Frank Wenzig, Managing Director of Gaming at Sportradar shares his thoughts as to how continued innovation and deeper collaboration with rights holders are pushing the boundaries of fan engagement in the virtual sports betting space…
SBC: How has the virtual sports betting market evolved over the years?
Frank Wenzig: The market has changed beyond recognition in the last 10, 15 years. Virtual sports betting solutions have gone from a niche, ‘nice to have’ for operators, to a critical component in a sportsbook’s ‘always-on’ operation. That’s particularly true of the last two years when the reduction in live sport left many operators bereft of content leading to a significant uptake in virtual sports betting solutions.
The evolution of virtual sports betting has been driven by consumer demand. Betting customers want a broad range of sports to bet on with all the main markets available to them, as well as hyper-realistic gameplay with the graphics to match.
Realism is crucial amongst customers who expect the same quality from virtual sports betting as they do live-action sports.
SBC: How is Sportradar working with Bundesliga International in the virtual sports betting space?
FW: Sportradar has enjoyed a long-standing and successful relationship with Bundesliga International for the best part of two decades. With two leaders in innovation working hand-in-hand, the move into virtual sports felt like a natural progression for our relationship.
I’m excited because together we have developed a distinctive virtual sports betting solution. Incorporating footage from real soccer matches, Virtual Sports Bundesliga is the first virtual sports betting solution to feature the top players from their leagues. It’s a gamechanger and provides the end-user with an experience as close to real-life as possible.
The solution will help Bundesliga International connect with its fans and reach new audiences outside of the DACH region, using our global network of 900 sportsbook operators to provide a new means of experiencing the excitement and drama of Germany’s biggest soccer league.
There are an estimated one billion Bundesliga fans worldwide and for operators wanting to connect with them, we’ve simplified the integration process of Virtual Sports Bundesliga. The solution is available to operators via our remote gaming server (RGS). Once clients have integrated the RGS, new product rollouts are effortless and quick.
SBC: What technology are you using to deliver the partnership and drive fan engagement?
FW: Our portfolio of virtual sports betting products is powered by real sports data and features factual team strength parameters and player stats based on an artificial intelligence analysis of data from thousands of matches in our historic database. That provides customers with a sports betting experience that is as close to real-life as possible.
We had a team of 100 specialist data operators reviewing more than 3,500 Bundesliga matches from the last 10 years, editing video content into dynamic event clips such as players entering the pitch, scoring goals, or stepping up to take a penalty.
The video clips within the solution are surfaced via an AI and machine learning analysis of real sports data to deliver a realistic overall match perception. We use a sophisticated software component that, in real-time, stitches together the match video clips. This creates a vast bank of match highlights and avoids content repetition, which is key to maintaining engagement.
SBC: What effect do you think the new solution will have on the industry?
FW: I believe we will see greater demand amongst rights holders for virtual betting solutions as a means to market their brands to fans worldwide. Virtuals provide a unique route to fan engagement and offer a platform to access the sport, the players and the action. Additionally, the gamification of virtual sports betting makes it a softer entry point for those leagues and federations reluctant to enter sports betting directly.
For rights holders, they have the opportunity to grow their brand on a global level. And, even in territories where there are restrictions on betting and gambling, we have legitimate working relationships in place to ensure cut through. For example, state-owned lotteries in Azerbaijan, Hungary, Russia and Turkey offer our virtual solutions as part of a limited betting offering. These are countries in which rights holders may find it harder to achieve visibility and reach new or existing fans.
Additionally, partnering with us in this manner and engaging with fans in this way can enlarge the scope of adjacent businesses such as merchandising and content subscriptions.
For sportsbook operators, offering virtual sports betting products that are official and include club names, club badges and high-profile players can only increase customer dwell time and overall engagement with the product.
SBC: What’s the future of virtual sports betting?
FW: As with this past decade, innovation will be key. As pioneers of the industry, we don’t sit still – we’re continually innovating in the space to improve user experience and enhance engagement. I believe we’ll see an increase in officially branded content within virtual sports solutions as more rights holders follow the likes of Bundesliga International and MLB and move into this space.
Customers really engage with video content – it’s sticky and increases dwell time, so I believe we’ll see an increase in the use of real match footage. We’ll also see a trend towards In-Play Betting in the virtual space, further enhancing that ‘real-life sports betting’ experience.
Fast technical development will further blur the line between the virtual world and reality, especially when ultra-realistic 3D animations come into play. Technological advancements with Computer Vision, NFTs and the Metaverse will create opportunities within the virtual sports betting space.
Regulation and legislation will also be key factors in shaping the future of virtual sports betting. The growing amount of regulation and certification in place is a clear statement of the market’s potential for growth and should lead towards standardisation and harmonisation across different jurisdictions.
Frank Wenzig- Managing Director of Gaming at Sportradar