Squawka serves up soccer data

Squawka is one of the new breed of football websites and apps powered by vast amounts of data – in this case provided by Opta – that offer a completely new level of fan engagement with the sport. SVG Europe spoke to its co-founder & CEO, Sanjit Atwal, about attracting media buyers, how it differentiates itself from its competitors, and its plans for the future

Squawka is powered by Opta data, as are several other sites. How do you differentiate what you’re offering from the competition?

Opta is a fantastic supplier of sports data and, yes, there are many media owners that are using the same raw data. You can get around 3000-4000 raw data points from Opta during a 90-minute match – we have two USPs around the data. Firstly, we are pulling all of the data in realtime and visualising it instantly so that fans can easily follow what is going on in the game. Secondly, we build upon the data points with our own proprietary algorithm that turns that raw 3000-4000 into over 500,000,000 data points so that we can get a true view of the contribution of any given player or team. We call it our Performance Score and it runs in realtime to bring the fan closer to the story of the game.

Given that, what are the challenges in keeping latency to a minimum and everything in realtime? At what point can you start to lose users?

Our data will update anywhere between 30 seconds and 90 seconds – this gives us enough bandwidth to not only maintain a stable infrastructure but to also to deliver an amazing user experience. Of course it has taken a lot of testing to get us there as we have grown from 200k unique monthly visitors to over 2m in just 12 months but we are very happy with the current latency of the system.

What is the workflow? How does the Opta data come in to you and how do you process it?

Opta has three people watching each game and logging the data. Each time the ball goes out of play (or there is a suitable opportunity) the data is then pushed out via XML. We then re-purpose that data to fit our own data structure and push it into our visualisation engine ready for the users. At the same time we are calculating the Performance Score which also is pushed into the visualisation engine. Once the game has finished we begin the process of populating all of the player and team profile pages that we host across the site and the various tools we have built for users to compare and rank players.

You started off web-based and now have an app up and running. How difficult was it to port the browser-based service over?

In practical terms, we facilitated the process by building a sole master-API out of the Squawka system. This was overlaid with new interaction design.

We were initially going to build an app-first business; however, the concept of fans consuming realtime data was still nascent when we were discussing the business in 2011 so we launched on the web first to get as many audience insights as we could. This meant that when we did launch the iOS app we had a really good idea about which features fans wanted to see. This process is constantly on-going and the upcoming Android release will again have new features and iterations.

The Guardian newspaper seems to have made a great success of its OBO cricket coverage by striking the right tone with its readers. How do you get that editorial balance and tone right?

As our service has grown so has our understanding of the ‘voice’ users are looking for. When we started it, we may have been a tad dry as that was just how we were using the data and graphics at our disposal. However, we have developed our tone to now hold fast to three core values: to be fun, to be engaging, and to be informative. If we hit one or more of these values in our content then from a strategic point of view we (and our users) are happy.

Users can share your data via social media. How much traffic are you seeing out to Facebook and Twitter as opposed to people staying in your own chat panel?

We do see a lot of people sharing out (especially to Twitter) and truth be told we haven’t yet scratched the surface of the power of the chat panel. This is mainly due to a relentless development cycle over many areas of the business. However, we do have a few updates coming this year that will make the chat panel much more engaging.

How many people are you seeing interact per match? How many can you scale to?

It really depends on the game – for example our biggest Champions League games have had around 20k users in a match centre, while a Mexican league game may not be as well observed… Scale-wise we have not yet hit a limit on users, however on transfer deadline day we were comfortably serving nearly 2000 page views per minute across our news and live feed sections.

How long are individual users staying online with you: an entire match or do they flit about more than that?

We do have a hardcore of user that spend an average of 39 minutes in a live web match centre consuming data, graphics, images and social media. What we are seeing, especially in the app, is that on game days fans are looking for that level between finding out the live score and getting added value information. This is reflected in the high average screens viewed per session of over 10 on the app in January.

The World Cup is probably going to be when the second screen truly shifts into being a mass market proposition. What are your plans?

Obviously the World Cup is going to huge for anyone in our industry. Our plans are to very much ensure that every game is covered to a deep level and that our content is adhering to the core values of the business. We are focused on delivering cutting-edge, engaging experiences for fans that they can’t get anywhere else. We also have some incredible product updates that will be available for the World Cup but I couldn’t possibly share them just yet 🙂

So the ‘m’ word: monetisation…

We have been lucky in that we have been attracting revenue since the first day of launch through our media agency partners and brands direct. As 2013 went on we had more and more attention from the media world and I’m pleased to see that we are on course to hit our Q1 2014 revenue target through display, social and content marketing opportunities for brands.

The team certainly recognise that in order to attract more campaigns that we need to be able to offer innovative and effective solutions for media buyers. With that in mind we have built proprietary ad solutions that can dynamically change a brand message depending on what is happening during a game. For example, we ran a very successful campaign with Dominos pizza in which their message changed after 15 minutes to offer a half-time voucher code. We had a great response from that campaign and have run similar campaigns with bookmakers to drive ‘smart’ odds.

Data is obviously becoming more and more valuable. Can you foresee a future where its providers are locked into exclusive contracts?

Personally I believe that, in sport, the opposite needs to happen. The distribution of data to fans in a digestible format is key to helping educate a new generation of fan on the game. I’m not saying that every fan wants data but the option should be there for all to enjoy the access free of charge.

What are your expansion plans. Will you be branching into other languages, sports and territories?

We are in discussions in a number of markets to deliver local language services. However, it’s very much a revenue-led approach so we will not be actively deploying multi-language solutions in all territories just yet.

Other sports are very interesting for us and we have many options but the most interesting may also be the more off-the-wall sports. The benefits of Squawka entering a new sport revolves around two key areas: 1) helping to attract new fans to a sport; 2) helping retain and extend consumption patterns for existing fans. When viewing your question through these two points I think you’ll agree that there are many possibilities for Squawka.

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