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Perform Group’s John Harlow: “The game is the same, but the fan has changed”

Opta Sports, a leading international sports data and analytics provider, has been operated as a wholly owned subsidiary of Perform Group since 2013.

We caught up with John Harlow, Perform’s SVP for Betting, who outlined how sportsbooks are leveraging fan awareness of Opta’s data to power innovative, entertaining betting experiences.

Harlow also talked about compiling insight into changing fan preferences, and a new slogan driving the need for more detailed player data.

SBC: You have described Opta as the “universal language” of sports statistics. Can you outline some of the opportunities that the data provides?

JH: The English and Spanish words for ‘shot’ are different, but the number of shots taken by Messi against Real Madrid is the same whether John Harlow is reading about it on or Juan Harlez is watching live on Univision Deportes, because Opta’s statisticians are trusted to record this information, and it’s pushed into TV screens, apps and newspapers and used in official sources in all the corners of the world. It really is like a universal language for sport.

For 150 years football fans only really cared about the score; that was the only hard result that was reported and the only statistic that meant something. Now fans’ day to day chat also includes 5 shots on target, 3 assists, even 17 tackles and 320 passes, and the whole game narrative is being rewritten. Add in metrics that calculate the likelihood of a shot going in based on 30,000 previous attempts and the narrative changes even more!

Of course, passes and tackles have all been happening for 150 years too, but until they started being collected and then importantly, appearing in our mainstream sports coverage, people didn’t really notice, hence didn’t really care. Now that fans do have a way of tracking the performance of every player, it means there are many other stories being told on the field which can be turned into new products to get more of their attention, in different ways.

Fantasy is a classic example; custom bets and single-game accumulators rely on the data too: the new Opta-powered visualisation we released in 2017 is another. All these lock in fans much more deeply into the match experience and give them a reason to pay attention to players and events that previously might have passed them by.

We’re just scratching the surface of what’s possible though, especially considering the scope for in-play engagement, player v player battles and customisation. Fans can choose their own adventure as the single game turns into many different stories. To summarise, the opportunities truly are limitless.

SBC: Opta leads the way for player data, particularly as the provider for Sky Bet’s Player and Team bet features. Do you think the quest for individual player data now supersedes interest in the team?

JH: We’re delighted to be working with Sky Bet, Kindred and others who are using our detailed historical and live statistics to help them capitalise on player bets and same-game accumulators. It’s very rewarding that they’re validating Opta’s efforts over the past 10+ years to collect the most detailed, accurate data, an investment which has helped us ensure it is trusted by fans as well as traders – something we knew would be critical.

Perform Betting has access to a lot of insight into sports fans and how to engage them from our sister divisions within Perform Group, who run sports news websites, social media channels, live stream and live score products used by 60 million global fans monthly.

A recent focus has been on how today’s fan has a short attention span, a need to feel involved and a growing affinity with individual players rather than just teams.

Last July 12,000 of our football audience were surveyed and well over half reported that their favourite player doesn’t play for the team they support!

Then consider Cristiano Ronaldo’s social media following: at 280 million it’s twice as large as Real Madrid and over 4x the population of Spain and Portugal combined… it’s not new for fans to have favourite players, but it’s insane when you start to research the scale.

We also recorded a big increase in PSG match viewers from Spain and South America when Neymar moved to Paris (Perform’s Watch and Bet live streaming service for sportsbooks includes Ligue 1 rights).

We’re now building products based on this insight, so our partners can benefit from the fact fans are following sport differently, looking at different players, interested in different things. It’s no longer about the traditional team v team.  What does it mean for our sports betting partners if ‘the game is the same, but the fan has changed’?

John Harlow will be back next week to discuss how much of this changing fan behaviour is a derivative of fantasy sports, and tease Perform’s major product developments for 2018, some of which will be on show (with demos) at ICE London – Stand S1-240.

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