In a deal that brings together two of the biggest names in video enhancement and virtual insertion graphics for live sports, SMT (SportsMEDIA Technology) has acquired Sportvision. The new entity combines SMT’s live-data–integration technology, real-time graphics presentation, and video-enhancement solutions with Sportvision’s extensive virtual-graphics/insertion portfolio, which includes sports-TV staples the Virtual Yellow 1st & Ten line, PITCH/fx MLB pitch/strike-zone–tracking system, and NASCAR tracking and pointer system, as well as virtual-signage insertion. The Durham, NC-based SMT will acquire a 100% interest in Chicago-based Sportvision, which will be rebranded as SMT. The acquisition agreement closed on Oct. 4 and has been approved by shareholders of both companies. Financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed.
“SMT has always had tremendous respect for the applied science, the cutting-edge technology, and the creative innovation that runs through the DNA of Sportvision. While other companies claim to have had a game-changing impact on how sports are presented, Sportvision enjoys an unparalleled and industrywide reputation for delivering actual game-changing solutions,” says SMT founder/CEO Gerard J. Hall. “Even though we have been competitors, I can’t imagine any other company having more appreciation for Sportvision’s legacy. And, from a strategic standpoint, this acquisition makes a lot of sense because through it, SMT will gain access to critical, state-of-the-art, Sportvision technology components that will accelerate SMT’s plans for expanding current product and services offerings and accelerate SMT plans for developing next generation products, services, and platforms for our clients. ”
Bringing Sportvision Under the SMT Umbrella
According to the terms of the deal, Hall, who founded SMT in 1988, will remain CEO and controlling shareholder of the expanded SMT. Although Sportvision’s Chicago administrative office will close, its technology facility in Fremont, CA, will remain intact. SMT will now have U.S. operating divisions in Durham, Fremont, and Jacksonville, FL.
“It’s no surprise that Sportvision’s technology team is a big part of the acquisition,” says Hall. “The Fremont, CA, office will stay business as usual. The biggest thing is to keep our clients happy, so we are going to make sure the Fremont office stays as efficient and successful as possible. We are fully expecting Fremont will operate as is for the foreseeable future.”
An Expanded Customer and Tech Portfolio
The combined Sportvision-SMT portfolio will now comprise hundreds of major U.S. sports events, as well as major sports broadcasters, such as CBS Sports, ESPN, Fox Sports, NBC Sports Group, and Turner Sports.
In addition, SMT has designed and developed and currently supports the official scoring, statistics, and onsite live-presentation systems for the NBA, the NHL, the PGA TOUR, NASCAR, the CrossFit Games, all four golf majors, and the four tennis slams: the US Open, Wimbledon, Roland Garros, and the Australian Open.
Meanwhile, Sportvision solutions have been deployed on countless live sports telecasts, including NFL, MLB, NASCAR, the Olympic Games, NHL, PGA TOUR, LPGA Tour, NBA, NCAA, WTA, MLS, IRL, and X Games.
“I am pleased that Sportvision has found a great acquirer in SMT. They are a leader in the sports-technology industry, and they have been very successful across many decades in the business,” said Sportvision CEO Hank Adams in a statement. “Sportvision has a terrific collection of existing products and innovative technologies under development. Combining these with SMT’s capabilities will provide fans, teams, and media companies with exceptional insights and value.”
Building the Brain Trust
With the Sportvision acquisition, SMT expands not only its client base but also its core technology arsenal (Sportvision has received more than 70 patents) and R&D team. SMT is currently developing platforms and paradigms for the seamless use of live, real-time, object-tracking technology in sports production, visualization, and analytics. Despite being direct competitors for several years, Hall sees the two companies’ technologies as complementary and believes sports-broadcast and sports-event customers will begin to see benefits of the marriage almost immediately.
“Having best-in-class [player-tracking] systems that combine infrared with ultra-wide-band, RFID, or image-based tracking is the [goal] here. We feel like the consolidation of SMT and Sportvision’s technologies gives us a great opportunity to create those next-gen products,” says Hall. “This is a watershed moment for SMT and a watershed moment for the industry. By combining the best of SMT with the best of Sportvision – and operating with far greater technical and financial efficiency – SMT can ensure that cost-effective and innovate products, services, and solutions will be available to our customers and clients for years to come. The innovation is going to be very interesting, and we have a lot of things in the pipeline.”
SMT’s acquisition of Sportvision also follows on the heels of SMT’s recently announced hiring of 30-year ESPN veteran Jed Drake to lead its emerging technology initiatives.
Reacting to an Evolving (and Growing) Industry
The SMT-Sportvision deal arrives at a time when the player-tracking and data-virtualization business is exploding. All four major U.S. sports leagues have committed to player-tracking systems in recent years, and broadcasters are increasingly integrating the technologies into their TV and streaming productions.
“We see the market for tracking objects in space only getting bigger, and we now have the best technology in the world to do that,” says Hall. “From Sportvision’s image-tracking engine, which they have heavily invested in, to the infrared tracking technology that Sportvision just deployed at the World Cup of Hockey to our ultra-wide-band and RFID-chip tracking and our image-based tracking, we feel like we have created a truly best-of-breed [offering] under the SMT umbrella.”
In addition, the announcement comes on the heels of another high-profile announcement in player tracking: the NBA has selected SportsData and Second Spectrum for a league-wide player-tracking system beginning with the 2017-18 season. The two companies replace STATS’ SportVU system, which had been instituted across all NBA arenas in 2013 (STATS recently rebranded following the loss).
Odds and Ends of the Deal
The transaction was unanimously approved by SMT’s board of directors and was financed through a minority round investment by Eldridge Industries, Vicente Capital Partners, and SMT CEO Gerard J. Hall. Eldridge Industries invests in businesses across multiple industries with a focus on finance, media, sports, and real estate. It’s media investments include Dick Clark Productions, The Hollywood Reporter, andBillboard and is led by Chairman and /CEO Todd Boehly, a principal owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Vicente Capital Partners, a current SMT investor dating from its initial minority investment in 2010, is a Los Angeles-based private-equity fund specializing in providing equity capital to privately held growth companies across North America.
Lazard Middle Market provided SMT with financial advisory services throughout the transaction. Pepper Hamilton of Philadelphia, led by Matt Adler, provided legal services to SMT for all aspects of the financing and the transaction.
SMT’s current banking partner, Raleigh, NC-based Fifth Third, was instrumental in the funding of the acquisition. SMT is a privately held company with headquarters in Durham and operations in Jacksonville and London.