Charlie Ebersol on the AAF sidelines in 2019. AAF founder Charlie Ebersol waits for the game to start at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Ariz. on February 10, 2019. [Photo from Patrick Breen/The Arizona Republic, via USA Today Sports.]

Last week, Tempus Ex Machina announced its first professional soccer partnership, signing a seven-year deal with Premier League club Chelsea FC. This comes after previous deals the tech company struck with the NFL and the Pac-12, but it takes them into a new sport, and into a new realm of team-specific deals. As per a release, the deal will see Chelsea use Tempus Ex’s FusionFeed technology to “synchronize and deliver every available piece of data generated by every data and video vendor at a live sporting event— including every video angle, stats platform, and player tracker covering every play.”

At Chelsea, that involves a lot of pieces. The partnership is expected to have impacts on “the club’s official app, digital and mobile fan engagement, in-stadium fan enhancements, and sponsor activations, as well as coaching, training, player health and safety, and match preparation.” Tempus Ex CEO Charlie Ebersol spoke to AA via phone last week on this deal, and said the combination of Chelsea’s status as a top club with a worldwide following and their new ownership group of Todd Boehly and Behdad Eghbali made them a perfect team to partner with.

“First, Chelsea is one of the gold standards in all of professional sports,” Ebersol said. “When you think about the franchises that define the upper echelon of sport, you think about the Dodgers, and the Yankees, and the Cowboys, and so on, and Chelsea is clearly one of them.”

“And, secondly, Behdad and Todd, they have shown over and over and over again to be among the most forward-thinking owners in all of professional sports. And they made a really compelling case to me about what their long-term goal is for what Chelsea can be. And we felt that that was so aligned with our version.”

Ebersol said it’s important for their company to team up with top partners at this point in time, too.

“The third reason is that one of the things that we’ve tried to do with each of the partners we’ve brought on, we think that who our partners are speak to what we do. And between the NFL, and Chelsea, and we’ll be announcing a couple more in the next couple of weeks, you’ll begin to see a pattern of us really focusing on blue-chip partners. And it helps that Chelsea’s color is literally blue.”

To date, Tempus Ex’s deals have largely been about the American version of football, obviously with their NFL partnership, but also with their Pac-12 partnership starting on the football side (although there are plans to go beyond that). And their product somewhat grew out of football, dating back to technology developed for the old Alliance of American Football (which Ebersol was also CEO of; he’s seen at center above during a 2019 AAF game). The Chelsea move is Tempus Ex’s first move into soccer. But Ebersol said his co-founder Erik Schwartz, the company’s president and chief product officer, always intended their technology to be about much more than just football.

“The genius of my co-founder, Erik, was that his vision was to build a sport-agnostic system that really didn’t think about a specific sport, but sport at large,” Ebersol said. “So when he came up with this idea and we came together to build it, it’s why the company is called Tempus Ex Machina, we’re very focused on time. It’s the great unifier, instead of whatever the sport is. So it was important to us to be able to show people, and we’ve started to do that with the Pac-12 with some of the other sports, what the full capabilities are. And [laughs] we figured that changing two “o”s [football] to one “u” [futbol] would be easier than going to a full different word.”

He said the key for them is providing a connectivity backbone that brings together all sorts of data, covering everything from on-pitch player tracking to statistics to fan engagement with the official 5th Stand app.

“Our technology ultimately is infrastructure. When we go into a sport or a stadium or a team, whoever our partner is, we’re not really going in and building a specific data capture tool, camera capture tool. We’ve built a system that allows you to take every available vendor that you have and pull them all together. And really, the dream is that whatever people invent will be invented on our technology.”

“I like to talk about, as a parallel or a comparison, the thing with Google Maps, when Google invented Google Maps and the API, no one was thinking about ride-sharing. It was four or five years before ride-sharing was invented. But because they democratized access to the data, somebody was going to invent something that was going to be great. …My bet is that once you start to democratize access to all the data sets, and Chelsea has incredible partners, Second Spectrum, Hawkeye, Opta, these are the best companies in the world at what they do, and creating an environment where you can work with all that data simultaneously will make those companies’ lives better. And, on the other side, I think we’re going to get new technology, and new fan engagement that none of us can even think of yet.”

Tempus Ex’s previous deals have had some level of fan-facing component, but that’s frequently been through further outside partners beyond teams or leagues. For example, their Pac-12 deal involves Opendorse, Twitter, and Curastory as ways for student-athletes to monetize highlights and commentary. They do have a deal with social media content creation/asset distribution company Slate, but Slate is the forward-facing part of that. The Chelsea deal feels like it may have a larger and more immediate connection to fans with what it means for Chelsea’s popular in-house 5th Stand app, but Ebersol said that’s not a particular Tempus Ex goal. He said they’re more focused on what they can provide app-builders.

“We are not focused on a direct fan relationship. Because look at Chelsea with their The 5th Stand app, look at the NFL with NFL+, the best people in the world are building these fan engagement apps. We view it as our responsibility to give them the best infrastructure that we’re building. Another comparison I like to use is when Intel [first came out with] the Pentium processor, they said ‘We’re not building the laptop, we’re just giving you the best processor the world has ever seen so you can do better things.’ So from our perspective, we look at something like The 5th Stand, which was revolutionary when it started. By superpowering their data, the data that’s going to come in and all the things we can put in there, we think, and based on what they’ve shown us over the last couple of weeks, I’m fairly confident that what they’re going to put forward is going to be special.”

Ebersol did say Tempus Ex has been involved in building one specific upcoming 5th Stand feature, though.

“One of the products that we’re going to roll out in the next couple of weeks is being built by our team in very close contact with The 5th Stand. So that’s the first time we’re building a product that fans will directly interact with. And that’s been a phenomenal process, being part of the creative process with the guys who built 5th Stand has been awesome.”

[Photo from Patrick Breen/The Arizona Republic, via USA Today Sports.]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.