TMR Q&A: nVenue CEO Kelly Pracht Talks “Fan Intelligence”

Texas-based nVenue is a sports betting platform that uses machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) to generate in-game predictive data and probabilities, producing real-time stats and graphics for leagues, teams and broadcast partners as well as creating “micro-bet” opportunities for immediate fan engagement.

Founded in 2018 by CEO Kelly Pracht, CFO Drew Williams and CPO Bruce Sears, nVenue is one of seven 2023 cohorts in the National Basketball Association‘s NBA Launchpad initiative, a program “to source, evaluate and pilot emerging technologies that advance the NBA’s top priorities on and off the court.”

Since 2021, the company has been a portfolio company of the Comcast NBCUniversal Sports Tech Accelerator, a “sports technology program connecting innovative startups with the resources to change the game.”

In August, nVenue became NASCAR’s first official micro-betting partner, collaborating directly with the sanctioning body to design and develop in-race odds for delivery to NASCAR fans via sportsbooks and operators. These in-race markets include unique betting windows such as stage results, qualifying, pit-road betting opportunities and more.

nVenue leverages official live racetrack data along with historical race data points to generate predictions and odds for each race and driver. These newly developed micro-betting opportunities unleash thousands of additional ways for fans to engage throughout a single race.

Thanks to these and other partnerships, combined with raising more than $8.4 million in funding, the company now stands at 15 employees.

We asked Pracht, a former HP Enterprise executive, to break down the company’s fancentric triangulation of tech, fan engagement and live game data.

 

Team Marketing Report: How does one go from supercomputers to sports data and gambling as a career choice?

Kelly Pracht: Combining sports with tech was always my destiny. Having lived and loved sports for a lifetime, it was only natural as a technologist solving significant tech needs in the world that I would think about (and ultimately find) ways to apply those skills to the betterment of the games I love.

For years, I had a clear vision that sports would become more and more interactive and would desperately need tech to make that happen—then the repeal of PASPA fast-forwarded everything! But above all, I thought it would be cool to solve sports problems instead of nuclear simulations or global weather patterns because working in sports is just…fun!

TMR: nVenue is much more a tech company than a sports gambling platform. Explain the elevator pitch that has worked with leagues like MLB and the NBA.
Pracht

KP: nVenue, at its core, is a predictive engine built for live sports. During a live game, our tech takes real-time data coming from the field, uses artificial intelligence to forecast future plays, applies machine learning algorithms built from historical data, and generates probabilities and odds for the possible outcomes of the following plays, downs, pitches, free throws, or laps.

Artificial intelligence, which we call “fan intelligence,” identifies what is interesting and exciting about each play so that media or sportsbooks can curate and deliver the most relevant and engaging moments for watching and betting (as micro-betting).

nVenue technology does all of this in under a second and at a tremendous scale—making it what we call “supercompute for sports” to make real-time engagement possible.

Why so much effort to predict the next plays and let people engage and bet? Staying ahead of the game and in touch with what millions of fans want from in-game experiences is a tremendous win-win-win for everyone involved—and it takes advanced tech like ours to do it.

TMR: The work with Apple and MLB has really shown the value of micro-betting. What are some of the lessons learned from the Friday Night Baseball partnership?

KP: Over the last two seasons with MLB Network for AppleTV+, our work has been a first-in-kind combination of live sports broadcast and persistent real-time predictive analytics. What was so significant about those little numbers you saw on screen every Friday night was the behind the scenes effort—an unprecedented alignment between nVenue (as the data provider of the predictive analytics), the production team, the broadcast, and the streaming service. We learned it takes this kind of alignment to bring big tech to life in sports.

We also learned a great deal from the viewers and their responses. With our numbers in front of millions, nVenue received a wealth of feedback. Many AppleTV+ Friday Night Baseball viewers loved the new broadcast look, feel, talent and on-screen live probabilities for each at-bat.

Everyone in the business of broadcasting live sports understands how passionate fans are about their teams, the game, what they see on-screen, who they hear, and how they watch. They talked. We listened. For example:

  • Avid fans often craved more insight, context and understanding about those numbers. “How can I find out more?” “Why did Lindor’s number go up and not down?” When we had the opportunity to explain and prove, we often won them over as they saw something enlightening in the new numbers.
  • Traditional old-schoolers sometimes preferred traditional stats and splits, but then also appreciated that Apple’s display of our numbers was not invasive to the game.
  • But the most significant learning was in a more extensive and quite different group of fans watching. New and casual fans exhibited acceptance and sincere enjoyment of the numbers: they appreciated the inclusion of easier-to-understand data drilled down into a simple probability.
If you’ve watched Apple’s MLB broadcasts, you’ve seen nVenue’s predictive data

These vastly different types of fans and feedback had one powerful thing in common: they wanted to talk about the numbers, express opinions, and display curiosity about what might happen. What we are seeing here is the beginning of new levels of engagement for a whole new audience—and this is why micro-betting and interaction with fans will thrive!

The next steps in broadcast will involve clearing the hurdles and telling those deeper stories from the analytics in three seconds or less without polluting the screen with too much information.

TMR: How do brands fit into the mix with the work you are doing? Any examples to cite?

KP: Creating authentic fan engagement opportunities is one element of our work that goes beyond betting. Traditionally, what we see on-screen or in-app is about the past and what just happened. Even stats are backward-looking. We say “Why talk about the past and what just happened? Why not use that data to look to the future?”

Our work with the NBA via the NBA Launchpad program painted an exciting picture of a powerful use case via free-to-play engagements. nVenue and the NBA introduced an entirely new fan experience within NBA International League Pass during the Finals last season. No marketing. No frills. No prizes. Simply, the opportunity to decide which team would be the next to score 15 points, with real-time probabilities populating and updating with every score and possession change.

In just four games, our interactive overlay reached more than 70,000 unique sessions; the app took over 280,000 “micro-bets,” leading to a 60 percent increase in viewing time compared to viewers not interacting with the analytics.

A win for the fan. A win for the league. And we all see a potential win for the brands. Our predictive content can enhance the existing value of the digital assets of a team or league. Unique, fun, interactive games like our pilot with the NBA tease the opportunity to generate additional revenue from sponsor-able assets.

Imagine a power play predictor powered by your local energy company…or a home run predictive game for in-suite at the stadium powered by a local network. The opportunities are endless.

TMR: Lastly, a lot of folks seem to have a fear of AI. How does the work nVenue is doing show positive usage of AI for sports, teams, leagues and media?

KP: nVenue technology is the most straightforward use of AI: we solve existing needs. Our technology helps fans, bettors, sportsbooks and media get information and insights lightning fast and at a scale far beyond what a human could do in the time it takes to watch a pitch go by.

Pracht (center) with nVenue team members, fellow cohorts and NBA staff at an NBA Launchpad event

Think about it. Most technology on our smartphones solves the needs we had before the existence of that particular app or website. Physical maps previously helped us get from point A to B without getting lost—but now our phone does that faster and better. Finding food and searching for the right place to eat is not new—but with technology at our fingertips, we explore restaurants by location, types of cuisine, costs, reviews, and then the capability to take action by ordering or reserving. All in far less time than if done manually.

Getting rides. Booking travel. Dating. News. Playing games. Buying stocks. Selling goods. Following sports scores. All of these satisfy what people “do” but incorporate technology to do it faster and better.

The nVenue technology is another extension of solving human needs, but around sports interactions with the game. Because a lot of fans are watching sports—and betting, and talking, and bantering, and engaging over those next plays. We simply provide the “fuel” for those needs to happen! This is a pretty big deal!

We are only beginning—our innovations include dozens of AI/ML features that promote relevant and in-context bets, accuracy amplification, integrity awareness and features that ultimately drive higher ROIs for our partners!

 

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