For those looking to increase engagement among sports fans, there is no offseason.
Nearly half of all Americans consider themselves sports fans and 28% consider themselves avid fans according to a study conducted by global decision intelligence company, Morning Consult.
When fans aren’t shopping for jerseys or attending games, many are looking for real-time engagement opportunities with their favorite teams and players. Fantasy sports first changed the sports industry by allowing fans to engage with players outside of their favorite teams.
Now, a new generation of fans are engaged through sports betting, but traditional “outcome-based” betting is only the tip of the iceberg of this emerging market.
Dallas-based sports analytics startup nVenue is harnessing the power of sports machine learning and artificial intelligence to generate predictions and outcomes of each play in a game for sportsbooks and broadcasters to create “micro-betting markets” and data-driven content to engage fans.
It’s a bold new path in the Lone Star State, especially as Texas online sports betting could be on the horizon in 2023.
nVenue CEO Kelly Pracht said to PlayTexas:
“The worlds of viewer engagement and betting engagement are colliding right now. So, while I was thinking of increasing fan engagement as nVenue’s primary goal and knowing that betting would happen, others were clearly seeing micro-betting as the ultimate landing spot for us.”
With the advent of such technological advances improving sports bettors’ experiences, Texas will likely continue to lose a significant amount of revenue from gambling on sports.
What is micro-betting?
Micro-betting is a form of in-game betting.
DraftKings president and co-founder Matt Kalish explains micro-betting as “a bet on an event (within a game), that is about to happen and won’t last very long; like the next play or pitch.”
Micro-betting creates and increases fan engagement and investment across each pitch, snap, or free throw.
“We always knew that sports betting was coming largely because of the repeal of PASPA; I mean that had to happen,” Pracht said. “We thought it would take longer than we thought it would though. We thought fan engagement would come first and betting would come second for nVenue.”
Sportsbooks and media companies want in on the technology that makes these predictive analytics possible. That’s where nVenue comes in.
nVenue’s past, present and future
Before founding nVenue, Pracht worked with Hewlett Packard as a senior engineering manager and program management office lead. In 2017 HP sent Pracht to a supercomputing conference in Frankfurt, Germany.
During one of the seminars, Pracht found herself checking her phone for scores and updates on the Houston Astros game, and nVenue was born.
“I just had this moment of, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we could apply this type of technology and some of these smart machines to work on sports data? I started coding that night just to see what could be done,” she said.
One year later, Pracht and her brother, Bruce Sears, now chief product officer for nVenue, created a sophisticated algorithm that could read live data and predict the outcome of a sequential play. At that point, nVenue only needed two more things: more time and real interaction with live data from the field.
“In 2019, we jumped from our careers and took a big risk. I said, ‘Let’s go for it. The time is right now.’ We built the algorithm and pored over it until it became the technology we have today.”
nVenue’s growing business
Since Pracht and her brother started nVenue, the company has expanded its team to include industry experts including Drew Williams (CFO/COO), Mik Stearns (CTO) and Christiana Yebra (CMO).
nVenue originally intended to market its technology directly to consumers as a smartphone app. However, once COVID-19 hit, nVenue transitioned to a B2B strategy focusing on partnering with sports networks and sportsbooks.
In 2021, the company participated in Comcast NBCUniversal’s inaugural SportsTech Accelerator program, marking one of the company’s first major milestones.
Following that, nVenue made its first on-screen debut during the 2021 playoffs. Pitch-by-pitch predictions aired live on television during an Oakland As and Chicago White Sox broadcast.
“I have launched hundreds of products into the world through HP and have probably a dozen patents in various states,” Pracht said. “But there is nothing as rewarding as seeing the fruit of your work that matches the real passion of your life being used in public in a compelling way. It was surreal.”
Following nVenue’s success on-air, the company announced raising a $3.5 million seed round co-led by KB Partners and Corazon Capital. The company seeks to expand its platform to more broadcasters and sportsbooks.
“The investment journey is hard and arduous. I have learned that finding the right investor(s) is the most important thing in the world,” Pracht said. “We found the right ones in KB Partners and Corazon. When you have the right investors behind you, it changes everything.”
This funding will be used to:
- Expand its team from nine to 22 by the end of 2022
- Open a physical office in Dallas for executives and a product team
- Expand into additional sports, including the NBA, NHL, golf and others
nVenue CEO Kelly Pracht’s road to success
Pracht grew up surrounded by sports.
During her childhood in West Texas, she grew up with two brothers who taught her to throw a spiral by age 8 and a father who also served as a coach.
“I had been to more basketball and football games than most people have in their entire life by the time I was 10,” Pracht said. “For fun, we would go to sports stadiums on vacation, so my whole life has centered around the beauty of sports.”
Pracht also played basketball, softball and even boys baseball as a child. In high school, Pracht was on the tennis team, even placing in the state tournament while she and her family lived in Colorado. Pracht also played college basketball as a freshman.
nVenue is often recognized as a female-led startup. While she understands the importance of women pursuing careers in sports and tech, Pracht wants to make sure her gender doesn’t define her role and success with nVenue.
As Pracht said:
“The fact is, we have this great algorithm that does things that very few can do, and we’re a leading tech company. I love the focus to be on that, and my way of giving back is by being and encouraging and showing people that it can be done — showing young girls and really just anybody that it can be done.”