One of the things I enjoy about working in the sports data industry is that it touches on and contributes to several other industries. So I get to learn about, poke into and generally bother the worlds of broadcasting, sponsorship, rights management, digital media and, last week, betting and gaming.
So it was with that particular hat on that I rocked up to this year’s ICE betting and gaming conference at the seriously-how-much-for-a-sandwich? surroundings of the ExCel centre in London.
And as I snaked my way round the vast halls of the exhibition over the course of the three day event, I was doing what I always do at these things - drink coffee and try to get a sense of what the general themes are. Events like this are generally a good barometer of where an industry thinks the next big wins are going to be found. Often for no greater reason than big company marketing, sales and product development cycles are focused towards this massive showcase.
So it figures that if four, five or six of the biggest players have decided that they’re all showing off their plans for, or capability in, Fancy New Technology X ™ then there is probably something worth watching in the Fancy New Technology X ™ space.
But I found it so hard to do that this time round.
I couldn’t get my head round the fact that this industry, if this event is anything to go by, hasn’t got the memo. The other memo. The one where you don’t add ‘girls in short skirts’ to ‘coffee machine’, ‘USB pen drives’ and ‘printed leaflets’ as something to buy to put on your stand.
The one where you consider how it makes your female employees feel, and you consider what it does to yours and the entire industry’s commitment to equality and diversity.
Some people have remarked that it has gotten better at ICE over the years. Maybe that’s the case. But that’s more damning about the past than it is any credit to this year’s event. Companies in their dozens still signing off this decision and happily ‘using’ girls to promote their brand. Welcome to ICE, please set your watches back to 1974.
As Mark Locke, CEO of Genius Sports, brilliantly observed on LinkedIn this week it’s as if ‘some in the industry seem intent on making it a no-go area for women’. Check out his full post here, it’s well worth a read.
At one point I went up to an exhibition stand, and asked the girl on the front desk if should could get someone from the *actual* team for me to speak to (although I didn’t phrase it like that, obviously). She rolled her eyes and explained that she was, in fact, a Product Manager, and could help me. This made me feel like shit. And probably made her feel dreadful too. I can’t have been the only one to do that to her this week. That’s what the general attitude of the event does - it conditions everyone there to believe the women are there to attract men to speak to other men about man things.
And it’s a real shame, because there were some real positives this week.
I’ve often remarked that shows like this are where B2b marketing goes to die, but this year’s show was considerably better in that aspect than before. Some of the exhibition stands were great - impactful, well thought out and with consistent and coherent messaging. The big guys, and a fair few of the medium players have really got their act together on that score.
I think this year, I only saw the stock image of that guy doing an overhead kick maybe 3 times. He'll need to set up a gofundme page to feed his family if the use of his likeness at ICE starts to dry up.
And as ever, although the rate of innovation seems to be slowing (or more likely the focus is now on the US), there is some excellent tech on show. As an example, virtual sport for gaming purposes is unrecognisable from what it once was - genuinely brilliant. There was a focus on AI, of course, and the impact that can have in data collection, integrity, player care and much more.
And the industry is becoming more plug and play than ever before. You can walk into ICE with nothing and come out with a fully formed sportsbook, licensed and ready to go. That’ll probably cost you about the same as a ham sandwich and bottle of water at ExCel.
It’s an industry that understands itself, from a value chain point of view. Lots of people are creating and developing very decent businesses, and that’s really manifesting itself in the marketing approach now. It feels much less like the suppliers are having to explain the basics, and instead it's more about refining commercial approaches. Good to see, and I’m fascinated to see how this carries over into the US market expansion.
FOOTNOTE - In one of my old jobs in this space, I was responsible for the exhibition stand at ICE. My first call was to not use ‘promo girls’ as the company had done previously. I found out some months later that the sales team had subsequently nicknamed me Simon Ban-boob. Pretty funny, to be fair.
Find Simon Banoub on Twitter @banouby