Data Deals Give NCAA Opportunity to Win Fans and Increase Revenue

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    SportTechie Legal

    This SportTechie Legal article was written by Brian Socolow, co-chair of the Sports Practice Group at Loeb & Loeb LLP.

    This year, the NCAA launched partnerships with two global tech companies—Google Cloud and Genius Sports— to take control of its sprawling collection of athlete data. The new ventures are intended to increase the NCAA’s revenue by monetizing the information and creating new opportunities to engage college sports fans who want more stats on their favorite players, teams, and schools.

    Giving fans real-time stats and other facts and figures is a way to connect those who aren’t at events in person with the action on the field or court. Declining attendance is a growing problem faced by sports, and college sports are not immune to this trend. For example, the NCAA reported that in 2017, attendance at DI FBS games, the highest level of college football, dropped three percent from the previous year, and had declined for four years in a row. In fact, according to NCAA figures, last year college football experienced the largest drop in per game attendance in 34 years and the second-largest since 1948, when the NCAA first began keeping track of attendance.

    Investing in new ways to use the data the NCAA collects on athletes and teams is a smart way for it to engage with fans who are increasingly watching sports on their smartphones and other devices. With more than 460,000 student athletes at 1,117 colleges and universities competing in 24 sports across three divisions every year, the NCAA is awash in athlete data. But wrangling that mountain of sports data to its advantage is a major challenge. And part of the difficulty is that, historically, athletic stats have been collected, organized and distributed by myriad entities including colleges and universities, conferences, and the NCAA itself.

    In February, the NCAA and Google announced a multi-year deal naming Google Cloud as the official NCAA cloud computing partner. The partnership included the migration of more than eight decades of historical and play-by-play data, from 24 different sports and 90 championships, to Google’s platform.

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    Google and the NCAA kicked off the collaboration publicly during March Madness, leveraging the individual and team data from college basketball’s season-ending tournaments in new ways. An ad campaign drew on the 80 years of NCAA performance data for men’s and women’s basketball to ask questions like “Are players shooting more three pointers today versus five years ago?” The 30-second ad spots also asked and answered more off-beat questions like:  “Do players try to dunk more if they have 50,000 followers?” or “Do freshmen score more if Mom’s at the game” or “Do kids from big cities handle crowd noise better?”

    The campaign also included an AI-related twist. In ads that aired during the two Final Four games, Google used NCAA data to make real-time predictions of game stats like the number of assists and the number of shots in the second half of the Kansas/Villanova game, and the number of three point attempts and rebounds in the second half of the Michigan/Loyola-Chicago game.

    With NCAA media partners Turner Sports and CBS Sports, Google built a “data-driven bracketology competition” using historic NCAA data integrated with data captured from live broadcasts and other public datasets. NCAA members— and fans—could search, compare, and analyze team and player performance, and view near real-time simulations. The database also provided Turner Sports and CBS Sports with an enhanced ability to provide insights on games in real time.

    In May, the NCAA announced that it had signed a 10-year deal with Genius Sports, a global sports data technology company, to manage real-time data collection. The new initiative will start with men’s and women’s basketball tournaments in 2019, and will eventually be rolled out for other sports, including football, soccer, volleyball, baseball, and softball. NCAA member schools and conferences that use the Genius Sports software will get enhanced data capture and distribution services and the ability to deliver real-time stats to fans through multiple platforms.

    Genius Sports also has partnerships with MLB, the PGA Tour, and the EPL. According to the NCAA, it will become the NCAA’s exclusive agent in licensing official data from events (including March Madness) to media platforms and other companies.

    Both the Genius Sports and Google partnerships are still in their early stages and the NCAA must address a number of challenges to make the most of the new initiatives. The legalization of sports gambling this year is pushing the NCAA into a new world of data consumption. How the organization and its partners address gambling on collegiate sports and how athlete data in particular is handled will continue to be debated.

    Betgenius, a Genius Sports subsidiary, already provides services including a sportsbook management platform and digital marketing to U.S. and international betting. The partnership with the NCAA was announced on the same day as the U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing for sports gambling, but it does not include any betting rights.

    Although the NCAA surpassed $1 billion in revenue for the first time in 2017, it is still a long way behind professional sports leagues that have been spinning stats into money for some time. Competing with traditional and digital media platforms for sports fans’ attention is an ongoing struggle as technology and consumer habits continue to evolve. The unique perspectives and capabilities that Google Cloud and Genius Sports bring to the NCAA, however, offer a chance for the organization to not just catch up with the pros, but possibly even jump ahead.

    Read more: sporttechie.com

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