Sports is having its data moment.
That was the big takeaway from the Future of Sports Tech and Sports Betting Conference in Philadelphia, hosted Tuesday by local VC firm SeventySix Capital. Hundreds filled the Prince Theater on Chestnut Street to learn from over a dozen speakers, including tech executives and even a couple familiar names to sports fans.
The conference attracted folks interested in learning more about growing fields like analytics, esports and sports betting. The latter has drawn increasing attention with the Supreme Court ruling last month that states can open books where they had previously been forbidden.
Early discussion centered around new fields in sports technology, especially the data produced by wearable devices. NFL insider and radio host Adam Caplan mentioned how new wearables would expand the availability of in-game data for the upcoming season and what that means to teams and fans.
“Analytics people want to know what the eye cannot see,” Caplan said of the effort to provide more insight and perhaps even better predictions for time missed due to injuries.
Caplan also raved about the innovations in virtual reality that allow players to review 360 degrees of vision when watching game film. “If you see it, you will look at the NFL differently,” he said.
The event, co-hosted by Arizona State University’s Global Sport Institute, had an international feel as discussion shifted to sports betting.
Many players entering the new states have experience from overseas, like British mainstay William Hill. That company is already operating at Dover Downs, Monmouth Park in Central Jersey, and will be featured at Ocean Resort, opening this week in Atlantic City. Hill’s representative, Dan Shapiro, noted over 60 percent of the book’s action in Nevada comes from online transactions.
Many agreed gambling will drive the future of sports for the next decade.
Data accuracy has been contested in previous discussions with leagues who oppose expanding betting. However, the books will create more data, content for media partners, and eventually sponsorship opportunities that are common in the Premier League and other European leagues. Expanding the books could mean new opportunities for networks and media personalities. Caplan mentioned he was courted by handicapping companies in the past and might go that route when his contract with ESPN expires this summer.
Part of the future battle will be the ability to meet product demand with regulation allowance.
SeventySix Capital partner Wayne Kimmel compared the nuanced approach to companies like Uber and Airbnb that allowed peer-to-peer transactions often without existing laws to officiate. He noted how well the esports community, which has a strong local foothold, has recently negotiated with lawmakers.
“Sometimes the rules and legislators bend back to the business,” Kimmel said.
Sports betting will be a key factor in the expansion of esports, or “new sports” as they were deemed by speakers. Companies like Comcast have jumped into the field with a $20 million investment in the Philadelphia Fusion, an Overwatch team. These leagues are currently importing players from South Korea and other hotbeds but many believe future pro gamers will be homegrown. The trick will be for a company to control the emergence of a game, instead of the consumer-driven organic crazes like Fortnite or League of Legends that now drive multiplayer opportunities.
Representing the traditional sports was SeventySix Capital’s Ryan Howard. The 2006 NL MVP joined panel discussions and talked about the changing face of sports. For companies looking to partner with these established brands, the Big Piece had a big suggestion: “You got to be patient. You got to come in and wow them. You hit them with the wow factor and they’ll figure it out.”
Howard and Kimmel will speak today at the Hashtag Sports conference in New York City.
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