Live From CES: Monumental Sports’ Zach Leonsis Sees Opportunities in ‘Data Visualization and Data as Content’

Exec outlines ambitions for using Capital One Arena as a sports book

As a decade full of advanced analytics gives way to a future full of high-end graphics and sports-betting content in sports-video production, data is becoming one of sports media’s most valuable resources. At least, that’s the opinion of Zach Leonsis, SVP, strategic initiatives, Monumental Sports & Entertainment/GM, Monumental Sports Network.

Monumental Sports’ Zach Leonsis: “I think people will pay to increase access to data to become smarter fans and smarter betters, too.”

During a panel discussion at the Consumer Electronics Show on Tuesday, Leonsis was asked what he expects to be the biggest technological trend in sports over the next five years and, wearing his media and tech hats, responded, “Data visualization and data as content.

“If you watched the Major League Baseball Playoffs,” he continued, “you saw on home runs a launch angle of the ball off the bat. You saw the exit velocity. These are data points that exist on every single play in every single sport. You’re just not totally aware of all of them yet.”

For live sports production, technology vendors continue to develop solutions to help broadcasters tell the story of a game through data in more-efficient and entertaining ways. Leagues have invested in in-game tracking of players and their actions to learn more about them. And companies like Sportradar — in which Monumental Sports is an investor — is creating a wealth of data points around every single play and selling them back to leagues for their use. All of this data is shifting from being information useful to coaches and fans for better understanding of the game to offering pure monetization opportunities through sports betting as more and more states legalize the practice.

“In-play betting in Europe accounts for about 80% of betting activity,” noted Leonsis. “We’re about 20% in the U.S. because we are an immature market. I think that is going to shift over the next five years and be a much more important piece and that data is going to become more and more valuable. I think people will pay to increase access to data to become smarter fans and smarter betters, too.”

As sports betting grows more mainstream in the coming years, Leonsis sees this data feeding a hunger in fans that will call on sports teams, venues, and leagues to create more opportunities to engage in gambling-related content and experiences.

NBC Sports Washington is paving the way in this regard, broadcasting up to 20 Washington Wizards games with an alternative broadcast that focuses on in-game betting opportunities and watches the game through a gambler’s eye.

Leonsis revealed that Monumental Sports is experimenting with the idea of turning portions of the privately funded Capital One Arena into a sports book on days and times when the building is not in use for sports events or concerts.

“On an NFL Sunday,” he suggested, “let’s invite a lot of people into the arena for free, sell [food and beverage], and create an immersive community-wide virtual sports book. Capital One Arena will likely be the very first place in the entire Mid-Atlantic where you can place a legal sports bet. We’re really excited about that opportunity.”