Ahead of ICE London, Simon Fraser, SVP International for XB Net, tells SBC News about the latest sporting string to the bow of the data-delivery specialist. In conjunction with Magic City Jai Alai in Miami, XB Net has packaged and is now distributing the sport of Jai Alai to its global network.
SBC: Thanks for taking the time to speak to us about this new exciting sports betting product, live streaming and feed ahead of ICE London 2023. But for those readers new to, or unfamiliar with, the sport, can you start by giving us some background to Jai Alai itself?
Simon Fraser: Jai Alai is recognised as the fastest ball sport in the world, with ball velocities often reaching speeds north of 170mph, and players compete against each other in both singles and doubles formats.
Via our tie-in with the Magic City Jai Alai in Miami, Jai Alai offers two distinct formats of play: a traditional eight-player round-robin format and a groundbreaking head-to-head (H2H) which features Battle Court teams competing in an intuitive format and a scoring system not dissimilar to those of tennis and table tennis. The aim is to outwit your opponent by making balls difficult to catch or throw back cleanly or placing a ball where the player cannot reach.
Jai Alai has been re-imagined for the modern era by our friends at Magic City Jai Alai. Former college and pro-athletes – many from the University of Miami – now compete each week in a series of high-octane events designed specifically for the betting industry. And like horse racing or greyhounds, Jai Alai is one of those rare sports initially and specifically designed for sports wagering.
This organically fits in with XB Net’s existing stable of racing products, powered by its preeminent fixed-odds and pari-mutuel pools platform. Players can now pre-play and in-play on traditional fixed-odds winners, under-over total points, point-by-point, win place or show (based on team player numbers Jai Alai), or even try an exacta, trifecta and quinella.
From the opening credits and narratives of iconic Eighties TV series Miami Vice, to the marketing materials of the Basque government in Spain, and even an enduring appeal across the Philippines, Jai Alai has long been a popular sport among those international communities with a Hispanic influence.
This breakthrough collaboration with XB Net, Magic City Jai Alai and the World Jai Alai League can now bolster and grow that audience with new fan engagement opportunities, helping to consolidate the sport’s appeal throughout Latin America, Europe and APAC, not to mention the hugely underserved Hispanic market in North America.
SBC: Could you tell us a little more about that potential Hispanic market?
SF: Well, it’s an underserved market in the US, primed to embrace this comeback sport. As an eloquent case in point, according to the 2020 US Census Bureau Report, 62 million people living in the US identify as Hispanic or Latino. That community, 18.7% of the total US population in 2021/22, is nearly equivalent to the entire population of the United Kingdom. The US Hispanic demographic is already the second-largest ethnic group in America, and a superpower in economic terms, the seventh largest GDP in the world (tied with France) estimated at $2.7 trillion in 2019, per the 2021 LDC US Latino GDP Report. This influential demographic is predicted to grow to account for more than 30% of the total US population, 132.8 million people, by 2050.
This is a population that is fiercely loyal to their roots, their culture, their heritage, and their chosen sports, from football to Jai Alai, and it is an audience that is also currently being underserved by the international sports betting industry. Just look at the reported billion-dollar moves by leading Mexican operator Caliente last year, which is still looking to take the States by storm by targeting this Spanish-speaking market and serving them the kind of product, media and betting services they want to engage with.
Jai Alai can clearly form a part of that localised sports-betting offering, and it’s potentially a similar story worldwide.
SBC: Where are the games and tournaments held?
SF: These competitive games are staged and broadcast live from the Magic City Fronton, whose cutting-edge structure is a boon for viewing, thanks to its customised court-size, glass walls, and well-positioned cameras seamlessly tracking every aspect of the high-octane action. This tailored arena measures 37m in length by 12m in width, slightly smaller than other such facilities, increasing the speed of the ball and quickening the pace of play for this spectacular sport.
An engaging Jai Alai schedule is now being played out on a weekly basis, maintaining a robust timetable and steady stream of live performances with regular Monday, Tuesday, Friday and Sunday slates of games. Matches and their derivative markets settle quickly and optimise the player betting cycle for international operators.
SBC: You mentioned a comparison to tennis in terms of the play and product. Can you unpack that a bit? And can Jai Alai rival the success of tennis, or perhaps even table tennis, as a betting medium?
SF: It’s a good point. Considering the relatable and transferable success of tennis as a betting product, even the breakthrough appeal of table tennis during the pandemic, it was about time that Jai Alai was as well-served by recent gains in live data and automation.
Magic City Jai Alai and XB Net combine to deliver a step change for fans of this sport, effortlessly blending live pictures with the live point-by-point tracking to create a seamless viewing and betting experience with far fewer market suspensions around the critical moments of any match.
While tennis has always generated plenty of betting appeal, there’s no doubt that it was particularly well-accommodated by timely gains in data and automation. Jai Alai can also benefit in this regard.
With accurate, up-to-the-second scores running directly – and increasingly reliably – off feeds from official courtside sources, there are more chances to bet in-play than on some other sports. Corralling this match data by allowing operators to integrate, process and manage these feeds in their systems is the crucial component to engaging bettors – and is another technical challenge at which XB Net excels across horse racing where we have also launched a breakthrough in-running product around North American racing.
Of course, I’m not saying Jai Alai is going to compete with tennis in a few short years, but there’s an opportunity to develop new and solid revenue streams with a sport of growing popularity.
SBC: Is there anything about Jai Alai that makes betting on it uniquely appealing?
SF: As regards betting specifically, I can’t claim uniqueness. But the key factor is any sport’s inherent intricacies – above all for in-play betting. Or, in essence, how hard is it to get a trading handle on the key variables that impact performance, activity and scoring?
Football used to be miles clear, not because of its popularity, but because a definitive knowledge of these variables is more easily acquired. Tennis caught up quickly and there’s no reason why Jai Alai can’t soon exhibit a similar accessibility in the live-betting domain, especially once its nuances and scoring are assimilated by untapped audiences.
As with anything new, there’s a small education play to consider. Against that, for the global players already familiar with the sport and starved of action to bet on – from Hispanic-speaking territories to Jai Alai-mad audiences in the Far East, like the Philippines – there’s already pent-up demand for this product.
SBC: How accurate can pricing on Jai Alai matches be?
SF: With a progressive raft of data and statistics available, it’s possible to be incredibly accurate, harnessing and processing all these numbers in the most effective manner to improve modelling and drill down on the correct price every time – theoretically on any market from match winner to next ace or drop-shot winner.
We’re not there yet, and neither is tennis, but it’s close. Ultimately, if you set the automated dials correctly, including in-play, there really should never be a need for a market suspension around a break point, or a disputed call. Instead, there should always be a live price. As for the wagering opportunities, the breadth and variety of all markets speak to all player proclivities.
SBC: Tell us a bit more about the format and scoring. In this ‘re-imagining’, has anything been tweaked or tailored at all and is there official data?
SF: Battle Court Jai Alai, played in a H2H format represents the latest innovation from the Magic City Jai Alai program this season (starts 3rd February). This fast and furious take on Jai Alai offers fans an experience like no other.
The groups are clearly defined, with Jai Alai H2H featuring two-player and four-player matches, styled along a tennis format. Every match is decided by the first player or doubles pairing to win two sets, and each set will be played to six points. There will be two serves allowed, and whoever wins the point retains serve. The Magic City Jai Alai roster has been divided into five teams consisting of six players on each team. Teams will battle it out with the top two squads meeting in a championship final at the end of each season.
This product has been licensed by Miami’s local gaming authority, the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, around video signal and data for the purposes of fixed-odds and commingled betting. The World Jai Alai League is a governing body for professionals and amateurs, working with XB Net and Magic City Jai Alai to drive deeper fan engagement around the sport, developing its international influence and scope in lockstep with commercialising its live pictures, commentary, odds and data.
SBC: Are there any betting or trading challenges to look out for?
SF: As we’ve already witnessed with the rise of specialist odds providers on the major US sports, ‘microbetting’ is in vogue with operators and players alike. Naturally, we’re seeing more betting traction on quick-fix or rapid-settling markets.
However, XB Net’s suite of social responsibility and player-profiling tools has observed that the shortest form of these opportunities (eg. point-by-point) can tend to attract problem gamblers, so it’s important to ensure that your operation not only caters to player demand, but also cares for it with responsible flags and follow-up customer service.
Instead, we prefer to offer sustainable betting products over mid-course and match temporal ranges, markets which allow players to form a genuine opinion, enduring engagement and appreciation for the sport – attributes which also promote responsible LTV for the operator. That has to be the aim.
As for latency, as ever, the challenge is for the live pictures to keep up with the live data, so that the viewer and betting experience is seamless. Happily, we harness bespoke pricing and data to provide the fastest feeds and lowest-latency data on the market, helping our operator partners to stay ahead of the game. After all, data and streaming are the backbone of any sportsbook. Data is used to drive markets and add narrative to an event, while streaming remains crucial for customer engagement and retention.