THE ACQUISITION of deltatre by George Pyne’s Bruin Sports Capital provides a fascinating snapshot of the direction of travel of the sports business.
At a time when tech talk is about the Internet of Things, deltatre was launched when the internet wasn’t really a thing at all. In fact, the company which has gone on to become a world leader in sports digital media was created in Italy 30 years ago, when the capabilities of technology were positively prehistoric in comparison to today’s connected world.
Deltatre’s early days were spent providing timing services at Formula One and FIS skiing events on behalf of Olivetti, one of the main sponsors. It was a job done initially with stopwatches, before the company introduced sensors on sections of the track to automate the process and produce a variety of different data.
— deltatre (@deltatre) June 30, 2016
While that may provide evidence of an innovative mindset from early days, the company’s CEO and co-founder, Giampiero Rinaudo, modestly says that luck has played a part along the way. “We are lucky that we are in a sector which has been constantly growing. After 30 years it is still accelerating,” he says.
That growth and the current levels of interest in companies operating at the interface of sport and digital technology are illustrated by Disney’s recent acquisition of a third share in Major League Baseball’s BAM Tech division for a reported $1.5 billion, and the 2011 purchase of tracking and graphics company Hawkeye by Japanese electronics giant Sony, among many others.
Deltatre, which is headquartered in Turin, has developed a roster of clients which reads like a Who’s Who of the sports sector thanks largely to its innate understanding of sport’s appeal and ability to innovate and apply technology to deliver services that customers will buy because fans actually want them.
The company provides digital, live streaming and broadcast services at a time when they are in huge demand in an ultra-competitive sports marketplace.
Although neither side has publicly discussed the monetary value of the deal, it appears to represent a win-win. Bruin, backed by a $250 million investment from, among others, the marketing giant WPP, is building a diverse portfolio of sports interests and has the resources and connectivity to lift its new boy to another level, not least in the US market. For Bruin, the acquisition value is in the significant potential of a business whose services are increasingly front and centre of the relationship between rights-owners, broadcasters and fans – the heart of the sports business.
Analyst William Field of Prospero Strategy, who has worked with deltatre, believes that the company was in the right place at the right time.
“Sport is all about narrative and the market is willing to fund new technology to deliver that narrative,” he says.
“There is something of an arms race going on, with people using digital in all sorts of ways to bring extra edge and a new dimension to sports coverage. It is about keeping pace with consumer demand for new ways of consuming media and entertainment.
“Companies which offer innovation in delivering OTT, merging text, data and pictures, and getting content onto social media platforms are in great demand.
“The whole sports media space is extremely active and the companies at the centre of it are highly attractive to investors. And this is not a short-term effect,” he says.
Outside North America deltatre is considered the most diverse and best established ‘blue chip’ company in its field and has created a global presence with 13 offices in nine countries, including Singapore, India and Australia.
Sport is all about narrative and the market is willing to fund new technology to deliver that narrative
The breadth of services developed by deltatre is considered to be part of its appeal. It creates myriad client touch-points, which ensure the company has few direct competitors across the entire business. They range from services for linear broadcast and in-venue media to live streaming technology, and the design and servicing of websites, apps and provision of what the company describes as a revolutionary video player.
Backed by Bruin’s financial muscle, deltatre appears to be in a strong positon to take advantage of new developments and fresh demand from various customer groups.
More than technology
“In the last two to three years the digital space has become ever more complex. Clients now want more than the technology itself; they want creativity and strategy development to enable them to get the most value from it,” says Rinaudo. “We have always thought of ourselves as being part of a triangle, with the media on one side, federations and rights-holders on the other, and sponsors on the other. We are able to join up all these dots and under the ownership of Bruin, I want to grow in areas such as sponsorship and strategy development.”
Given that WPP, the world’s largest marketing company, is a significant investor in Bruin, there is a line which now connects deltatre and its capabilities to some of the world’s biggest sponsor brands. It may be 30 years since those pioneering days on F1 tracks with Olivetti, but it looks as though, under this new owner, servicing the digital content needs of sponsors is going to be rising up deltatre’s agenda once again.