First things first, I am not a fantasy sports guy per se. I love stats and hoops is really my thing, but I am always looking for intriguing new ideas, and how they can apply to either what I am doing or how they may apply to sports as a business overall. Having been at Columbia and as a solid citizen of New York, I am also well versed in what the Bloomberg brand has done in building a multibillion dollar company based on analysis of stocks, and know that the Mayor and those who now run his company usually don't get involved in businesses that won't work out or have an end goal.
So when I heard a few months ago that Bloomberg (the company, not Bloomberg The Mayor) was launching a sports product, I wanted to find out more; not for me really, but for anyone who wants to follow a team or specific players during the season that starts in a few weeks. And for what this could mean for any sports-related business where stats are involved.
I gave the product a test spin: It looks great, has the ability to gather news from thousands of sources, and offers real time statistical updates and customer service. Still, I wanted to find out more.
The result is the following Q+A with Bill Squadron, who is running the day to day operations for Bloomberg Sports. Bill has an interesting background, one that any sports fan these days is very familiar with. He was one of the founders of SportVision, the company that created the yellow first down line for football, brought amazing technology to enhance NASCAR and created the K Zone for baseball, all products that are essential to watching any sporting event today (he said there was also a product I would have loved, measuring the vertical leap of an NBA player, but much to my chagrin, it never panned out). In any event here is a look at BloombergSports today. For a look at the product, check out BloombergSports.com
PRC: Bloomberg is not known for consumer products and has never really been in sports; why now?
Bill Squadron: The essence of Bloomberg's business success is in technology innovation and statistical analysis, especially providing tools for extracting data to come to sound business conclusions. That extraction and refinement works, whether you are talking about finance or sports. The only difference really is that sports can be much more fun.
As far as why now, this decision was not made in a vacuum. For a considerable amount of time we have been looking at other applications which allow us to leverage our strengths as a company, which includes any sector that involves detailed statistical analysis. One logical connection is the sports industry, both for professionals and for the fantasy business, which is growing at a tremendous rate. We think this product, over time, will add great value for the fan just like our terminals have redefined business in the finance world.
PRC: What comprises Bloomberg's products?
Bill Squadron: We have designed, in partnership with Major League Baseball Advanced Media, a detailed statistical analysis system that will provide great value and insights for sports professionals and fans - not to mention being a lot of fun for fans to use. There are two products, one for the consumer and one for the professional team. The product for the consumer has a draft kit and season service. It gives the fantasy player the ability to manage his or her own data like never before and we think will bring more people into playing fantasy baseball, which will in turn help all in the industry. The pro product will be invaluable in helping teams determine any type of player matchup or transaction in the most efficient, detailed manner.
PRC: What distinguishes the team product from the consumer product?
Bill Squadron: While both reflect Bloomberg's core strengths of data aggregation and analysis, they are very different products. The team product is highly detailed to what the teams need and request to help them make personnel decisions. The consumer product is very interactive and will service both the casual and diehard fan with insights, whether he likes detailed breakdowns of all his favorite teams or if he is a dyed in the wool fantasy player. In short it will have anything and everything a fantasy player could ever wish for and will give the casual fan easy to follow and interesting content.
PRC: What makes this different from the thousands of statistical analysis sites that are now out there?
Bill Squadron: It allows fantasy players to make the smarter draft pick, select the right replacement when a player is injured, keep track of up-to-the-second news about their roster, evaluate trades - all in one tool, at lightning speed, with a couple of clicks. More than anything, this streamlines all the pieces of information that exist today, and takes the strength of the Bloomberg business...in-depth statistical analysis...and presents the product in a fashion and in real time like never before. It will have unparalleled speed, data aggregation, ease of navigation and outstanding customer support, all elements which don't exist in most fantasy applications today.
PRC: Have you started to talk to other sports where data is key, like the NBA?
Bill Squadron: There has been interest from almost all sports, both on the professional and the consumer side. Our focus right now is in introducing the baseball product, but at the same time we are having many conversations about what could be next for us. Professionals in almost every field are familiar with Bloomberg's quarter century of success in the business community, and the adaptation to any field where there is data that can be harvested and then presented back virtually in real time will make any sport more enjoyable for fans, and give those who are on the business side the freedom to concentrate on the big picture.
PRC: How long has it been in development and who developed it?
Bill Squadron: The product has been in development more than a year, and we have gotten extensive input from our partners at MLB and the teams to this point. It was developed by our core of engineers who work on the Bloomberg product for the financial world. They are always looking for opportunities to adapt our core business and find ways to assist the business needs of our customers. Many of our staff are also sports fans and play fantasy sports. They saw the ability to adapt existing data collection and analytical analysis that we do for finance to sports, and started to build the product.
PRC: Did the teams ask for such a product? Isn't there already too much analysis of baseball as is?
Information has great value, and our mission as a company is to give people the information they need to make their work and lives better and easier to navigate. We create the tools for people to use as it best serves their needs.
The teams did not ask originally. However we have met with almost all the teams to design a system that essentially fills holes that they have been seen in statistical analysis over the years, whether that is in scouting, game situations, or talent evaluation, and created essentially a one stop shop for any possible scenario that could arise in player evaluation. It takes into account not just statistics, but any possible trend in hitting, pitching or fielding that involves a player.
We do not feel there is too much analysis and we are not creating more formulas. What we have seen in sport, much like in the financial markets, is that there is a great deal of wasted time spent coming up with potential business scenarios, and by streamlining this process using a variation of the technology we have already created, the analysis becomes, more simple, time saving and concise. In short, it takes the guess work out of analysis and frees the professionals up to do what they do best, run the business of baseball with the best possible information at hand.
PRC: How many teams have signed up and what is the price point for them?
Bill Squadron: We are providing the teams a free trial of the service, after which we will commercialize the product and offer it for sale. Virtually every team is trying it now and giving us feedback from spring training through a good part of the season. We will be able to tailor the program to the needs of the end user for the teams, and are excited to be able to work with each one to make this the best product possible for them. We're not going to comment on pricing at this stage.
PRC: Do you worry at all that fans don't need all this information and that this is more superfluous than anything else?
Bill Squadron: Not at all. Baseball fans love statistical analysis and the insights and depth that come from it. It's one of the things that make the game fun for millions of people.
PRC: Do you think competing fantasy sites will actually endorse your product? Have you had talks with ESPN, Turner and FOX for example, on using the product as part of their fantasy offerings?
Bill Squadron: Our product is complementary to and supportive of all games out there for 2010, and will enhance the fantasy players experience no matter what platform they are on. We are willing and able to work with every media-branded game to promote the product, as we know that this successful launch will not only drive more interest in fantasy overall, but it will make it easier and more fun for people to play and play well, which in turn will bring more players for all.
PRC: How much money is there to be made in fantasy sports?
Bill Squadron: It's a big industry today and getting bigger, both domestically and globally. We think this product is a game changer that will drive more players to fantasy, and that increases the opportunities for all. It is said fantasy is a multibillion dollar business, and we don't think that is too far off, but we also think the business is just starting to grow globally, and baseball is a great opportunity as a starting point.
PRC: What are the next immediate steps that fans can look for?
Bill Squadron: Well the first is to try the product, which is available at BloombergSports.com. There is a draft kit and a season tool, which fans can purchase a la carte or in combination for a discount. We also have a great blog, led by Jonah Keri, where we are providing daily analysis using the tool, and we think that can also give fans a feel for what we are doing. That is our focus now.
Most importantly, we want fantasy players to understand that our tools will allow them to make better decisions, save them time and have fun doing it. We also want feedback from people on what we are doing and what we can do to best service our customers. At the end of the day people have many choices to spend their discretionary dollar, even in the fantasy landscape, and we want them to see this product as the best value bar none to enhance their following of a sport. It's a great challenge, but we think one that we will be able to meet with what we have built now, and will continue to build into the future.
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