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Canadian Football League Turns To Genius Sports To Help Monetize Betting Data

James Murphy
by in CFL on
  • The Canadian Football League (CFL) has announced a deal with Genius Sports to leverage their betting data to extend the international reach of the league.
  • The longterm deal will begin in 2022 and will give Genius Sports exclusive worldwide data and streaming video rights to monetize CFL content with sportsbooks.
  • Genius Sports has similar data partnerships with a variety of sports leagues including the National Football League (NFL), English Premier League (EPL) and NASCAR.

Betting data is big business. In fact, it might be the best segment of the business to be in–at least at this point in the game. Here’s what I said about it just a couple of days ago:

As the US sports betting industry continues to grow despite fits and starts caused by boneheaded regulators and meddlesome politicians one of the clear winners has been providers of sports betting related data. This is a phenomenon witnessed during the early days of the Internet–as a variety of companies with a myriad of use cases battled for relevance, financing and market share companies that created the ‘plumbing’ of the Internet such as Akamai were among the first to become profitable. A similar dynamic is now at play in the sports betting ecosystem in North America. Data providers are able to avoid many of the headaches of sportsbooks such as regulation, taxation, client acquisition, etc. Although there is competition in this space, they’re not having to fight for every customer–instead, every company looking to operate a sportsbook–as well as many other types of companies such as sports media providers–need the data and other resources they provide.

The sports leagues–big and small–have a myriad of data to monetize and sportsbooks aren’t the only customers. There’s the media, video game creators, streaming video and basically anyone else willing to scratch out a check for a deep dive into their statistical models. For big sports organizations like the National Football League (NFL) it represents a massive cash grab. The league’s new data partnership with Genius Sports has been estimated to be worth as much as $1 billion USD over the life of the contract. For lower profile leagues, it can be a way to leverage sports betting to expand the popularity of their sport. In the past year, Major League Rugby and even the Pro Pickleball League have inked betting data distribution deals. You shouldn’t assume that this is all a big goof–don’t forget that during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic table tennis became the biggest betting sport in the world. Even with all of the sports back in business, it still draws a ton of action. In Colorado during September 2021 more money was bet on table tennis than golf, MMA and hockey. It was just a few million USD behind soccer, tennis and basketball.

On a personal level, one sport that definitely entered my consciousness due to sports betting is the Canadian Football League (CFL). I had only a peripheral concept that such a thing existed growing up and it was only when I got involved with fairly serious handicapping and betting that I started to learn about it. I learned not only that it was an excellent betting opportunity but a pretty entertaining brand of football. Through most of my handicapping career, I had a reputation as an expert on CFL betting and I quickly became a fan. I don’t know if the CFL ever did any research into the impact of sports betting on their popularity in the ‘lower 48’ but at least in my peer group there was an almost complete overlap between sports bettors and CFL fans. Granted, that could be due in large part to ‘self selection’ but you can make a pretty compelling case that sports betting was the CFL’s primary conduit of exposure worldwide.

Here’s some of the specifics of the deal:

Genius Sports Limited, the official data, technology and commercial partner that powers the ecosystem connecting sports, betting and media, today announced a landmark strategic partnership with the Canadian Football League (CFL)the second largest football league globally with over 100 years of history.

Genius Sports will provide a wide range of technology and services that will enable the CFL to accelerate its growth plans and engage new audiences around the world.

As part of the agreement, Genius Sports will have the exclusive rights to commercialize the CFL’s official data worldwide and video content with sportsbooks in international markets, replicating the global distribution and success of its official betting products for the EPL and NFL, among others. In connection with the partnership, in addition to the official data rights agreement, Genius Sports and the CFL have also agreed that Genius Sports will acquire a minority stake in CFL Ventures, the new commercial arm of the League, allowing the Company to benefit strategically and financially from the CFL’s growth.

This partnership will help facilitate the CFL’s growth ambitions, expanding its audience in the U.S., while extending its reach into new international markets. Genius Sports will help the CFL to capitalize on the growth of the North American sports betting market, maximizing revenue and engagement opportunities.

The fact that Genius Sports is taking an equity stake in the league is interesting. Typically, it’s the other way around with the sports organization getting a minority stake in the data distributor and/or sportsbook. Here’s some more about the deal–I’ve highlighted another interesting point:

The CFL will be provided with one of the widest and most innovative data ecosystems in world sport, transforming its relationships with fans, sportsbooks, and media in North America and globally. Bringing together its recent acquisitions of Second Spectrum, Spirable, FanHub and Sportzcast, Genius Sports will power the entire CFL digital infrastructure. This will include live broadcast augmentation, advanced data tracking tools, highly targeted and personalized fan engagement solutions, cross-platform streaming capabilities, play-by-play and scoreboard data collection technology, coaching analytics products, and integrity services to safeguard the league.

From the sound of it, Genius Sports will take over all fan facing digital assets–website, streaming, etc. Presumably, they’ll also take over the stuff ‘behind the scenes’. This isn’t unprecedented–when Turner Sports first got into the Internet game they provided a similar service for Major League Baseball and NASCAR. Now the sports betting data provider is supplying the ‘one stop shop’ for technology.

The CFL took a hard hit during the pandemic–they’re similar to minor league hockey in that the majority of their revenue is from ‘game day’ sources such as tickets, concessions, parking, etc. The TV deal doesn’t ‘pay the freight’ like it does for the NFL, NBA, etc. Randy Ambrosie, Commissioner of the Canadian Football League, has been looking at ways to diversify the league’s revenue streams and this is no doubt a good one:

“Our partnership with Genius Sports has the potential to launch a new era for the CFL. It provides access to the technology and tools we need to engage our existing fans, and reach new ones, in exciting, innovative and highly customized ways. This goes beyond transforming our marketing. It can redefine our relationship with fans, partners and other key stakeholders, here in Canada and globally.”

Mark Locke, CEO of Genius Sports, clearly understands that the partnership with the CFL could be the model for any number of similar deals in the future:

“By providing the CFL with an incredible range of sports technology solutions, Genius Sports is setting a new precedent for sports partnerships. Together, we will revolutionize the entire CFL product, delivering truly immersive experiences for their existing fans and attracting new audiences who crave year-round, top-flight football action.”

This is going to be very interesting to watch. It wouldn’t take much for the CFL to bring in more revenue as a betting product than it does from legacy sources. Also watching this very closely will be the top tier of professional sports leagues like the NFL and English Premier League. The fragmentation of the broadcasting landscape has already weakened the hand of the legacy TV networks and with sports betting creating a new and lucrative revenue stream the leverage is shifted even further in favor of the ‘content provider’ aka the sports leagues.

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