G3 interviews IMG ARENA’s Senior Vice President, Freddie Longe, about the growth of the business and the specifics of the sports betting service offered by IMG ARENA.
Could you tell us about how IMG’s betting and gaming business was founded and how it evolved into IMG Arena?
IMG ARENA is a leading sports betting service and content hub that specialises in bridging the gap between our sports federation clients and the sports betting sector.
It was formally launched in November 2018 when our parent company, IMG, evolved the sports betting business we founded back in 2012.
Today, we work with more than 360 leading sportsbook operators worldwide, providing services across live streaming, fastpath data and on-demand virtual sports products designed to evolve and inspire engagement by placing fans at the heart of the action.
We have partnerships with more than 40 leading federations, including the ATP, PGA Tour, UFC, Serie A, NHL, EuroLeague and the US Open.
IMG Arena is partnered with some of the biggest sport federations in the world. Could you tell us more about the services IMG Arena offers in terms of supplying data to your federation clients?
IMG ARENA is proud to partner some of the world’s biggest sports federations and we are committed to distributing official sports federation data and streaming content. We focus on developing deep and long-term partnerships, sharing a mutual goal to protect and grow sport within the space.
Our focus has always been on fan-first engagement via the delivery of content and product innovations that fuel the emotions and excitement unique to world-class sport. We believe this can only be achieved by working alongside rightsholders to deliver official products that are true to the sports and events.
IMG ARENA processes official data for more than 45,000 sport events per year. Among these data services are our unparalleled tennis feeds, incorporating the ATP, WTA and ATP Challenger Tours, as well as three of the four Grand Slams: Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open. Data is entered directly from the umpire’s chair, meaning real-time, official, point-by-point data goes from court to fan in less than one second. The speed and accuracy are key components of the service that we provide for clients.
Beyond data, our premium, multi-sport streaming portfolio features a broad range of high-profile properties, including the English FA Cup, Football League and EFL Cup, Serie A and MLS (football), Roland Garros and US Open (tennis), EuroLeague (basketball) and NHL (ice hockey). In 2018, the business delivered 42 million unique views and what equated to over 70 million hours of content watched by fans around the globe.
IMG Arena recently teamed up with UFC to launch the gaming industry’s first sports betting product created specifically for a major sports brand. Could you tell us more about what inspired this partnership?
UFC is one of the most exciting sports on the planet. It is among the fastest-growing and has an incredibly knowledgeable, passionate and opinionated fan base of more than 300 million people and 70 million social media followers. Importantly, when you look at the demographic, as many as 75% of fans are male and in the 18 to 44 age category, meaning they have a strong propensity to bet. When you compare UFC fights to a lot of other sports, it gets as little as 8 or 9 percent of volume in-play, as opposed to around 55 percent, or even higher in some cases, for other sports.
We believe that all the ingredients are there for it to be a huge sport from a betting perspective and the UFC Event Centre is the product to deliver on that.
The UFC Event Centre immerses fans in unique and official content every second of every round. A wealth of live, time-stamped data points will open a huge range of new betting opportunities, including reversals, knockdowns, submissions, takedown attempts, and takedowns landed. It will deliver significantly more features and markets for UFC events than any other MMA betting product available.
It is the gaming industry’s first sports betting product created specifically for a major sports brand. Branded content is proven to drive engagement and aid retention both online and in venue. This unique product will offer next level engagement for UFC fans.
The UFC Event Centre enables live in-round betting for every global UFC event, with an official data delivery time under two seconds and immediate bet settlements. Could you tell us more about how fast and accurate data impacts a sportsbook from an operator’s perspective?
Fast, accurate – and official – data is not only hugely beneficial but essential to operators. Without real-time data fast markets simply aren’t possible. The introduction of official fastpath data for tennis was the catalyst for the growth of in-play betting on the sport. Crucially, because the data is official, it gives the sportsbook comfort to settle bets more quickly and also eliminates any concerns over subjectivity of the information being provided.
Players expect quick market and bet resolutions and an ultra-responsive data feed is integral to this. It creates a robust and reliable platform that improves back end trading management as well as a powerful front-end user experience, which ultimately boosts turnover and margins.
How does the provision of high-profile, official data benefit consumers?
Sports bettors are no different to any other digital consumer. Everything needs to be available on demand. Delays are unacceptable and there can be no margin for error.
It’s not just knowing they can trust the data and get it rapidly, it is about using data to power more engaging and immersive consumer experiences. We want to re-imagine the way fans engage with the sports we represent while at the same time facilitating the widest-possible range of events and markets for any event that we officially partner with.
Traditional combat sports markets such as bout betting, round betting and method of result remain hugely popular. Can bookmakers be more creative in markets?
Our Event Centres combine state-of-the-art technology with an immersive fan experience. While factoring the popularity of the traditional and high-volume markets, we’ve created a blueprint for creativity, innovation and maximising the potential of a sport or an event from a betting perspective.
Beyond the markets, there’s a huge amount of detail on fighters and bouts, such as schedules and live event information, fighter statistics and ranks, as well as wider weight class and division information, that can be used to plan and inform bets. It’s deployed with a mobile-first design and also incorporates 3D visualisations of live UFC action. There is no comparable product.
The rapid expansion of combat sport betting markets in recent years has raised fears about the sport’s integrity. Do you think an integrity risk is present for high profile bouts, or do you think the risk is greater at the lower levels of the sport?
Protecting the sports we work with is a key area of focus for us and we remain committed to upholding the highest standards of governance. The athletes within the UFC are the highest quality MMA athletes on the planet, hence the standards and integrity they bring to the octagon are second to none. Added to which, the UFC has a robust internal integrity and education programme in place to ensure athletes understand the obligations on them as professional fighters. IMG ARENA also has a transparent contractual feedback loop on betting anomalies with our customers.
IMG Arena pioneered the mainstream introduction of official data rights. How do the authorities effectively prevent the supply of unofficial live data? Does unofficial data represent a threat to your service and products?
There are a variety of measures sports federations use to protect the official data supply and these methods will continue to evolve over time. We focus primarily on the product quality of official data service versus unofficial alternatives. For a start, federations control their onsite infrastructure and so not only are speed and reliability more solid but as technology fuels enriched data sets, the delta between official and unofficial data sets will continue to widen. Naturally this richer content will also drive product improvements on both the back and front end so we believe that the threat of much lighter unofficial data sets will diminish over time.
You have a presence in a number of markets outside of combat sports, including tennis, football, basketball and virtual sports. Are there any markets you plan to become part of moving forwards?
We are constantly looking at new sports where we feel we can add value. It is well known that we have taken on a big vision with golf having partnered with both the European and PGA Tours to bring it to life as a betting product. Today betting on golf is small – only about 1% of a UK sportsbook’s GGR – but we believe that is because it hasn’t had the same chance as other sports. Getting a data feed from golf courses of all shapes and sizes with weather conditions from opposite ends of the spectrum is a challenge in itself. However, we have also taken on the task of bringing the golf course to life on the front end with a mobile-first outlook. For us, delivery of world class sport content is central to our DNA and we will continue to look at driving maximum value for our clients in the spheres we operate in.