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Perform Group’s John Harlow: Reinventing the role of the second-screen for betting

Last week, John Harlow, SVP for Betting at Perform Group, revealed the slogan that explains why they’re seeing such interest in more detailed player data – ‘The game is the same, but the fan has changed’.

Seven days on, we asked him to explain how much of this behaviour change is a derivative of fantasy sports, and tease some of the biggest product developments for Opta in 2018.

SBC: Let’s look a bit closer at this message: “The game is the same, but the fan has changed”. How much of this change is a derivative of behaviours picked up playing fantasy sports?

JH: Fantasy is a huge driver of interest in players and their stats, particularly in players from other teams. It’s great for sport and it’s great to give fans a reason to stay engaged for an entire season, even if their team has zero chance of winning anything or has been knocked of the World Cup. It’s a massive passion-driver that helps fans feel a real sense of ownership of THEIR team and THEIR players and in many ways, betting on player performance is a highly similar sensation.

Opta’s live or post-match statistics actually power major fantasy sport providers around the world, which creates a reassuring consistency for fans and operators, similar to what we discussed last week. If I’m betting on shots on target for example, I expect to see the same numbers wherever I happen to look, be that on the TV, in the Fantasy Premier League app, on Google or in my betting app.

Fans have, however, changed in many more ways than just taking more of an interest in player performance. Their attention spans are shorter than ever – described as 90 seconds not 90 minutes; they want to feel involved, not peripheral; they want personalised experiences; they can be impatient, need instant gratification; and of course they’re heavy social media users.

These are additional reasons why ‘choose your own adventure’ single-game accumulators and player bets (eg on passes, tackles, goalkeeper punches; events that we’re collecting all the time) are quickly establishing themselves amongst the mainstream.

SBC: Can you tease some of the biggest product developments for Opta in 2018?

JH: The first big step is we’ll deliver all our deep player statistics in a live incident feed, like a detailed version of RunningBall’s API (RunningBall is Perform’s ultra-fast data service). We’ve been working towards this for a long time and there seems to be a genuine buzz from clients about what they can turn it into and what it will mean for bettors.

Just as RunningBall helped pioneer in-play betting at scale, and Opta helped drive fantasy sports, now we’re going to do the same for pre-match and in-play bets on player performance. Operators can confidently increase the number of matches and leagues offering player bets, with much faster resulting – a real win for bettors and for client product and marketing teams, who will be able to start telling some truly unique stories, given the number of new ‘games within the game’  that can be created.

Just as important is our continued focus on reinventing the role of the ‘second-screen’ for betting, hopefully in time for the World Cup. We think this is a big missing piece in the puzzle and getting it right will make the front-end betting experience significantly stickier and much more entertaining.

Last but not least for now, we’re also looking at how some of the innovation coming from Opta’s data scientists can be applied in our sector. The potential there is enormous. It’s almost like someone’s given you x-ray specs, to see what’s really going on.

A great example is the ‘expected goals’ metric (xG), which measures whether a given shot should have been scored (in real time) based on deep analysis of 300,000 chances from our database. Broadcasters like the BBC have started using these stats, so they’re starting to get into the mainstream language of sport.

Earlier this season Arsene Wenger even explained during a post-match interview that Arsenal might have just lost, but according to Opta’s analysis of the game’s scoring chances, they should have won… tough to award him the three points for that but can’t argue the logic!

Providing greater insight into underlying match performance could help everyone from odds compilers wanting deeper understanding of pricing trends, to marketing teams looking to activate or understand bettors. If the ‘expected score’ is displayed alongside the real score, that’s potentially more useful (and usable) at-a-glance information than traditionally basic statistics like WDL form guides – especially as our algorithm calculates the expected score live.

One of the UK newspapers wrote an article on Opta last year saying we’d changed football and are shaping its future – I don’t think we’ve changed it in reality, as it’s of course still the same game, but I think we’re definitely changing what can make sport even more interesting for fans and I suppose it does mean we’re helping to shape its future. That’s a big responsibility, but a tremendously exciting place to be and we can’t wait to see the experiences our content will help to create.

Perform Group will be exhibiting at ICE London (6-8 February), stand S1-240.

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