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'Important thing about innovation is it isn't for gimmick's sake'

By Liam Heagney

Trending on RugbyPass

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Ireland and Lions rugby legend Brian O’Driscoll enjoyed a Tuesday with an enriching difference last week working at a studio in London as one of the judges in Innovate 21, BT Sport’s search for exciting new sports broadcast experiences from entrepreneurs, creatives and start-ups. He was tickled by the presentations of all four shortlisted finalists but in the end joined ex-footballer Robbie Savage in deciding that the winner should be AriSports, a digital prediction platform that is the brainchild of co-founders Rassim and Djewed Hariz. 

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Their innovation allows football fans to predict on-pitch events, earning points in the process and competing against friends. It even includes a fantasy trading element where fans can collect and own unique digital cards of their favourite football players. These cards can increase in value, depending on the player’s real-life performances and correct predictions from the owner of the card. 

AriSports will now have the opportunity to work with BT Sport to develop its technology for future use and O’Driscoll can’t wait to see how their partnership unfolds. “There were four good finalists and all presented very well,” he enthused to RugbyPass. “But the innovation that did win, they presented phenomenally well. They did their homework on all of us, knew a lot of details about us, made it interactive with us, allowed us to get involved and it all came from a very clever background.”

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Innovate 21 was the third occasion BT Sport backed a search for new viewer innovations from small businesses. Seenit, the winner of a 2016 BT competition, enabled fans to send in video reports from stadia around the UK as part of BT Sport’s Premier League Tonight show.

Meanwhile, Sceenic, the winner of a 2018 BT competition, worked with BT Sport to support last year’s launch of Watch Together service on the BT Sport App, something O’Driscoll explained he had a fun time trialling when he was hooked up over his phone last October with three Made in Chelsea influencers to watch the final of the 2019/20 Gallagher Premiership final.

“We were watching the Premiership final between Wasps and Exeter. I’d worked earlier that day at Ireland versus Italy (in a rescheduled Six Nations fixture) and I then watched the game with JP Patterson and some others. Watch Together was a company with such clever technology and it couldn’t have been better timed with the pandemic where you were able to watch a game on your phone or your tablet with your mates, with three mates, which was brilliant. 

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“I did a bit of promo work with a couple of influencers from Made in Chelsea. I had never met these lads before, but they were seriously good value. If you can have the craic with guys you don’t know, you will have great fun with your mates. It’s all about how you add to that experience and actually offer something that is beneficial and worthwhile rather than just have it there for the sake of being an innovator. 

“BT definitely have always been big on innovation, changing, working and moving with the times. The important thing about innovation is that it is not for gimmick’s sake, that it actually adds value to your viewing experience. We all have an appreciation now, particularly younger generations, that there is a need for multi-faceted involvement in watching live sport. It’s not just watching on TV at home or in a bar anymore. It’s multi-screen, it’s interaction with your friends, it’s being an armchair pundit. It’s all of those things that can add value.”

It was 2014 when O’Driscoll, the former Ireland and Lions skipper, retired from playing and moved into punditry with BT Sport. His interest in the latter stages of his career in new business start-ups and innovations was something that had resulted in him backing the Ultimate Rugby scores app and this curiosity hasn’t dimmed. 

Ask what has lately caught the eye and there are kudos for STATSports and Kitman Labs. “STATSports are an Irish company that uses the GPS unit. What they are going to do now is bring in the viewer at home and offer you your own pack. They have had a load of the footballers invest in them and they now want to show all of the detail and data they are recording throughout the game, have people challenge them at home in trying to match what they are capable of doing, high-speed metres, distances covered and all that. To align themselves with the fan at home is a really clever next step for them. 

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“Then there is another Irish company run by my old Leinster team fitness coach, Steve Smith. Kitman Labs have gone over to the States and are doing brilliant stuff. They have huge integration across multi-sports and are really good on injury prevention.”

When it comes to his own preparation for rugby punditry, though, his own Ultimate Rugby app comes into its own. “It remains a massively important component in being an analyst, being able to look back on most recent games, picking up information on them and understanding the sequence of how games evolved. All that stuff is massively important,” he reckoned.    

  • BT has been at the heart of sports broadcasting innovation over recent years, details of which can be seen at btsport.com/innovates

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'Important thing about innovation is it isn't for gimmick's sake'

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