Sportradar is preparing to support more tournaments to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on the tennis ecosystem, notably the Generali Austrian Pro Series starting on Monday 25 May featuring the sport’s world number three Dominic Thiem (pictured).
We spoke to Sportradar’s MD for Sports Partnerships David Lampitt to discuss how these tournaments are being handled and why both the integrity and data supply mirrors the quality standards you would expect from a ‘normal’ tour event, as well as the challenges associated with planning for the future and modelling different scoring formats including the Next Gen style ‘first to four’.
SBC: As a data provider to the ITF, how did the Sportradar association with these new tournaments come about?
DL: We’ve been a serious investor in tennis for the last decade, with a market leading portfolio in the sport so we have an established network. We have a long-standing partnership with the ITF and we’re now into our second cycle of rights partnership with Tennis Australia.
We’ve also done deals with a number of ATP 250 tournaments and, most recently, we’ve announced an OTT partnership with the Tennis Channel for their international streaming service.
All of that has led to us entering into a multi-layered partnership with PlaySight Interactive and Base Tennis Academy to launch the Tennis Point Exhibition Series via Tennis Channel.
When the crisis arose, the sports industry looked at how it could react swiftly to mitigate some of the commercial damage that has been caused by the global lockdown and suspension of sporting events around the world.
During this unprecedented period, however, we have been able to rapidly pivot our business priorities and resources in line with our customers’ needs.
We have been innovative, open and progressive about how we can work with our partners across different sports, including tennis, and how we can leverage our technology to help bring live sport back and make it available again.
So that strong network of well-established relationships within the sport has meant we have been able to work closely with all our tennis partners to bring events back as soon as it’s safe to do so.
We have been working side-by-side with tournament organisers, many who have had to cancel, suspend or postpone their scheduled events. And all of this is obviously helping to support players who don’t currently have the opportunities to earn their living from the sport.
The two key drivers in the whole process have been the players and event organisers,and we’ve been very happy to react quickly and support their efforts to create the safest possible environment to play competitive tennis again.
We tend to forget that most tennis players operate outside of the top echelon of the game and are dependent on the availability of live tennis to earn their livelihood.
SBC: Picking up on the player aspect, are there prizes on offer?
DL: One of the key factors for us is making sure that the players are remunerated properly. There is always a prize pool element. Many tournaments will pay an appearance fee to players, but we have insisted that there is also a prize pool for the events because that creates the right incentives for the players to compete and perform.
Keeping that competitive element is a key part of getting the balance right.
SBC: And what about the integrity part of the competitions?
DL: Again, this has been a key factor for Sportradar and one of the areas where we have been able to actively support a number of recent events.
Tournament organisers as well as players – either individually or as a group participating in a tournament – have their own integrity processes and obligations towards the Tours (ATP/WTA) and the Tennis Integrity Unit to ensure that what they’re doing is compliant with the requirements of the Tennis Anti-Corruption Program (TACP).
This has also been a critical concern for Sportradar and we’ve made sure that all of the events we’ve covered have been supported by our Integrity Services Fraud Detection System and that we continue to work closely with the TIU to ensure tennis is safeguarded throughout this period and beyond.
SBC: In terms of the data supply, and how that translates to the betting markets, is that broadly in line with what you would offer normally?
DL: Yes it is. One of the reasons why we’ve been able to respond quickly is that we already have the technology available. We already have the umpire scoring technology for the ITF which can be put on a tablet or a laptop, and is integrated into our systems.
In addition, we already have integration with companies such as PlaySight – an automated video production company. In these unique circumstances, being able to provide an automated video production without any personnel around the court is obviously crucial. It’s thanks to this integrated approach to technology and partnerships that we have been able to respond so quickly and effectively.
SBC: And what about the pricing of these events, particularly those with different scoring systems. How does it work for those who haven’t played to these formats?
DL: We always recommend events use a format that is already established within the sport – it’s more accessible for fans as well as being easier to manage from the perspective of odds-modelling. However, with the current restrictions in place and the limitations on players being able to travel, we are taking a more flexible approach with some different formats being used, rather than a standard knock-out event.
The round-robin set-up and the ‘first-to-four’ short set format is something that has already been used for the ATP Next Gen Finals so it has been relatively easy to integrate. We’ve adapted our data supply and odds generation models to work with that format when it’s been used in the past so again it’s something we’ve been able to adapt to swiftly.
SBC: It is interesting to consider how these probabilities change. For example, a big server might almost always get to a tiebreak, but could be more susceptible with the ‘no advantage’ scoring rule. It must be difficult to do?
DL: The biggest element to consider here from an odds modelling perspective is the “shoot-out” element of the single deuce point because normally in tennis you have to win two points in a row to win a game – something that is also true when you reach deuce.
From our point of view, it’s all about being as responsive as we can to solve problems and challenges that we and our sporting partners are facing, and to react as quickly and effectively as possible.
SBC: This way of putting on tennis tournaments, how far in advance are you preparing for this to be the case?
DL: There’s obviously a huge amount that needs to happen in the background when organising a sporting event, producing data and video and managing the player side – particularly given the current restrictions. We’ve been lucky to partner with some great teams of people organizing these events by adopting a really integrated approach on commercial and production elements.
The biggest challenge now is predicting how long we think the current period is going to continue, and how far in advance should we plan. This is a constant balancing act and means working in real-time and being as adaptable and flexible as possible.
The main tennis bodies have obviously decided there will not be any Grand Slam, Tour or ITF tennis until mid-July, therefore this gives us a reference point, but we are keeping a close eye on developments so that we’re ready to respond as quickly as possible.
Tennis has some particular challenges here in that it is a truly global sport. It’s not like a domestic league product where everyone that participates is normally within a single territory, so the international nature of tennis – one of its great strengths – also creates certain challenges in the current circumstances.
SBC: And finally, does competitive tennis hold any advantage over other sports, given the nature of the game and how it has been prioritised by governments in the first phase of lockdown lifts?
DL: Tennis has been specifically identified as a sport that can be played earlier than others when emerging from lockdown restrictions. In Austria, for example, it was included within the first phase of opening up recently, clearly benefiting from the fact that it is not a contact sport, and players can participate at a safe distance apart.
This is also why one of the next events we’re very pleased to be partnering with is the Generali Austrian Pro Series – which will be up and running from the last week in May and has a great line-up including Dominic Thiem.