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Sportlight Conversations: Ben Taverner

Ben Taverner recently joined Sportlight as Chief Commercial Officer. Previously Head of Commercial at Serie A Juventus Football Club, Ben has significant experience in sponsorship and hospitality sales across a variety of sports, mainly football. In recent years Ben pivoted to sports technology roles providing software platforms to Sports Teams, Agencies and Brands in Europe. He arrives at Sportlight with invaluable professional experience and an eagerness to stand on the front lines of the next evolutionary steps in player performance technology.

Was there anything specific about Sportlight that drew you to the company, maybe above and beyond just sports technology?

Absolutely. The technology itself – LiDAR – we believe is the next-generation technology for the tracking of player performance. As I did my research for the role at Sportlight, it became very, very clear what the challenges were with GPS, optical and other legacy systems, and they’re very apparent to football clubs. There's a lot of movement in the right direction towards LiDAR. GPS has been used for so long by football clubs, but it’s not very accurate. There are a lot of problems tracking inside stadiums, depending on the size of the stadium, and LiDAR seems to be the next step, the next generation for football clubs. There's been significant investment in the technology, particularly as it relates to the automotive sector and self-driving cars, which Sportlight has continually been able to benefit from. In the end, I want to be part of a journey of success, and LiDAR seems to be taking us that way with football clubs.

Your pivot to sports technology: Was that an opportunity that you sensed, or was it a response to something in your background or an urge to try something new?

It was an opportunity that popped up 6 or 7 years ago, and it is new to me. It was away from the sponsorship and hospitality space, which was my wheelhouse. I wanted to take the role at Sportlight because it was something new, fresh and challenging, in the sense that it’s performance-based technology working inside, and in the back of football clubs , rather than at the front. Sponsorship is generally brand-facing; hospitality is working with high-net-worth individuals or brands. At Sportlight, we work with football clubs technical staff, helping them to analyze players. I had never really touched on the player area. That is part of what attracted me to the role.

What is the current direction of Sportlight’s commercial strategy?

It’s early days, but the strategy, pricing, marketing and how we’re positioning ourselves – is very much my responsibility, and that’s what we’ve been doing since I started in February. We have met with a good portion of the clubs in the Premier League since then and we seem to be on the right track. Our positioning is to offer deeper performance insights, so we want to establish ourselves in the market as additional, high-impact services and products. We market ourselves as a premium product. Fundamentally we offer over and above next gen technology to that of the incumbents. LiDAR isn’t something that’s in competition with anyone else, we have patents in both Europe and the US. It’s that next level, that next jump into hyper-accurate technology for player tracking and performance insights. In the end, players are clubs’ biggest assets, and it seems to be a no-brainer to invest in those assets to understand players on a deeper level. Whether you’re selling players or looking after those players, you want to know how they’re performing, and GPS or optical tracking just doesn’t cut it.

What can you share about Sportlight’s future plans, whether that means branching out from football to other sports or entering new markets?

The strategy today is very much focused on the Premier League, but we’ve also already had advanced conversations with a couple of teams in the NBA. In the EPL, we have 19 of 20 clubs right now – whether that’s on an R&D basis, a pilot basis or contractual. So we will carry on developing those relationships. Naturally, the next step would be the NBA, as well as other European football leagues, where obviously we have a lot of experience – six years of experience tracking player performance. I would like to leverage some of my network in Serie A in Italy, in Ligue 1 in France and then in the Bundesliga in Germany, and we’re already speaking to various people in LaLiga in Spain.

Are there aspects to some of these teams’ data that isn’t currently being leveraged? How might Sportlight help in that regard?

We don’t want to spread ourselves too thinly and we want to stay focused on what we’re good at. The

re are all sorts of other companies – and much bigger companies – that are really good at other aspects in the data space, for media, betting and other areas.

At the moment, we’re looking to the 2023-24 season for the EPL and we have a suite of solutions that enable clubs to get on the platform and access our innovative features and benefits. Then the modules provide value in specific areas such as player development, the fatiguing of players, the rehabilitation of players, and the detailed reporting of player performance after a match, for example.

What else do you anticipate in the future of sports technology?

The evolution of sports tech is quite interesting, how it started, clothing then moving to wearables, replays, virtual imaging, broadcasting, performance analysis, injury prevention, and of course optical tracking around pitches. Technology changes quickly, clearly it’s constantly changing everyone’s lives and that filters down or trickles down to changing professional sports. I think American sports are ahead of European sports – who knows, a few years technologically, or at least marketwise. If you look at the NBA and how they utilize technology platforms across the league, football is relatively behind the curve. So inevitably, I think companies like ours will capture the right kind of attention and enable the Premier League to catch up.

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