Sportradar US claimed a victory in the fast-growing business of sports statistics Tuesday when the National Football League announced an exclusive partnership with the Minneapolis company.
The company, formerly known as SportsData, starting this fall will be the NFL’s distributor of official real-time scores, player statistics and play-by-play data. It will also organize and distribute Next Gen Stats, the data flowing from the NFL’s technology that uses chips to track a new category of precise statistics.
“There are chips going into shoulder pads, there will be chips in footballs,” said Rob Phythian, co-founder of Sportradar US. “We’re just at the tip of the iceberg.”
The deal comes on the heels of a similar partnership Sportradar US made with NASCAR in February.
Fueled by the rise of fantasy sports, sabermetrics, gambling and even data-driven fraud detection, sports statistics has become an increasingly sophisticated business, and Minneapolis is now home to one of two large players in the U.S. market.
The company was started in 2010 in a room at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul by two men who were frustrated customers of the sports statistics giant, Stats LLC.
Phythian, who co-founded Fantasy Football Weekly and the website FanBall, teamed up with Dave Abbott, the founding chief technology officer of Internet Broadcasting Systems, a company that built websites for TV stations. Together, the duo figured they could do a better job collecting and distributing sports data. They attracted local angel investors to get going.
Sports stats companies get their data by two methods. They can partner with a league or association to collect and distribute official numbers from statkeepers at the site of the competition, or they must watch the competition on television or online and keep track of stats themselves.
Sportradar US started by paying college students to watch sporting events and enter stats meticulously into the company’s database. Today, from an office in downtown Minneapolis, it continues to employ many part-time statkeepers. Every night, a room with 140 stations of TV monitors and computer screens fills up as the puck drops or the first pitch is thrown at contests all over the country.
The system of feeds built by Abbott and the firm’s developers allows the firm to sell the stats to customers who need the data. In the early days, the customers were fantasy sports leagues.
Later, Google became a customer after executives were impressed by the quality of Abbott’s software. Then, Facebook and Twitter became customers. Now NBC, IBM and Turner Sports are customers.
The founders knew they needed a large strategic partner in order to make deals directly with the leagues, and their local investors wanted a payoff. In 2013, SportsData was acquired by the Swiss stats giant Sportradar. Abbott and Phythian retained an equity stake in the firm, which now has 70 full-time employees and 150 part-time workers.
The new multiyear deal with the NFL — the league asked Sportradar not to disclose the terms but the Sports Business Journal reported it is for four years with the NFL investing in the company — will give the firm access to all the traditional official NFL stats, but also location-based Next Gen Stats data such as player speed, acceleration and distance traveled.
The deal is a direct strike against Stats, which previously handled the NFL’s data distribution. “Hopefully one of many,” Abbott said.