nVenue and the NBA: Embracing new tech in the sports entertainment ecosystem

Image: Shutterstock

When the NBA announced its second iteration of the Launchpad Initiative, there was a notable inclusion from the sports betting space. nVenue, a B2B microbetting company was named as one of the seven inductees that will receive six months of R&D, resources and other incentives to help improve the fan engagement activations of the NBA. 

With microbetting touted as the future of the industry in keeping fans engaged in different platforms, the NBA was eager to partner with nVenue to further develop its AI platform specifically for basketball. 

The collaboration between NBA and nVenue will center around the nVenue bet curation engine, which can generate 10-20,000 bets for each game and use its complex algorithms to offer curated and personalized bets depending on each players’ preferences. 

Leveraging AI to create a basketball betting machine

For Kelly Pracht, CEO of nVenue, the opportunity to be part of the NBA Launchpad program was not only a privilege, but a mark of trust in the brand of her company.

“We’re super grateful to the NBA for choosing us as the only sports betting platform that’s a great boon for nVenue,” Pracht told SBC Americas. “We’re so honored to be chosen, I can’t tell you how much that means to our team. Outside of the coolness of getting to work with the NBA, the really important thing is we’re trying to design this new category of micro-bets.

“How much better is what we’re inventing when we have the collaboration of somebody who deeply knows their fans, the exposure, what fans do want where they like it, and can also experiment on their platforms.”

Pracht’s background is in computer science and programming. Whilst AI is her schtick nowadays, she forged her path in the world of technology through building processors during her time at Hewlett-Packard. 

This experience with one of the leading tech firms in the world taught Pracht everything she needed to know about the benefits of being part of the NBA Launchpad scheme, given that she had worked with smaller, more specialized teams of businesses that helped catalyze innovation. 

She recalled: “We started to invite others in to do things and let people who are good at building processors think only about building processors. As we started to invite other companies in, you started to see that ramp of acceleration. t wasn’t even linear, it was exponential because we were inviting others. 

“I think that is what we’re doing here in sports betting with micro bets. By the NBA inviting others in and investing in innovation and smaller companies, like nVenue, you’re gonna start to see that knee of innovation happen.” 

Exploring a “new” part of sports media

The NBA, on the flip side, is eager to explore new technologies to help further its interests both on and off the court. Launchpad serves as the league’s method to source, evaluate and pilot emerging technologies that advance its top priorities.

Scott Kaufman-Ross, the NBA’s SVP, Head of Gaming & New Business Ventures, noted that the scheme isn’t necessarily a revenue generator, but helps to keep the league in touch with its core fans. 

He told SBC Americas: “I wouldn’t say that a targeted objective of this program is diversifying our revenue stream. I also wouldn’t say that’s not an objective, certainly, we are a business and we’re looking to grow our revenue base and to find new revenue streams. But this really is about embracing new technologies and figuring out how they can help our game and the way that our fans experience our game. Sports betting is a relatively new part of the sports media ecosystem.”

Kaufman-Ross explained that nVenue’s technological capabilities made it a great candidate for the scheme and that, with its bet curation engine, it sees significant opportunities to improve the relationship between the NBA and its fans moving forward. 

“You’re not doing your job in the broader media and technology world if you’re not embracing AI, and the changes they can make to your various offerings. It’s not as straightforward in basketball, because it’s really difficult to bet on the next basket. Our game is so fast-paced. 

“They’re definitely backed by great tech and Kelly is a computer scientist and really understands technology. For a test like this where we weren’t as focused on who has a finished product to go to market that’s ready to sell tomorrow, it was really about who has great tech work great data and analytics and can really kind of come under the hood with us and build something new.”

Personalization is key

One of the core aims of the relationship is to create a more personalized experience for those who want to bet on pro basketball, by leveraging nVenue’s AI to offer users curated betting suggestions. With the prevalence of algorithmically led platforms such as TikTok, the NBA and nVenue recognized that betting markets are not a one-size-fits-all process. 

 Pracht explained the process: “On top of just creating the bet itself, we are creating tech that does other things that say, ‘hey, out of those 10,000 markets, here are the ones that are most exciting to this form of customer’. We’re using bet curation so that these markets get to the players who are interested in those bets. 

“I guarantee you that if you’re watching an NBA game and I’m watching an NBA game, we’re probably thinking different things and we may bet different ways. So we believe that curation is our technology that will lead to more engaged players, better handle, and higher profits.” 

Meanwhile, the NBA sees significant opportunities in using AI and algorithms to create an individual storyline for users and leverage this to reduce some of the complexities around betting. 

Kaufman-Ross cited jargon and intellectual barriers to some fans placing bets, but explained that a bet curation engine can help support the narrative of the game further. 

“We think what’s interesting about betting is when you can speak about betting in a context that is relevant to all fans,” he noted. “Betting can be really confusing to a lot of our fans so we want to be serving up concepts that are interesting in the storytelling of the game, which then can also be a betting market.” 

Looking forward to zero-latency betting feeds

One of the main issues around microbetting is latency and speed, particularly in a game as fast as basketball. Concerns over the speed of the game and the lag between the live action and the streams that bettors can use have caused some to keep away from micro betting. 

But where there is an issue, nVenue believes, AI can help to rectify it. And Pracht is confident in nVenue’s platform’s ability to reduce the latency to almost zero. 

“In our technology, where we take the data from the court, up to when we deliver the bets out, it is very close to real-time. It can be one to two seconds from the court where we’re sub-one. We’re very, very close but we’re looking forward to the world where we have zero latency or near zero latency betting feeds as well.”

Another key concern of microbetting is that of responsible gambling, especially given that plenty of NBA fans are minors and could be vulnerable to problem gambling. 

With up to 20,000 bets for each play, there are theoretically millions of bets that could be placed and each player could place hundreds of bets per game. When questioned about RG and the integrity of sport, Pracht explained that it is a long process and something the industry is still learning about.

“I think we’re gonna be in a crawl, walk, run phase for a little bit,” she remarked. “And we’re just at a crawl right now. The question on this integrity panel I was on at SBC (Summit North America) said, what should we be talking about next year, and I said, if we’re talking about the same things next year, we’ve made a mistake, because we must grow in the next 12 months, we need to be talking about what mistakes we made, and how we fix them and start anticipating the next.”

Looking ahead, the NBA and nVenue will complete their six-month relationship this summer, at the end of which the latter will present at the NBA Launchpad Demo Day at NBA 2K23 Summer League in Las Vegas.

At the Demo Day, nVenue will present to NBA executives, partners, and investors the progress they have made and how to develop the relationship further. 

Kaufman-Ross explained: “The demo day is the opportunity for them to present how the pilot has gone, what we’ve been working on together, and what ultimately, the findings were. It will be a presentation on the pilot that we did and the types of markets we’ve been working on and what we found in our testing.”

He also noted that he hopes NBA and nVenue can continue to work with each other in the future post the demo day. With microbetting not going anywhere in the future and the NBA aiming to engage fans further, further development of such products utilizing AI is inevitable. 

“It’s really sort of the culmination of the pilot. But then, of course, the goal is to hopefully have an ongoing relationship with nVenue where we continue to test new things, and then eventually bring that offering to market.”