divisions of sports that didn’t normally get that much attention on the digital side—men’s and women’s volleyball, soccer and ice hockey. It created the first reliable, official data feed for fans, coaches, teams and conferences while acting as a crucial springboard for our recent partnership with the Mid-American Conference. Genius believes LiveStats has been a key building block for the fan experience similar to the way that Turner and CBS solved their internal challenges by always focusing on what benefited the consumer versus what benefited their networks.
Our latest product, through our Second Spectrum division, is a best-ever live tracking and video augmentation tool. This week, as both the men’s and women’s tournaments head to the Sweet Sixteen, fans will get a chance, for the first time, to get immersive, robust deep visualization stats packages for both fields—the men on Turner/CBS and the women on ESPN.
Back when I was running Turner, we were able to convince the Time Warner Board to do a long-term deal with the NCAA Tournament because we recognized and understood that everyone fills out brackets, and that was never going to change. This creates a unique level of fan engagement. If you fill out a bracket, you’re going to watch. In a similar fashion, Genius also understood that filling out brackets creates office pools and game-by-game betting, which is central to our business model. Based on that, we constructed a 10-year relationship with the NCAA.
And as far brackets are concerned, I filled out mine this year as usual—even though Syracuse wasn’t invited to the dance.
The excitement of fandom never changes. What does change is where and how the content is viewed and delivered, which then provides a better viewer experience. It’s what we will see for both the men’s and women’s tournaments, just like Second Spectrum technology did for CBS with RomoVision, and for Nickelodeon with the NFL.
That’s what a winning engagement formula looks like.
Enjoy the games. I know I am.
In addition his role at Genius Sports, Levy is founder of Back Nine Ventures, a senior advisor at Raine and at Arctos Partners, and a former president of Turner.