Talking TEC with Gregor Smith, VP of Product – Betting, DAZN

While we are proud of the expertise we have in-house, we are equally proud to have some incredibly talented industry figures in our network of friends and clients. Over the next few months, we will be turning the spotlight on them, bringing you some of their many insights, knowledge and learnings covering a range technical disciplines in sports and live events in our new series “Talking TEC”. To kick things off, we spoke to Gregor Smith, VP of Product – Betting, DAZN.

Hi Gregor, Thank you so much for being our first guest in our new Talking TEC series! Over the best part of a decade, you have developed a career within digital product development in sports – how have the needs and expectations of sports consumers changed in that time and what have been your biggest challenges in developing products to meet them? 

I feel the generational gaps between sports fans are growing wider, meaning the needs and expectations of sports fans using the same products are very different.  Stark generational differences exist in device usage, lifestyles, the level of fandom, the thirst for content and data, the need for digital social integration, attention spans and the amount of disposable time available for sports consumption. This means we have challenges in creating product experiences that cater for all sports fans – where adding a new feature may delight one generation but clutter, confuse and drive away another. As a result, product development themes such as personalisation, customisation and education have never been more important.

More recently, the pandemic brought about seismic change and accelerated digital transformation in many industries. From a technology perspective, what has been your biggest learning from the impact of COVID and how do you think it changed the way that the sports and live events industry operates now?

My biggest learning was how the industry had clearly been sleeping on fan engagement around live events. It took empty stadiums to finally get the industry to properly focus on new ways to consume live events if you can’t physically be there.

Live sport became more accessible at home, where pay-per-view streaming, despite some ridiculous costs, has left many fans wondering why they’ve never been able to simply pay to watch their team when it suits them. Virtual ‘Watch Party’ experiences were born, where fans can watch along with their friends, fellow fans or even athletes and club legends themselves. Huge strides were taken in virtual reality stadium experiences, where for example the NBA allowed fans to watch from virtual courtside seats.

Along with the immense technological advances in reducing streaming latency, remote commentary and production and alternative camera views, sports fans are really going to benefit from how this new industry focus on living room fan engagement will super-charge their viewing experience.

You’ve recently joined DAZN as VP of Product for Betting – where does sport betting sit in DAZN’s strategic roadmap and how do you think a betting product will complement their existing sports content services? 

For us at DAZN, we are committed to revitalising the sports fans’ experience by delivering a range of rich digital entertainment. Revolutionising sports betting is just one aspect of that vision. 

For those who like to bet, we know it’s that feeling of having ‘skin-in-the-game’ that brings them an extra level of excitement which intensifies the thrill of watching live sport. This tight convergence of sports media and sports betting is the future, and we know that fans want a more immersive and integrated experience.

We will be looking to bring our subscribers primarily a safe and fun way to complement their love of live sport with a focus on recreational, gamified and social betting experiences.

From mobile apps and social media to in play betting, technology is now an integral part of the multi-layered live experience that fans expect.  In this context, what role does product development play in defining the overall experience and ensuring fans needs are met?

It’s product development that actually shapes these technological advances you mention. By having an in-depth understanding of how sports fans live and breathe means, as a product manager, you can really get into their heads, understanding what really motivates them, what triggers them to behave in a certain way and how their daily lives shape how they consume their sporting coverage, news, data, highlights, etc. With this deep understanding, you can start to identify problems and spin these into opportunities and then work with technologists to define innovative solutions.

It’s the product manager’s job to represent the customer and do everything they can to create experiences that not only solve problems and meet needs but truly delight their customers.

With the consumption habits of Gen Z fans pivoting away from live sports to shorter form, original content, how does a company like DAZN adapt and what sort of products can be developed to support the relationship with these fans?

You are right, the data is screaming loud and clear that Gen Z fans are consuming less longer-form live sport and in fact it’s clear that they are less interested in sports in general. It is absolutely essential to not ignore these trends and focusing on real-time distribution of snackable, mobile optimised clips and highlights is certainly key.

However, I am adamant that long-form live sport consumption is not ‘dead’ as some publications may preach! It’s just that the way these broadcasts are packaged up needs to change drastically. Streaming platforms are going to pave the way for this movement with the ability to bring fans together in social experiences, to allow data and insights at your fingertips, to change camera angles or commentators, to make predictions and play games to win prizes and of course to place bets.

All digital products are certainly facing a battle for the valuable attention of Gen Z customers, but instead of just accepting that they only want to consume shorter-form content, the sports industry should focus on complementing live sports with other experiences and behaviours that make them tick.

Thinking about the areas of the industry you work / have worked in, which do you think will have a bigger impact on sports and live events and why – 5G or Blockchain technologies? 

I think I have to say 5G! Obviously, there will be clear benefits to sports streaming speeds, quality and connectivity; however, I want to focus on how 5G can impact the live event experience. 

Not only will 5G alleviate everyday problems of not being able to send a WhatsApp message in a stadium, but it will allow you to stream instant highlights or to order food and beverages directly to your seat.

However, the most exciting advancement for me is in the augmented reality space which will literally add a whole new dimension to the fan experience. Think pointing your phone directly at a player to see their live stats, think having a watch along with your favourite club legend commentating pitch side, think playing an AR-based game against all the other fans in the stadium – the types of content-rich experiences you get in your living room now brought to Row Z!

Much like the live video streaming experience, the in-stadium experience will need to evolve to ensure that sport keeps capturing the hearts and minds (and attention!) of the latest generation of sports fans.

What other technologies or innovations or do you see shaping sports & live events over the next five to 10 years?

As a keen competitor myself, I really hope that we continue to see innovation in the space of wearables and sensors, specifically for amateur athletes. We’ve seen what the likes of Strava has done for runners and cyclists, allowing them to track their statistics and trends and compare them to not only their friends and direct competitors, but to elite athletes.

In the next 5-10 years I see all sporting equipment and clothing – clubs, bats, balls, boots, gloves, shirts coming equipped with sensor technology, allowing amateur athletes to create their own profiles of statistical insights even in some of the most complex of sports. If someone can produce something affordable for the everyday competitor, then they will be onto a winner. 

I also predict that we will continue to see the rise in affordable camera technology being installed at recreational sports grounds, allowing live footage of every level of sport to be broadcast across the globe, with AI technology being able to produce live stats and insights.   

It really could transform the way we amateur athletes play, enjoy and improve at our favourite sports. I just hope my knees hold up so I can experience this for myself!   

Finally, what advice would you give someone interested in pursuing a career in product development in sports?  

Potentially the biggest cliche heard in product development is “know your customer” – but it’s true.Don’t just assume that being a sports fan yourself means you know how a sports fan thinks, taking that for granted can be the biggest mistake you make, and you will end up building a product for yourself and not for your target audience.

Do everything you can to speak to your audience, observe them in their chosen habitats and take time to understand their motivations, triggers and lifestyles. Only from there will you then be truly able to understand what experiences you should investigate to create.

For those looking for a start in product management in the sports industry, be passionate about putting the sports fan first and solving problems that will enhance their love for the game, whatever game that may be.