The management of Sportec Solutions for investing in sports technology

Sportec Solutions, a joint venture founded by Turin-based broadcast technology specialist Deltatre with the German Football League (DFL), is now six years old and has its eyes on the next phase of its development.

The business was set up to develop new data technologies and office space for the German Bundesliga, but it also has an international perspective that serves customers outside Germany.

Since its inception, Sportec has played an important role in collecting rich data sets that are used not only by the Bundesliga and its media partners to tell stories, but also by football clubs to analyze performance. In addition, the introduction of the Video Assistant Judge (VAR) system in Germany at the beginning of the 2017/18 season was also supported by Sportec’s innovations.

Sportec sees itself as a provider of technology solutions, with an emphasis on the solution element. The company’s managing director Christian Holzer wants to develop tools that are flexible and do not need to be used in just one way. He describes this as a “building block strategy” that uses existing infrastructure, both in the physical world and in the digital world, to create improved products.

Sportec is unique in the DFL family of different business units in that it is the only unit not wholly owned by the German Football League and has commitments beyond guaranteeing the success of the Bundesliga. Operationally, Sportec works very closely with project managers and product owners at DFL, but the technology company has shifted from initially rather as a service provider to becoming a development company in its own right.

Christian Holzer describes the approach to developing Sportec Solutions as a “building block strategy”

This was most evident in March, when the start-up company Vieww for goal-line and VAR technology was acquired as part of a five-year deal that made Sportec the Bundesliga’s main technology partner. The move to Vieww is part of Sportec’s development as a business that has gained momentum since Deltatre took a small majority stake in November 2020.

At the recent DFL SportsInnovation event in Düsseldorf, SportsPro talks to Holzer about Sportec’s acquisition strategy and approach to identifying investment opportunities.

Let’s start with Vieww. How did this deal come about? Why did you invest there? And what are the goals of this investment?

When we founded Sportec Solutions, we always had in mind that the employee market is a growing market, a demanding market, this is something that will be there forever. So VAR, as well as other areas such as goal-line technology – as this is a supporting function for the referee – will always have its place in the world of professional sports. Therefore, as we are a sports technology company, it was part of our long-term business strategy to operate in this market.

In the beginning, we were involved in project management around the judiciary and worked together with third countries to provide this service to the Bundesliga. Over time, the idea was generated that it really fits into Sportec Solutions’ strategy to own this technology. We then examined the market for the type of company that is most suitable for our purposes – providing a service to the Bundesliga, but also having technology that is able to cover the entire field of refereeing.

So, starting with VAR, we move on to goal line technology and then provide us with a technology footprint and a technology stack that allows us to build additional services on top of that. For example, stadium cameras and VAR streaming services are a good basis for building other sports services.

We sort out what we have, what we need in the future, and then review the market to find which company best suits our needs.

Vieww is in the office, but will Sportec also invest in data innovation?

In our strategy, these two markets merge. Goal-line technology is based on cameras tracking the ball. If you can track the ball, you can also track players. This allows us to upgrade and unite the two worlds to generate new products from it. For example, automated event coding based on tracking data, VAR-based streaming services, or obtaining additional tracking points when you can track limbs. So tracking the skeleton is one of the possibilities we can already do, because we have all the different building blocks in the house – we have all the basic technologies and we can build on them. This means that we are in a stronger position to combine technology and find efficiencies that will provide more sophisticated products to our customers in different verticals: broadcasting, digital, sponsorship, clubs, bookmakers, etc., and better experiences for fans, viewers and users.

Does this mean that Sportec is now focused on internal development instead of investing in new technologies or is there more investment ahead?

We are still looking and still investing. Another basic principle of Sportec Solutions is to own the technology. We invest in our own developers. We have a huge development team, ranging from application developers to cloud engineers and machine learning guys, to evolve on our technology – on our building blocks – but we also check the market for anything available or of interest that we can probably acquire.

Then we ask, does it make sense to buy or make? Are we going to the next step?

Let’s talk a little about this screening process. How do you handle this? What are you looking for in a company when you want to make an acquisition?

We are currently very technological in this process. So we look at our technology stack, we look to the future and what we think is needed to build the next layer of applications on what we have. We then identify the missing sites, the missing building blocks that we do not have or that we integrate from third parties, or that we could integrate from third parties as a service, or that we could acquire from another company.

So, we try to sort out what we have, what we need in the future, and then we check the market to find which company best suits our needs. We do not check the market for large companies. We were looking for gold pieces that help us improve our technology.

Sportec recently agreed to partner with DFL to become Bundesliga technology partner

How do you plan to find a gold nugget? Is it about launching acceleration programs or working with other startup communities? Tell me about this scout process.

This is where the Bundesliga starts again. It’s about the network. For example, here [at SportsInnovation] meeting many people.

With the help of the Bundesliga and with the help of Deltatre as a global service provider, we basically check the market all the time. So with the Bundesliga it’s more from the consumer’s point of view and Deltatre more from the point of view of technology / service providers, we use that and gather information around the world – so what’s next and what’s of interest? We then evaluate them after identifying them.

If someone came to you and said, “I want to invest in technology, what’s the secret?” What would be your advice?

Two things. The technology has to fit, it has to be a good technology that is not closed by itself, that has certain interfaces, certain APIs, certain building blocks, strategies around it, so that we can really integrate easily and not we have to rework everything again, because then it is not a good investment.

Then, at least at the same level of importance, is the team itself. The team has to be a good team, it has to fit into our culture, because these people code. If the team does not fit into our culture, we may lose them and then the whole investment is gone. Technology does not live without the people who develop it.

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