Back in July, we sat down with John O’Connor, head of business development and sports betting at InCrowd, to chat about InCrowd’s partnership with Sky Sports to deliver a World Cup game that would raise anticipation levels ahead of the kick-off in Russia.After perhaps the most successful World Cup of all time in regard to global engagement and social participation, we caught up with O’Connor once again to discuss the triumph that was the Sky Sports Road To Moscow FTP game, and what the continued development of this platform means for the future partnerships of right holders, brands and betting partners in the sports industry.SBC: Sky Sports Road To Moscow was a huge success…Why do you think this format worked so well?JO’C: InCrowd achieved a 97% completion rate for Road To Moscow, generating over 2.6m predictions, which is an incredible result, but for us that alone isn’t enough. We wanted to ensure that Road To Moscow was a fully rounded experience for the fan; we knew this would be a critical thing to get right for this to be successful. We created layers of value added game enhancement features. With full integration into participating club websites, players had additional points of access to the game. We also included the option to create mini leagues with 2,000 being set up during the Road To Moscow run. This “friend versus friend” approach was a massive acquisition tool as fans tested predictive skills in a closed user group format and is something that will prove to be incredibly valuable moving forward.SBC: How did you keep the fans actively engaged once predictions had been made and leagues created, beyond just coming back to check on results?JO’C: The contemporary polls were designed to drive repeat visits via conversational topics and were massively popular and provided a transactional gateway for our betting partner. We also used email communications and push notifications for app users with topical content related to events throughout the tournament, always supported by relevant odds promotion.Social media was also a significant driver for competition entrants particularly when used under an umbrella of talent driven content. SBC: We know you already have your next steps planned and in motion which is exciting – what can we expect to see and experience over the coming months?JO’C: One of the most significant outcomes from the creation of Road To Moscow is that we have developed an engagement format that can work across different territories. For example, there is no reason why a predictive game based around Liga 1 in Romania wouldn’t attract significant audience in Bucharest! In addition, Road To Moscow was a perfect digital canvas to test new product development. The Man of the Match voting in the OurLeague app is now part of the Sky Sports coverage of Rugby Super League sponsored by Betfred, whose odds are being integrated into the Free-to-play weekly Super League game. SBC: Do you still see future value in predictors and polls or do you feel fans are looking for new engagement opportunities?JO’C: There is no doubt that predictors and polls will continue to be significantly valuable. Fans want to have their say and prove that they really know what they’re talking about when it comes to their team and their sports. Thanks to the obvious success of Road To Moscow, our future plans for predictors and polls are ramping up, not slowing down. There’s a lot more scope to predictors and polls that you might think.Already integrated and proving popular in a number of our official football apps, our predictor functionality will be extensively used in the world of rugby union during the 18/19 season. Premiership Rugby have used the proprietary platform to reward fans who make the best match predictions whilst Scarlets and Leinster will use predictive games to drive engagement on the build up to match day with both clubs offering a wide range of match day rewards. Polls that drive and divide opinion will promote fan engagement across the digital platforms of English Premier League and English Football League clubs. For the rights holder this will become an additional value add to their partner package, one that will deliver valuable insight into the key motivations for the fan. Poll formats in the control of rights holders allow them to move formats like try or goal of the month or season onto their own platforms so they can benefit from the data and also control the branding and activate around these assets for their partners. SBC: How do you ensure the fans are kept up-to-date with features, considering all the activity and development going on behind the scenes at InCrowd?JO’C: Targeted, timely and relevant communication delivered results during Road To Moscow and these will be adapted across all transactional opportunities from buying a ticket to placing a bet for the whole InCrowd stable of sporting brands. We’re completely focussed on creating direct relationships between rights holders and brands and being smart with data for our clients benefit. Our Business Intelligence service aligns contextual, behavioural and transactional data to deliver significant commercial opportunities for both rights holders and partner brands. It is this data platform that allows us to keep fans engaged by communicating with relevant, timely and personalised communications.It’s an exciting time here at InCrowd… we’re eager to continue working with rights holders, sporting brands and betting organisations to deliver games that will resonate with their audience, improve brand relationships and drive value for everyone. Keep an eye out for the next Q&A with John O’Connor, in which we will be discussing the US betting market. Coming to SBC News in October 2018. Share Related Articles StumbleUpon Premier League looks to broadcast every behind-closed-door fixture August 28, 2020 QPR names Football Index as new shirt sponsor August 21, 2020 Submit EFL announces that all non-Sky Sports fixtures will be available to stream August 27, 2020 Share
USA Basketball: Before looking forwards to the FIBAWC it’s worth looking back at how the team got there
View this post on Instagram Behind the scenes with Jeff Van Gundy’s USA Team during Window 5 of the Qualifiers where they secured the qualification for the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 in China! #FIBAWC #ThisIsMyHouseA post shared by FIBA Basketball World Cup (@fibawc) on Dec 11, 2018 at 9:00am PST https://images.daznservices.com/di/library/sporting_news/6/4d/reggie-hearn-usa-basketball_1lemfkjrgpi961q46vdf8gsoud.jpg?t=-1605063871&w=500&quality=80 https://images.daznservices.com/di/library/sporting_news/d3/bc/jeff-van-gundy-usa-fiba_lyi88exuuob81uzwiljvl48q2.jpg?t=-1598987807&w=500&quality=80 The exact composition of the final roster may prove to be another juggling act for USAB. Of the 35 man National Team Roster, a number of players have key decisions to make this summer which may impact on their availability for the World Cup.12 players will be entering free agency, which could heavily impact their decision making. Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler, Kemba Walker, Tobias Harris, Khris Middleton, DeMarcus Cousins, DeAndre Jordan, Isaiah Thomas and Harrison Barnes will all have question marks as to whether or not they can commit to the USA World Cup campaign. In addition, having suffered a ruptured achilles ruling him out for at least 12 months, John Wall is already a no-go.Even if all of those players decided to withdraw from consideration, the remaining pool of 22 players is enough to create a more than enviable roster. The NBA is serious about having a strong presence in China, with the World Cup being a factor in the decision to push the start of 2019 NBA season back, according to the Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor. The appointment of Van Gundy, despite his sabbatical from coaching, was a huge positive for USAB. The style of play in FIBA competitions is significantly different to the three-point heavy, offense-oriented game we see in the NBA today. The slower, more physical approach seen in FIBA competition seemed to resonate with the era of basketball in which Van Gundy enjoyed his greatest success.When talking with ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski on the Woj Pod, Van Gundy drew comparisons between his team USA coaching experience and his NBA tenure; “FIBA basketball is like 90s NBA Playoff basketball. Where post play is still emphasised, where offensive rebounding is a major factor and the physicality is like 90s NBA Playoffs as well. So, you have to ask the players who are in today’s NBA game to re-imagine how the game is going to be played. And it’s hard for them because they’re not used to (it). You know the difference between FIBA basketball and the NBA right now is that, (in) the NBA there’s freedom of movement, in FIBA basketball, it’s freedom to get your teeth knocked out when you come into the lane”.Unlike his NBA experience though, Van Gundy did not have the benefit of weeks of training camps, an 82 game season and then Playoffs to bond and build his team. Of the experience, Van Gundy said to FIBA Media “ you never have continuity of roster, so you have different players all the time and then you have a short amount of time with them. So it’s a two-game season in these windows, that makes it definitely very unique.”Building a United StateAcross the 12 qualification games, the American roster comprised of 54 different players, of whom 52 saw court time. In an era of NBA basketball when players consider themselves brands and, sometimes, substance is overlooked in lieu of style, USAB achieved something unique. Despite such a high turnover of players (each player averaged just 2.52 games throughout the qualifiers), team USA were able to plug and play with each other. And, in spite the fact that the G Leaguers responsible for successfully getting the USA to the World Cup will most-likely play no part of the final roster in China this September, not a single one complained about the duty in hand.As seamless as it appeared from the outside, there were some obstacles in terms of convincing players to join the roster. Van Gundy told Woj it required “more (recruiting) than I thought”. The coach continued “when you offer them a spot on the national team, I think basically all of them are interested but what they’re trying to determine, with whoever they trust, is what’s best for me to better my career? And that means how can I get to the NBA best? And, frankly, if everyone was being honest, there’s no sure path. Playing for the national team – that’s not a sure path. Staying the the G League – that’s not a sure path either. But they had to wrestle with and oftentimes a couple of guys accepted and then had second thoughts and declined at the very last minute.” Fortunately for USAB, Men’s National Team Director Sean Ford was on hand to ensure that quality players with the right mindset were always onboard, as Van Gundy told Woj “he (Sean) picked the right guys, because he had high character guys who (not only) cared deeply about winning but also about representing the country well and we zero problems on the road. I couldn’t have been more proud of the guys Sean selected and how they conducted themselves. Great representatives of USA Basketball and our country”.Refreshingly, without celebrity players, the focus was all about the name on the front of the jersey, not the back.Having collected the most caps throughout qualifying with 9, Reggie Hearn of the Stockton Kings (G League affiliate of the Sacramento Kings) was the teams defacto lynchpin. Hearn, spoke to FIBA Media about the process of representing the USA in their pursuit of qualification: “It’s definitely an honour. We, I don’t know how the other guys feel, but I kinda feel like the “Junior Varsity”, so to speak, qualifying the varsity. And it takes all of us, you know, with the way that FIBA is doing the scheduling now those guys’ (NBA players) NBA teams aren’t going to let them go and play so it’s on us to qualify the country. And if we don’t do it, those guys don’t get to come in and finish the job so, I think they realise you know the sacrifice that we’re making. You know to get away from our teams and come and play for the country. But at the same time we recognise that we’re getting these guys (NBA players) there so they can finish the job.”The road to ChinaDespite the lack of their elite NBA talent, team USA flourished on the court. Outscoring opponents by an impressive 18.33 points per game, USAB won five games by thirty or more points, and a sixth game by 57 (versus Uruguay).Their 86.2 points per game ranked third overall in the Americas, trailing just Canada and Argentina. Ever present across the top of the stat sheet, USA ranked second in rebounds (44.4rpg), fourth in assists (18.4 apg) and third in efficiency.In an interesting crossover between the difference in playstyle between the American and FIBA game, USA made 38.9% of their 3-pointers in the World Cup Qualifiers. This rate was the highest percentage from behind the arc amongst all teams in the Americas region.Van Gundy shared his thoughts with FIBA Media on what goes into building a successful team“You’ve got to have high basketball character, with high basketball intelligence. Then you try to get enough guys who can score, enough guys who know their game and are willing to be passers and ball movers. Then you’ve got to get everybody to commit to defending and rebounding”. As the old coaching adage goes, Defense wins championships. And it was Team USA’s defense that laid the foundation to their qualification. On the subject, Van Gundy said “That (defense) should be the hallmark of our team, great defense, great rebounding and then transition offense”. Of the twelve teams that competed in Round Two in the Americas, only Brazil could best the USA’s stingy defense, which gave up just 67.83 points per game.However, qualification wasn’t entirely plain sailing for FIBA’s number one ranked team. On Thursday 28 June 2018, in their fifth game, USA suffered their second ever loss to Mexico, going down 78-70 in Mexico City. America were stunned right out of the gate by an 18-0 run in the first quarter, which ultimately proved too big of a hole to climb out of.The USA would stumble once more when they visited their old rivals, Argentina, on 29 November. Despite a quick start, El Alma Argentina, doggedly fought their way back into the game and two runs of 8-0 and 10-0 in the third quarter put the game out of reach for the Americans. The qualification of the USA to any FIBA tournament is normally something that happens with a level of certainty usually reserved only for death and taxes. But, whilst the US had successfully secured their place to the big dance in China following the fifth qualifying window, the manner in which they did so was anything but ordinary.With FIBA’s new qualification system in place, 10 out of the 12 qualifiers clashed with the NBA regular season or preseason training camps. For the first time since Boris Stankovic’s suggestion to drop the “amateur-only” clause from FIBA competitions, USA Basketball (USAB) were faced with the prospect of having to qualify without the use of the country’s top 342 players. It was time to make a rather drastic decision.What unfolded was a storyline not too far removed from a Hollywood underdog movie. Team USA handed the reins, and fate of the country, to a man who had not coached in ten years. And surrounded him with a rag-tag collection of players, from the outskirts of the NBA fraternity. A collection of G League players, scrapping to keep their professional basketball dreams alive.Blast from the pastFollowing the departure of Mike Krzyzewski, after collecting (another) Olympic gold in Rio, Team USA appointed Gregg Popovich as head coach for both the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup and 2020 Olympic Games.However, Popovich’s responsibilities as Head Coach of the San Antonio Spurs conflicted with the FIBA qualification schedule and meant USAB needed to appoint a world-class coach, who was unrestricted by the demanding schedule of the NBA.Cue Jeff Van Gundy, the former Head Coach of the New York Knicks and Houston Rockets. Despite having not being actively involved in coaching in over a decade, Van Gundy has continued to be directly involved with the highest level of basketball as an analyst/colour commentator for ESPN. FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 Groups are IN! The #WorldGotGame! #FIBAWC starts on August 31 2019!A post shared by FIBA Basketball World Cup (@fibawc) on Mar 16, 2019 at 5:00am PDTBy the time the final roster is announced for the World Cup, it is likely that the team will be made up of some of the NBA’s biggest names. USA Basketball fans should remember though how the team reached this tournament. At the FIBA Basketball World Cup live draw – USA basketball learned that it will compete against Turkey, the Czech Republic and Japan in the opening round in Shanghai. Travis Trice – The 6-0 guard for the Wisconsin Herd (Milwaukee Bucks’ G League Affiliate), ran the offense for the USA in all six round two games. Averaging 24.6 minutes per contest, Trice’s 35 total assists were the most amongst all players in the Americas in the second round. He bolstered those dimes with a steady 12 points per game, underpinned by an impressive 48.3% from three. Team USA would have their revenge though, hosting Argentina in the final game of the qualifiers. Down one point, with a single second on the clock, USA ran a box inbound play, leading to Reggie Hearn curling to the near corner. Argentina’s defense was impressive, and all over Hearn, as the guard rose up and hoisted an off-balance long two, stumbling off the court as the ball hit nothing but net on it’s way though. On top of being a revenge game, and with both teams having already qualified for China, the victory also ensured the Americans qualified as the highest seed in Group E, edging out Argentina. 🇺🇸🚨 ALL THE ANGLES OF REGGIE HEARN’S @TISSOT BUZZER BEATER!#FIBAWC #ThisIsMyHouse #ThisIsYourTime @USAbasketball pic.twitter.com/DS6yFuVP5W— Basketball World Cup (@FIBAWC) February 26, 2019That moment was akin to winning the gold medal for this “Junior Varsity” team. The players celebrated wildly on court, knowing that the mission was complete and that their role in the country’s journey to the World Cup had now come to an end.The Men Whose Names Time ForgotBy the time September rolls around, Gregg Popovich will be at the helm and the twelve man squad will resemble an All-NBA team.The USA will be heavily favoured to win their sixth World Cup and, though they won’t receive a winners medal, here are two of the “Junior Varsity” squad who probably deserve one.Reggie Hearn – The consistent heart of this team, Hearn appeared in 9 of the USA’s qualifying games. Only an ankle sprain prevented him from reaching double digits in caps, as he missed his team beating Uruguay to open round two. Averages of 9.7ppg and 3.2 rpg are pretty impressive in just 21 minutes of action, add to that his jaw-dropping 48.8% from three and the value he added to USAB being able to spread the floor is clear. And, to cap it off, he hit the buzzer-beating game winner to secure USA’s spot at the top of the group. Notably, Hearn joined the likes of LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony (and many more) to be named USA Basketball’s Athlete of the Year. View this post on Instagram https://images.daznservices.com/di/library/sporting_news/b4/96/travis-trice-usa-fiba_7iv6q6230ayr1abgockp1ojk1.jpg?t=-1604973367&w=500&quality=80 These guys came through when it mattered the most.📽️ Sights & Sounds from the USA Men’s World Cup Qualifying Team’s thrilling 84-83 @FIBAWC Qualifying win over Argentina ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/AQ08J6Vyrp— USA Basketball (@usabasketball) February 28, 2019 Expect the likes of Steph Curry, James Harden and Anthony Davis to all be involved when the tournament begins in China. But when you’re watching those games, don’t forget those scenes of Reggie Hearn and his teammates leaving it all out on the floor and getting that job done of qualifying USA basketball for the tournament in the first place.