Tune into episode 174 as we chat with Mike Smith of Sportradar. He is the head of Ad:s and joins us to talk about digital advertising & sports!

 

RYAN KNUPPEL

Hey, what’s up everybody, Ryan Knuppel here, Knup Sports Show, Episode #174. Thanks so much for tuning in and giving us a little time on a Tuesday, or Wednesday, whatever day you’re listening or watching this, we really appreciate you tuning in. We have another awesome guest today, I’m super excited to hear all about what they have going on. But first off, man we’ve gotta talk a little bit of football. We are just a few weeks away from football, super excited to, uh, get going with football, right? It seems that we wait all the time for football season to come, and then when it gets here it just flies by and goes by fast, so that’s coming up over the next few weeks. Uh, hopefully we’ll have some guests that are kinda centered around football for the next few weeks, so that’s gonna be fun as well. But today, we’ll get right into the guest. We have at hand, we have Mike Smith. Mike Smith of Sportradar, the head of Ad:s, Mike, how are you today my friend?

MIKE SMITH

I’m great, Ryan. Thanks for having me on the show, I’m excited. We could talk football too, I would love to talk about football at the end.

RYAN KNUPPEL

Ah, man, I love football. Yeah, no, I could talk football all day, I could do a whole focus show on that, but uh, today we’re here to talk a little bit about you. First off, where are you located, Mike? You’re up in the Chicago area, correct?

MIKE SMITH

Yep, Chicago suburbs. Uh, you know, two kids made me leave the city, but Wisconsin native displaced in the flatlands down here.

RYAN KNUPPEL

Oh, wow. Wisconsin native living in Chicago. So are you Packers or Bears? You gotta have on of them, which one?

MIKE SMITH

Packers, all the way everyday. Born and raised, uh, family has season tickets, you know, been watching the Packers. It’s really been a blessed life, I mean, I was, started becoming a sports fan at the beginning of the Favre era, just based on age, and it’s been Favre and Aaron Rodgers my whole, you know, memory, essentially.

RYAN KNUPPEL

And if people aren’t familiar, I mean, I went to show up in the Chicago area, but up in that area, I mean, Packers, Bears, those no bigger rivalry than those two getting together on the football field. I mean, it’s a blood bath. The fans are die-hard passionate about their teams, so I can’t imagine living in the Chicago suburbs and being a Packers fan. It probably has some conflict at times.

MIKE SMITH

Yeah, well it’s been great because we’ve really destroyed them. Uh, I’ve been down here for about 15 years, and uh, it’s been all Packers.

RYAN KNUPPEL

Yeah, for sure. For sure, well cool. Let’s dive into you, Mike. I’m excited to hear more about Sportradar and the Ad:s program, and everything you’ve got going there, but first, tell me a little bit about yourself and kind of the career path you’ve taken to get to Sportradar today.

MIKE SMITH

Yeah, so somewhat circuitous, I think, for the sports industry. A lot of people get into sports at a younger age, uh, but I was, uh , I really kind of hopped around a little bit until I got my first sales job. And I know you’re a fan of, sort of, the experience of sales job, of being in sales, and kind of the value that brings. Uh, I remember you mentioning that on a previous episode, but, um, I got a sales job. I was selling, um, cloud-based software to food service companies, and so, imagine 15, gosh, 15-16 years ago, trying to explain the cloud to someone who has a regional canned tomato shop, and how they can leverage that to increase their sales and customer retention. I was doing that job and a friend of mine was in digital advertising, and he said, “If you can explain to the person how to use cloud software to sell more cans of tomatoes, you can come over here and you can teach newspaper reps how to sell more digital advertising”. And so my first foray into digital was really working at a company where we partnered with newspapers and helped them sell more digital advertising, and then really executed those campaigns for them. So, after about 10 years in digital, give or take, uh, I was speaking with my old roommates. I went to the University of Wisconsin, and uh, my last year there, I wont say how many, but my last year there, my roommate played on the basketball team. And when he, uh, graduated, he went and played professional basketball in Austria, and when he retired, uh, from basketball there, he had met a lovely woman who he’s now married to, and he settled in Vienna and got a job at Sportradar in the Vienna office. So, flash forward six years, five years or so, he said, “Hey, there’s an advertising opening at a sports company, it’s the company I work at”, and here we are. So it’s really the perfect interception of my two passions: my personal life, which is sportscentric always, and my professional life, which is really all things digital advertising.

RYAN KNUPPEL

Yeah, that’s really neat, that’s really cool. So, I mean most people listening to this or watching this show probably already know what Sportradar is, but give us a high-level company overview of what Sportradar is as a whole.

MIKE SMITH

Yeah, global sports data and technology company. And really, at the core of what we do, is powering all the data for all the places you would see sports data. So, if you’re ever looking for the score of a game, if you’re every playing fantasy sports, if you’re ever watching a broadcast, if you’re ever betting on sports, anywhere where sports data is, we are behind it for all intents and purposes. So, um, I don’t wanna say, you know, if we pulled the plug at Sportradar headquarters, that the whole ecosystem would collapse, but it’s, it’s not that far from it. On any given Sunday, or any given weekday, um, the way fans consume sports these days is so data-centric, that if we were to really remove Sportradar from the ecosystem, we’d lose so much fan engagement. And I think that’s, that’s the direction that, you know, is the most interesting to me, right? Is that fan engagement piece.

RYAN KNUPPEL

Yeah, that’s interesting, uh, kind of what you said there. You know, you don’t really think about that, of the importance that Sportradar plays and their data plays in everything we do as sports betting fans, as fantasy sports fans, and just, you know, tickers and stats and all of this is driven on something, and Sportradar is really driving that from the data side, so, please don’t go down, please keep things up. Keep that tech team on it, keep them on it.

MIKE SMITH

It’s, it’s uh, it’s really interesting because it’s such a B-to-B company that once you are aware of it, you see it everywhere. You’re favorite website, you’ll see it credited at the bottom or somewhere in fine print, at the end of every broadcast, almost, that you watch, you see, you know, “Data provided by Sportradar”. And then every once in a while, you get even a, an announcer who’ll say, “Wow, where’d you pull that stat out of, Jimmy?”, and he’s like “Oh, I gotta thank the Sportradar team in the truck for putting that one in my ear”, you know, it’s uh, once you’re aware of it you see it everywhere.

RYAN KNUPPEL

That’s cool. So, so you’re kinda working on what’s called Ad:s, so “A” “D” “colon” “S”, uh, let’s pull that up here, and I wanna hear a little bit more about this program, what Ad:s is, and what kind of digital marketing things you’re doing here with this program.

MIKE SMITH

So, uh, one of the cool things about Sportradar, is like, it’s a very deep, thoughtful company, so Ad:s seems like a really poor choice of name for an advertising company, it seems like “Hey, come on, you guys are in advertising, you can’t think of anything better?”, uh, but it actually has a really cool meaning. The “A-d” is for advertising, and the “S” is for sponsorship, so combined, uh, the Ad:s is for ads and sponsorship because we offer both, um, paid media, or paid digital advertising as well as sponsorship services, which include everything from, as you can see on the screen, a consultation, brokerage, activation, you name it. And I think the, the takeaway, if I go back to the core and the roots of Sportradar as I explained it as a company, we’re a sports data and technology company, and so what do you do if you have a lot of sports data? You have a ton of current employees who can build technology; how do you take that and really get to another part of the fan experience? Right now, we kind of power this passive fan experience. Fans are out there watching, consuming sports, but how do we really proactively put brands in front of these same fans that were already interacting? Uh, and so we built our own advertising technology, and that allows us to put our messaging, or I should say the messaging of our customers, in front of sports fans at the right time with the right message. So one of the companies we acquired in 2021 that kind of added to that allows us to put live scores, live ads, live headshots in front of the fans, because, you know, and I say this all the time, people complain about advertising products that they have no interest in buying. People love getting ads for stuff they wanna buy. It’s like, “Hey, this is great, this is exactly what I was looking for”. Um, and so that’s really our goal, is to make sure that we’re providing an experience that the consumer isn’t going to complain about, right? We want to create an experience for them, and then in turn, that provides a great experience for customers. We do it all with that kind of Sportradar twist, which is sports data, right? And proprietary technology. That’s the difference.

RYAN KNUPPEL

So, so, name drop. What types of companies are using this, you know, this program? Are they operators, are they true, just, media companies? Who’s using ads?

MIKE SMITH

Yeah, so it’s, it’s a mix. I mean, uh, I’ll stop short of naming names, only because in the verticles we work in, people like to, uh, hoard that, right? If you’re a football fan. Bill Belichick claims he doesn’t care for analytics. That’s smoke and mirrors so that the other teams don’t do what he’s trying to do.

RYAN KNUPPEL

Right, right, right.

MIKE SMITH

So, so think of, um, think of the biggest sportsbooks globally, right? Both here in the U.S. and the rest of the world, they, for all intents and purposes, you know, we’re covering, or have worked with 95% of global sportsbooks, I mean, certainly in the U.S. we’ve done a little something with everyone, or we’re constantly working with everyone, so it’s a mix, um, in the sportsbook space, but then I think what’s really interesting and where we’re starting to make more inroads is in the team, league, and brand space. And I think people think of us as a betting company because we have such a tight tie with sports betting, and that’s somewhere if we pushed the button, it would be big, big problems for sportsbooks. Uh, but the reality is, it’s sports and sports fans in general, and so if you’re a team looking to get people to tune in, if you’re a team looking to sell tickets, if you’re Gatorade, think of the amount of money Gatorade spends on sports adjacent marketing, you know, we built the tool to do one thing, and that’s engage sports fans, right? We didn’t think, “How do we get people to sign up for test drives?” or “How do we sell macaroni and cheese?”. We said, “How do we engage sports fans?”, and all of our iterations and everything we do revolves around that.

RYAN KNUPPEL

So it’s a fairly unique, a fairly new program here. Tell me a little bit about how it’s going. I mean, has the response been positive so far, are you seeing, uh, companies enjoying using this, how’s the beginning days of Ad:s been doing?

MIKE SMITH

It’s great. Uh, I mean, customer satisfaction, uh, is about as good as it can get, I mean, obviously you’re speaking to the guy who’s responsible for making sure me and the team keep everybody happy, but the response has been really great because, look, the reality is there are tons of tools out there, and, uh, you know, if you have kids or if you’ve ever gone to Ikea and you’ve got to build all of this kind of low-level furniture, there’s one specific allen wrench that is gonna get a job done, and it comes with the furniture, right? If you lose that thing, you’re out of luck, but there’s thousands of wrenches out there, right? So we’re the allen wrench for sports. Look, there are wrenches that can do lots of other things, there are plenty of technology out there in advertising, but when it comes right down to engaging sports fans, we are the tool designed just to do that, and so I think when people finally start to work with us, the results they see are fantastic and there’s no need to catch us up to speed, right? If you’re a car company and you hire an ad agency, you’ve got to explain to them a little bit about the auto industry and what do we do, and what’s a value proposition. You know, BetMGM doesn’t need to tell me who they are, FanDuel doesn’t need to explain to me their place in the market, so. And certainly, you know, I’m well aware of Major League Baseball and what they’re trying to do [inaudible], so. It’s really easy fro our customers to, uh, take less time worrying about their campaigns and less time worrying about, sort of, the tread on the road, and more “Hey, how do we build a cool car?”, right? We kind of give them that time back in their day to strategize.

RYAN KNUPPEL

Yeah. Well very interesting. So on thing I always like to ask is where are you headed in the future? So, you know, we know where you are now, we know how things are going, going well here in the beginning, but what types of things do you have planned for the future of the Ad:s program?

MIKE SMITH

Well, I would love to say, like “We’re gonna find the next TikTok and we’re gonna make it sportsy and we’re gonna do something interesting”, but uh, if I was able to identify the next TikTok, then you and I would be on a private jet playing at Pebble Beach instead of chatting on the show, but the reality is that we don’t have to. We sit on all the sports data, right? We are the gasoline to the engine, whatever you wanna say, right? We’re the cup of coffee in the morning that’s gonna get the whole thing going, so I’m really looking for where are sports fans engaging, and then how can I take my data and my relationships, meaning Sportradars relationships in the sports ecosystem, and just put that little twist on it to make it the right place for people to engage with sports fans. So I think, um, the way we’ve sort of built up the team and built out our strategy here, is we’re always looking for the next thing, we’re always exploring for it, but we’re not really gonna jump on it unless we can put that sports twist on it. Um, and so I think eventually we want to be, you know, the biggest sportscentric digital agency there is, um, we certainly have a leg up on everybody, but, um, a lot of incumbents out there, a lot of people to unseat, uh, but it’s gonna be fun doing it.

RYAN KNUPPEL

Absolutely, absolutely. So if people listening wanna hear more about ads, um, where would they go, how would they get a hold of you, how would they check out more information? Where would they go?

MIKE SMITH

Yeah, so obviously you can go to the website, you can read a little bit about it if you want a sort of passively explore it. Um, if you’re, you know, want more information, hey, you said at the beginning, you don’t have to think about how to spell or pronounce my name. You’re welcome to send me an email at mike.smith@sportradar.com. I answer all my own emails, one day I hope to have someone answer emails for me, but, uh, not there yet, so I’d love to chat. And the reality is, the best part about, uh, this ecosystem is when I used to work at my own company, I could tell the regional place people were by how little amount of time at the beginning they wanted to spend chit-chatting, right? East coast, nobody wanted to chit-chat. Midwest, always chit-chat. West coast, people were maybe late or had to end early because they were going surfing, not making that up. Sports, everyone wants to talk about sports, so if you send me an email, and you wanna talk about Ad:s, we can also talk about sports. The fantasy football season’s coming up. I am a die-hard fantasy player, uh, I love it, I think about it way too much, so, happy to come on and chat about that with you, Ryan, or certainly if you send me an email and wanna learn about Ad:s, we can always talk a little fantasy in there as well.

RYAN KNUPPEL

Well, I’ll make sure to put the email address and the link and all of that in the show notes. But let’s do talk a little fantasy football here before I let you off the hook. Have you had a draft yet or not quite yet?

MIKE SMITH

My big draft is this weekend, um, you know, we are all, uh, approaching or at 40 years old, uh, but we are all friends from college and the rule is you have to be present in person at the draft, so we got an Airbnb this weekend. I don’t know how our wife all sort of married into it, our kids know that when, uh, you know, I leave the house in my, um, [inaudible] jersey, I’m heading straight to a fantasy draft, so they’re, uh, should be great. And sitting in the five slot, that’s a great place to be this year I think, I think there’s, some would say a drop after four, but I like the first five. It’s a personal thing.

RYAN KNUPPEL

I mean, meeting up in person and doing those drafts like that is a lost art these days. I mean, that used to be my favorite thing to do, and now, you know, as everybody’s spread across the nation and doing their own thing, and it’s just so easy to do it digitally, you know, we kinda lost that, so I commend you guys for kinda keeping strong to that and still doing that, because, man, best weekends of my life were doing some of those fantasy football weekend drafts, play some poker, watch sports, do whatever.

MIKE SMITH

Yeah, we, our Airbnb’s got a pool, we’re gonna have a diving contest. Mind you, I don’t think any of us can dive all that well. A lot of back problems, we’ve got a couple of fake ACLs in the group, but um, no it should be a lot of fun. And really, you know, we set out all these panels, and people talk about, you know, demystifying sports betting, right? Sportradar sits in this sports betting ecosystem, and, um, the reality for leagues is they have to lean into this fantasy aspect. They have to figure out a way to do it well, because I don’t think it takes a genius to point to fantasy football as a massive driver in the success of the NFL and fan engagement. And I used my sister, my sister’s the town librarian in a town of about 1,500 people in NortherN Wisconsin, um, and she plays fantasy football now with her husband and her father-in-law, and now she watches every game, she knows all the players names. You couldn’t catch her in front of a TV on a Sunday to save your life until she started playing, and now, you know, if she wins a championship, she might name one of her cats after her captain, you know, it’s just, that’s the reality of it.

RYAN KNUPPEL

So you have to give me, I’m sure you get this question all the time, but you gotta Shearer jersey in the background, so explain the significance. Just a fan, what’s the significance there?

MIKE SMITH

Yeah, so it’s great. At a European, uh, global company that I do get a handful of people that actually know what’s going on back there. Besides, I don’t know if you can see the Packer and the Brewer helmets.

RYAN KNUPPEL

I don’t but I’m sure [inadible].

MIKE SMITH

Yeah, I grew up playing soccer, and when they started playing the English League games at the Premier League over here, used to be whatever the Fox sports equivalent was, it used to be called something else, um, and Alan Shearer was the best player on Blackbird at the time, and he was my favorite player, reminded me a little bit of me as a player in the sense that, um, he didn’t look like much. You know, he was losing his hair at early mid-20s, but he couldn’t stop scoring. Of course, I was nowhere near as good. And the next year, he went to Newcastle, went back home, he’s a hometown boy, and finished as the All-time Winning Goal Scorer. He was my favorite player, Newcastle is still my favorite team, and I was a camp counselor, and an exchange counselor who was from, uh, the U.K. and her mom worked in sports, and they got me this, I don’t know if you can see, it’s actually signed by Shearer here too, so they got me this jersey as an end of summer sort of gift. Um, closest I’ve ever been to tears while receiving a gift, uh, but I’m actually fingers-crossed, I gotta book the tickets, still working out the logistics because of the kids, but Newcastle plays a home game Saturday, hosts Brentford on Saturday, October 8th, and Sunday the 9th the Packers play the Giants in London, so I’m sorting out that double dip, and hopefully get to cross a game at St. James off the list.

RYAN KNUPPEL

That’s amazing, that would be a bucket list moment, I’m sure, to both of those back to back in a weekend, that’d be amazing.

MIKE SMITH

Yeah, it’d be a lot of fun. You a soccer fan?

RYAN KNUPPEL

Not really, you know I love all sports, I’m a sports fan for sure, but soccer’s pretty mediocre on my list. I’m more of the traditional core U.S. facing sports, I guess you’d say.

MIKE SMITH

Yeah, yeah. I think we’re getting more an more, as more kids grow up playing it who are interested in it, I think the difficulty, uh, from a viewing perspective, is, uh, you gotta have a lot of subscriptions to catch all the games, especially if you’re a fan of a single team. Um, but the mornings are nice, anyone with a newborn, I encourage you to get up and watch the 6:30 am kickoffs, because it’s a great way to take one for the team while watching sports.

RYAN KNUPPEL

For sure, for sure. Well, Mike, I know we went a little over what I told you we’d do, but I really appreciate your time here. Any last words, anything we forgot to talk about or anything you want to say before you go here?

MIKE SMITH

No, I appreciate you having me on, I mean it’s fun to chat, it’s fun to chat in kind of this forum, and certainly, I think, you know, I hope people, I hope people kind of think, you know, “How do we engage fans?”. If you’re out there and you’re watching this and you’re interested in the business, um, you know, I’m always happy to talk. Hopefully my demeanor came off in this chat, but send me an email. Let’s see if we can figure out a way to, you know, help your business grow.

RYAN KNUPPEL

Cool. Definitely, we’ll make sure we put all those links out there. Make sure to email Mike if you’re watching this, for sure. Mike, really appreciate your time. Thank you so much. Hope to have you back on in several years when the Ad:s program is booming and you have a lot more to talk about.

MIKE SMITH

That sounds great, Ryan. I appreciate it, buddy.

RYAN KNUPPEL

Alright, thanks for your time. I appreciate it.

Alright, that was Mike Smith, Sportradar Ad:s program, really good guy. Sportradar doing some amazing things in the industry, so really awesome and a privilege to talk to Mike. I urge you to go out there, check out what they have going on. We’ll put the exact link to the Sportradar Ad:s page out in the show notes. We’ll put his email out there as well. Alright, as always, thank you for your time. Really appreciate you tuning in. I’m Ryan Knuppel, @Knup, um, you can check me out at LinkedIn or any other social media, you’ll find me out there, but really appreciate your time. Until next time, stay safe, and we’ll talk to you soon. Bye-bye.

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