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Q&A: Bill Squadron Has Redefined What It Means To Play Sports By The Numbers

You may not know it, but if you are a sports fan, you likely have crossed paths with – and may even want to say thank-you to – Bill Squadron.

At Sportvision, he led the push to use enhanced digital technology to improve the TV viewing experience for fans. Innovations included the Virtual Yellow 1st & Ten line; Pitch f/x, which highlights the flight of a baseball; and Fox Trax, which turns a black hockey puck into a luminescent color and enables viewers to watch its journey and in Nascar where it pinpoints drivers and enhances viewer experience by breaking down in-race stats and information.

Squadron is now overseeing Bloomberg Sports, which in their two-plus years in existence has helped to redefine the business of data analytics for both fans and for teams.

To coincide with the new NFL season, Bloomberg Sports launched “Decision Maker 2011,” a Web-based and mobile interactive fantasy football application that uses Bloomberg’s analytic tools to advise fantasy football players on their best starting lineup each week.

Squadron, whose resume also includes Commissioner of the NYC Department of Telecommunications under Mayor David Dinkins and currently as the president of OurEnergyPolicy.org., spoke with Big Lead Sports about the growth of data in real and fantasy sports.

Big Lead Sports: What has been the biggest driver for Bloomberg Sports expansion in football and baseball?

Bill Squadron: Most importantly, there continues to be a growing demand and appetite for interesting and valuable data in sports. On the consumer side we learned early on that engagement in the fantasy space is tribal.  Whether it works or not, people do the same thing year after year and it is very hard to break that habit.  By providing a quality product we were able to start gaining peoples trust and market share, and that has led to our growth.

On the professional side, it is no secret that teams have made huge investments in players and need the best possible tools to evaluate that investment. Advances in technology, especially with the introduction of tablets and the ability to stream high-speed video, has really helped advance the business.  Bloomberg is a leader in data analysis, and our tools have shown to be the most adaptable and diverse in the marketplace for teams, and now our video product is proving very popular among players as well.

BLS: What is the biggest lesson the company has learned with regard to the fantasy marketplace?

BS: That quality, ease of use and mobility are key. You have to be able to deliver a diverse product not just to a core fan base but to a casual fan who plays fantasy as well, all at a price that justifies a spend. It can’t be too complex and it must deliver on what it says and it must also be mobile in order to stand out. The last key piece is customization – by being the only analytics provider that is integrated with a fantasy player’s league, we can make recommendations that are specific to that player, which has proven to be extremely valuable..

BLS: As a startup, albeit with a big brand, what was the biggest surprise you found in the consumer business?

BS: That many people knew the Bloomberg brand with regard to the financial markets, which gave us a big boost, but we also learned very quickly that transfer of loyalty to a new consumer tool around sports still demanded that Bloomberg earn that extended loyalty in sports..

BLS: Bloomberg Sports is the exclusive statistical analytics partner of MLB.com. How many baseball teams are now using your information?

BS: Right now we have 19 MLB clubs using the tools, and a number of Latin American teams. This year we have continued to add new features the teams have suggested and as a result we are continuing to build our customer base.  We will keep upgrading the system and providing Bloomberg-level customer support and service, and I believe our customer base will continue to grow.

BLS: The iPad is becoming more of an important tool in sports, and Bloomberg Sports launched a tablet product for players. What does that tell you how important it is for teams to incorporate the latest technology?

BS: It is something we could not have predicted when we started this a few years ago, but it shows how quickly the marketplace has adopted this technology. The product we have been able to deliver to players on their tablets has really been a game changer, because now they can get customized, streaming video to prepare for their next game wherever they are and whenever they want. The video coordinators on the teams do a great job, and our Pitch Review service will allow them to support the players not just in the clubhouse but any time, any place.

BLS: Why did you sign Maurice Jones-Drew (pictured) as a spokesperson for the football “Decision Maker” and would you look to use MLB players as spokespeople?

BS: We try to find partners whose experience aligns well with our products. We have worked with Rick Peterson with our baseball product and it has gone very well because he is so highly regarded for his analytical approach. MJD was a perfect fit for us because of his well-known expertise in fantasy and the time he spends in that space. We also added radio host and fantasy football guru Anita Marks as a spokesperson for football, and she is terrific to work with.

As far as baseball goes next year, we know that players love the product we have created for them, so using players as spokespeople is a possibility, but we will look at that and all options in the offseason.

BLS: When do you see expanding your technology and expertise to other sports?

BS: We have focused on perfecting our baseball and football products and establishing Bloomberg’s value to sports professionals and fans, and we are now beginning to look at the next sports to enter. We continue to get great interest from leagues and athletes, both domestically and internationally, eager to explore how we can enhance operations and offer fans fun, interesting products in their sports.

BLS: Can you project what revenue will be at the end of the baseball season and if/when the baseball business will be profitable?

BS: As a private company we don’t disclose such figures. But I will say we are very pleased with the subscriber and financial growth from year one to year two in baseball and are very pleased with our numbers for football and expect substantially more football sales since our product is an in-season, sit/start tool.  The advance of mobile apps has been huge for us, and we will continue to look at all revenue streams as our business grows.

BLS: Are there other revenue streams – advertising, licensing, promotions – that Bloomberg Sports plans to pursue?

BS: Yes, for sure. These are all potential revenue streams. I would point out that ING Direct is sponsoring our Decision Maker product this season on NFL.com and on mobile devices. We are also looking into the casual gaming experience and fan products as add-ons for baseball, as well as developing additional tools for broadcasters, teams and other entities.

BLS: How has this experience been similar or different to what you did at Sportsvision?

BS: Any time you have a startup, there are challenges, both predicted and unforeseen.  It is certainly different having the resources of a great company like Bloomberg behind this effort, where Sportvision was a pure start-up. The most similar thing – and what is most rewarding for me and our team in both places – is breaking new ground, with the yellow line, K Zone and Nascar system at Sportvision, and the next level of data and analytics for professionals and fans here at Bloomberg.

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