IMG Arena, the sports betting unit of the IMG agency, has soft-launched its in-play betting golf product outside of North America on the Bet365 platform at this week’s Shriners Hospitals for Children Open on the PGA Tour.
IMG Arena acquired the license to distribute live betting data and selected live video of PGA Tour events for markets outside North America in a long-term deal announced in November 2018. It added to the deal with the North American licence in September 2019.
The agreement allows IMG Arena to exclusively distribute scoring data to betting operators, sports media companies and news outlets around the world.
Since agreeing the deal, IMG Arena has worked to refine the PGA Tour’s data gathering capabilities, a task that is more difficult on an 18-hole golf course than it is for sports that take place on a smaller pitch or court.
The foundation of the IMG Arena in-play betting product is the PGA Tour’s long-running ‘ShotLink’ system.
The proprietary data capture solution, which has been providing media outlets with live data about shots, live conditions, ball tracking and distances for over 20 years, has been upgraded by IMG Arena to deliver the sort of data service needed by sportsbooks to accurately price live betting markets.
The ShotLink data has typically been curated by walking scorers, greenside cameras and lasers and the manual data collection has now been supplemented by IMG Arena with GPS technology and additional greenside cameras.
IMG Arena and Bet365 are using the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, which began today (Thursday) at TBC Summerlin in Nevada, to trial a pared back version of the in-play betting product with a view to officially launching an enhanced version in two to three weeks’ time.
Customers using the ‘bet365 Live Golf Tracker’ will also be able to search for and follow their favourite player and track each of their shots.
The soft launch comes just weeks after the PGA Tour set up its official betting operator (OBO) programme which grants four operators – BetMGM, PointsBet, DraftKings and FanDuel – the rights to present betting markets in association with the PGA Tour.
Norb Gambuzza, senior vice-president, media business development at PGA Tour told SportBusiness that in-play betting data rights were not included in these betting operator deals, but said these could be acquired in separate agreements between the official betting operators and IMG Arena.
“We have created connections between our OBO agreements and IMG Arena encouraging our OBO’s to purchase betting data directly from IMG Arena,” he said.
The PGA Tour is hoping that the creation of more in-play markets will help to increase fan engagement around its events and give fans and non-fans a greater incentive to watch more holes.
To further encourage betting companies to buy the live data product, IMG Arena will bundle the betting streaming rights to two selected Par 3 holes per week into the data package it makes available to betting companies and with three cameras used to capture the action.
Streaming coverage of PGA Tour events has not previously been available on bookmakers’ websites given the television host broadcast of the sport, which switches between live and pre-recorded action, has not lent itself to live betting.
The coverage will be hosted on the IMG Arena’s Golf Event Centre, a front-end digital environment which can be white labelled by each betting operator to curate the fan betting experience. This will offer digital graphical rendering of each of the holes at every event and the ability to favourite specific players, follow specific groups or watch a particular hole as different groups of players come through.
“In-play betting data is the core proposition of the IMG Arena product and we are extremely excited for its launch,” said Gambuzza.
He indicated IMG Arena’s investment in data gathering capabilities for the PGA Tour played a role in securing the current roster of US betting operator deals and will help to cement future deals.
“We have been closely coordinated with IMG Arena as we approach the market for Official Betting Operator deals in the US and built our programme in a manner that provides a two-way funnel to drive the Tour’s content and sponsorship business while also leveraging IMG Arena’s betting product business.
“Once an operator has purchased the data, they’re going to want to advertise and promote new [in-play] markets on the Tour, so they have an incentive to join the Tour’s OBO programme.
“If an operator joins the programme first, they’re going to want to purchase the official data from IMG Arena to support the content and advertising rights that come with the OBO programme.”
Gambuzza said the next area of focus will be on betting operator deals outside North America, which the PGA Tour will sell in partnership with its international media partner Discovery.
IMG Arena also holds a data collection, distribution and licensing agreement with the European Tour, meaning that it can offer a sportsbooks a combined product from golf’s two leading tours.
(additional reporting by Martin Ross)