18 June 2010 12:28

Michael Goldman chats to Bill Squadron about Bloomberg Sports

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Michael Goldman is a senior lecturer in marketing at the University of Pretoria's Gordon Institute of Business Science. He teaches, researchers and consults in a number of areas, including Sports Marketing and Sponsorship and hosts the regular GIBS & Moneyweb Business of Sport podcast series.

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    MICHAEL GOLDMAN:  Some people may recall the advertising campaign that Ogilvy created for SuperSport a few years ago around the idea that the more you know, the better it gets.  Today we talk to Bill Squadron, a seasoned telecommunications and sports and media executive in the US who is taking this basic idea to new heights, as head of the recently launched Bloomberg Sports.  Bill you've recently started Bloomberg Sports and it really puts together Bloomberg, which is well known in the financial space and the sports environment.  How did you put these two together - it sounds like an odd combination.

    BILL SQUADRON:  Well it may seem odd at first flush, but when you look at it even for a moment or two everyone will find the connection to be absolutely so logical that it almost seems like it should have happened years before.  As you know Bloomberg has the worlds leading technology for financial analytics, and the visualisation and all the kinds of services that it provides the financial industry and of course sport being so data intensive and statistically oriented and increasingly so as people have looked at analysis of performance and projection as the way to understand the game both from a fan standpoint and from a professional standpoint, applying the core Bloomberg technology and all of the intellectual property and assets that it has built up over the years and that we now provide for financial services.  When you apply that to the sports field, you can create all kinds of value that really has never been accomplished before and we're able to provide both on a professional basis and to span tremendous insight into the game and baseball course that we've launched, but as we move into other sports too, potentially applying that technology to sports data will yield the same kind of value for both professionals and for fans.

    MICHAEL GOLDMAN:  Sure - in a way that you're taking the magic of what happens on the field, and you're really providing a scientific basis for understanding it.

    BILL SQUADRON:  Yes and of course no matter what we do with data it will never detract from the magic which is really what sport is all about and it's why we all love sports - the unpredictability of it, the fantastic upset - the underdog that comes through - that's what makes sports so special.  But one of the things that also makes sports interesting and fun is to be able to dig behind the numbers, understand performance, understand how different athletes have performed in different circumstances and of course from a professional standpoint - be able to make the decisions that are necessary for your operations and evaluate your own business - which of course - sports is a business at that level.  It's critical to have really good sound analytics and what we're able to do is provide that at a level that's never been done before.

    MICHAEL GOLDMAN:  You mentioned the professional product and the consumer product, and you seem to have both - both an extensive professional product for clubs, and then a lighter version for fans and for fantasy players.  What can we expect to see within those two broad areas of products?

    BILL SQUADRON:  Well for the Professional side the focus is of course on giving professionals - whether it's a team, a club organisation, a league, a broadcaster, an agent representing a player, perhaps even the athlete him or herself the tools that they need to do their job and that may mean the ability to analyse or match up coming forward, team versus team, player versus player - it may mean the ability to understand relative performance for the purpose of contract negotiation or league management -all these things are part of our professional tools and allow you to dig very deeply into looking at comparative performance, by historical performance and of course, it's kept up to the minute and it is comprehensive, so it has all the data in the context of baseball from the minor leagues, from college baseball as well as the major leagues that we'll have the most complete database possible segmented and processed in the most sophisticated way possible.  So professionals can do their job like never before...

    MICHAEL GOLDMAN:  On the professional side it sounds like that's going to provide some clubs a serious competitive advantage...

    BILL SQUADRON:  Well our approach of course is to offer it to everyone and with baseball, 28 out of the 30 teams are using it now, so we expect that the competitive advantage will continue to be the wisdom, judgement, use of the tools - we expect to provide the same tools to everyone, and then of course like today, those clubs that have creative ways of understanding how to use the tools and applying them will have the edge.  But everyone should have the same basic toolset.

    MICHAEL GOLDMAN:  And then you're providing the edge also to fans and to fantasy players

    BILL SQUADRON:  Yes, so on the consumer side we found that increasingly fans want to understand more and more about their favourite team and of course, fantasy sports has become an increasingly large and popular activity around the globe, even through the economic downturn it was a market that was growing.  So what our tools do is give fans and fantasy players the ability to compare players, pick their teams, manage their rosters, replace players who are injured, make trades in ways that are both much more insightful that any tools that are out there, but also more fun.  But you know, Bloomberg is truly expert at visualising data and providing charts, graphs and other really compelling visuals associated with the data, and so we expect the tools, and we're hearing this a lot in terms of feedback we've now gotten, are a lot of fun in addition to being interesting and insightful for the game.  So we hope that this is not going to be about dry statistics, but rather a really fun way of enjoying the sport.

    MICHAEL GOLDMAN:  Your Bloomberg Sports fantasy tool is priced in South Africa under R200, which is quite reasonable for a season.  Has the uptake been quite strong in the US?

    BILL SQUADRON:  Yes, we're very pleased with how we started.  We have priced it to be affordable - in US Dollars our entire combined draft preparation and season service is $32 and right now, now that the draft period is over we're offering the season service for only $25 - so we wanted to make sure it was affordable to baseball fans everywhere.  There are more than 10 million fantasy players and obviously of course much more baseball fans around the United States and outside the United States where we expect that the people being able to follow their teams with the use of our tools and the Internet obviously touches everybody everywhere.  The tools are web-based and very easy to get into, we're in partnership with Major League Baseball Advance Media, so our product is co-branded, MLB.com and Bloomberg Sport and we're very pleased with how it has gotten off the ground.

    MICHAEL GOLDMAN:  Sure - from a marketing point of view, this is Bloomberg Sports first ever consumer product - has this meant a change in the way that the offering was developed, and the marketing - is it a different kind of marketing team with different competencies and have the approaches to go into market been quite different to the rest of Bloomberg's offerings?

    BILL SQUADRON:  I would say there have been differences and our sports group has been working very closely with the marketing team here at Bloomberg and with some outside help as well to come up with an effective marketing campaign on the consumer side and it is a little bit of new territory for the company.  But we're very pleased with how we've gotten out of the gate.  Of course we have to do both because we're also marketing to the professional side of baseball and so we really had to do a marketing effort which, on the one hand is very consistent with traditional Bloomberg market outreach to the professional world, and then on the other hand, as you say something a little bit new which is reaching out to consumers but I have to say, it's gone very smoothly.  We've gotten great feedback - we've just recently engaged Keith Hernandez who is a very popular former major league baseball player announcer here now.  He is doing a new campaign for us, which we call ‘Mustrash Talk' because he has a very prominent and well-known moustache and trash talk in fantasy sport is one of the most popular pastimes if you're a fantasy player, and if you go to Bloomberg Sports on YouTube you can see Keith Hernandez on Mustrash Talk or if you go to BloombergSports.com right now you can see him talking about it.  So we're doing a bunch of things which are meant to be informative for the consumer, but also fun and we think that the campaign with Keith Hernandez is going to further that.

    MICHAEL GOLDMAN:  The main part of it seems to be public relations and publicity.  This is something new for Bloomberg to move into that space.  How have you thought about using PR as part of a marketing strategy?

    BILL SQUADRON:  Well we've tried to get the word out and raise awareness about what we're doing as broadly as we can and as you say when you're reaching out to consumers, it's a much broader base - we're talking about tens of millions of baseball fans around the country so we do need to have an effective outreach to let people know about the product.  And of course as you also know, Bloomberg is synonymous with expertise in financial services and data, but it is the new name in sport and it's important that we let people know that we're now, we hope, adding value to their sports experience - giving them something fun to do.  So we have done a number of things to raise awareness.  One of the things that was particularly effective is we brought baseball bloggers here to Bloomberg headquarters just before the launch - we gave them a sneak preview of what we were doing, access to the product and we were very gratified because they went out and wrote very positive things about what we were offering and that helped a lot in terms of getting out the word.

    MICHAEL GOLDMAN:  You've kicked off with baseball, as you said - with the deal with Major League Baseball Advanced Media - what's next in the pipeline and perhaps for our listeners here in South Africa, will you be looking for some other markets besides the US in time?

    BILL SQUADRON:  Yes, absolutely - right now we're very focused on baseball.  Needless to say we're only a few months old and out of the gate and we want to be sure that we're not distracting our attention from getting introduced into the sports world as best as possible.  But we're very focused on baseball, but certainly the vision is to the major sports and certainly outside the US because you know Bloomberg is a worldwide company and a worldwide brand - well regarded on all continents, and of course, we would like to extend that to the sports side as well so we're absolutely looking at that as part of the vision.  But at this moment, we're focused very much on baseball.  We're looking at what the next steps would be, but we're not quite yet prepared to say what the next sport will be yet.

    MICHAEL GOLDMAN:  Sure, so nothing in time for the FIFA World Cup in South Africa?

    BILL SQUADRON:  We would love to have been able to do that, but we want to be sure we're doing things right and we didn't want to rush anything.  We can't say we didn't look at that - it was quite tempting but we just didn't really have the time to do it and make sure we had the right focus on baseball.

    MICHAEL GOLDMAN:  Sure - Brazil is only in four years time, it's OK...

    BILL SQUADRON:  That's definitely in our sights.

    MICHAEL GOLDMAN:  Another thing that's in your sights seems to be the space of fantasy sports leagues - and that's really where you've attached your tool in the consumer space.  Is that a business area that you see growing very quickly and have you had to work really hard to understand that space?  I know the Bloomberg people play in the fantasy leagues just in their spare time, but is that something as a business you've really had to understand?

    BILL SQUADRON:  We did a lot of research looking at it and what we concluded was that the fantasy sports market was one that was growing and was growing in multiple directions and had enormous potentials - already a billion dollar plus industry and what it really reflects is how fans want to get closer to the sport, participate themselves - it touches their competitive streak, it's very social, the internet and social networks like Facebook and Twitter are perfectly suited to fantasy leagues where friends can interact with each other, where people can play other interested fans that they don't know and there's all kinds of talk because back and forth between them, so it's really a terrific way for fans to get closer to the sport, and it's a growing area and people spend money on it, which of course is what's important from a commercial standpoint.  So we do feel that the fantasy industry is one that we can help grow and we can add to and really see us playing a major role in it, and in fact one of the things that we did get launched, was we created a fantasy league with a partner FantasySportsVentures.com where we did a Bloomberg challenge.  We had six baseball experts compete against six regular fans who we chose from a paragraph they each wrote in, saying why they should be selected - and at the moment in that league of 12 participants, six experts, six regular players - is a taxi driver from London that is beating the pants off of all the baseball experts from here in the United States.  We're rooting hard for him - we hope he stays on top.

    MICHAEL GOLDMAN:  It does seem that as you role out perhaps into other sports, and in the fantasy sports space, that one of the things that will be important is how much data is coming from the actual sports property from the federation, from the teams and baseball was a great place to start - but perhaps if you look across some of the other federations, there is less data rich spaces within sport?

    BILL SQUADRON:  It's a very good question and you're absolutely right that baseball has an extraordinary reservoir of information and statistics.  We have for example information on every single pitch that's grown with respect to its velocity, its trajectory, its location, how it cross the play, the results of that pitch and we have that historically, so we have an enormous amount of information that we can then apply our technology to and break down and analyse and provide useful information professionally and to consumers.  Each sport of course has its own bed of information.  What we found though is we've begun to look at other sports is that even with respect to sports that would seem to have a thinner layer of total data, by applying the kind of analytics that we have developed over time with the financial industry, we can add a lot of insight and value - that people really never observed before so we're actually quite confident that even with respect to sports where it would seem the less data deep than baseball, we can create a lot of value with out technology.

    MICHAEL GOLDMAN:  We appreciate you joining us on the line from New York Bill - we hope that all is well in New York today and good luck for the rest of the baseball season and with Bloomberg Sport's performance.

    The SAfm Market Update with Moneyweb is broadcast on SAfm 104-107fm, weekdays at 18:00 to 18:30.
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