Our aim is to become the largest sports data, tech and content company in the world: Sportz Interactive COO Sanket Sawkar

Based in Mumbai, Sportz Interactive is has played an integral role in the sports ecosystem over the last two decades, particularly with their involvement in The Olympics, FIFA World Cup, UEFA Euros/Champions League, ICC Cricket World Cup/T20 World Cup and Indian brands like the Indian Premier League, Pro Kabaddi, Indian Super League, TATA Mumbai Marathon and numerous other sports events. 

In this exclusive interview, Sanket Sawkar, Chief Operations Officer and Group Chief Technology Officer of Sportz Interactive speaks about the company’s journey so far, the growth and future of fantasy gaming, the impact of technology in the sports industry, evolution of data capture, how India is moving past cricket, overcoming challenges and his future goals.

Q.1)  As COO of Sportz Interactive, who's been with the company since inception, tell us about the company's journey so far?

Sportz Interactive began its journey in 2002 out of a garage in Mumbai with a small group of people who were passionate about sports. We first focused on collecting data and performing analytics for cricket, but since then, we've added more than 20 sports to our portfolio, including Formula 1, kabaddi, football, tennis, field hockey, basketball, kho-kho, and more. We now provide coverage for over 1500 games every month across key leagues and sports. While we scaled our coverage to more sports and more clients, we developed products such as the Match Centre which provides rich storytelling through data visualisations and interactivity for fans during live events.

Q.2) Fantasy Gaming is increasingly becoming a popular genre amongst the younger audiences. Please tell us your views on the growth and future of Fantasy Gaming in India?

There is no doubt that fantasy gaming is on the rise. From the early days of a simple ‘pick my team’ to more advanced gameplay, it is no surprise that this engaging fan activity is becoming increasingly popular even for newer and younger audiences. With the continuous advancement of technology, we can only expect the concept to become even more immersive and realistic. I believe that the future of fantasy gaming is extremely bright and I’m excited to see what the next generation of games has in store for us.

Q.3) With technology playing a bigger role in the sports industry at large, tell us your views about the importance of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning and its role in the evolution of the industry?

While there are many applications of AI and ML in different fields, I can personally relate to two that are also use cases for Sportz Interactive. The first is computer vision, which focuses on processing and extracting information from video and images, and the second is data science, which focuses on finding trends and patterns in data. We identify and categorise sporting occurrences in real-time using computer vision and its applications, which enables us to automate activities like the development of Automated Highlights. We employ data science and its applications to forecast future game outcomes based on probabilistic data models and natural language processing to ease user frustration while trying to conduct voice and free text searches across enormous databases of sporting events.

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Q.4) As Sportz Interactive has been involved in live scoring for over 20 years, tell us about the evolution of Data Capture?

Sportz Interactive provides data products such as live scores and statistics, deep-data analytics, fantasy research tools, and data-integrated video products such as video metadata tagging, automated video highlights, and video graphics for richer storytelling. The process of data capture has evolved a great deal. Earlier, data was captured manually by scorers who would sit on the sidelines and keep a track of the score. But now, with the help of technology, the data is captured automatically and sent to the central server in real-time. This has made the process of data capture much more efficient and accurate. This efficiency also positively impacts other aspects like providing quicker data for analysis before, during and after games on any platform (such as broadcast) or for real-time updates of your fantasy team. 

Q.5) According to you, how is the Indian sporting landscape evolving beyond cricket?

In India, cricket has been the primary sport for a very long time. However, there has been a gradual shift in the sports landscape of India with sports such as football, kabaddi and kho-kho also gaining popularity. This is evident from the fact that the Indian Super League (ISL) and Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) have become very popular in recent years. This has also led to an increase in the number of sports fans in India. 

Q.6) What are some of the biggest challenges that you have faced in your role at Sportz Interactive? How did you overcome them?

I’ve had a ringside view of the Sportz Interactive story right from inception and it has been a privilege to have seen through the challenges to get to where we are today. Whether it’s scaling the business over two decades or maintaining a high level of customer satisfaction or finding and nurturing the right talent, I have relished these challenges. To overcome them, the management team and I have always focused on building a strong company culture, investing in our players (we have no employees!), and implementing systems and processes that help us deliver a great sports fan experience time and again. 

Q.7) What are your future goals as COO and Group CTO of Sportz Interactive?

We are already in the middle of some premier sporting events such as the T20 World Cup and then the much-awaited football World Cup is right around the corner. And we will also start preparing for the next IPL season. Beyond these big-ticket extravaganzas, there are numerous events across the globe that Sportz Interactive will be involved with. We are at a very interesting juncture in our organisation’s journey where we are poised for the next big leap. Over the next five years, we aspire to be the largest Sports Data, Tech and Content Company in the world! The focus is going to be on international expansion where we are aiming to gain share in new markets across Europe, the Americas, and Southeast Asia. Other critical priorities will be around expanding our suite of services on the back of current relationships and delivering innovations across our product development suites.


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