What are the implications of data in football for clubs and bettors?

Tom Worville discusses the potential changes that could occur for both football clubs and bettors, if understanding and application of analytics becomes more widespread

Categories: Data, Football, Professional, Statistical models

The use of analytics means that clubs can run their scouting unit at a lower cost and pick up players from smaller leagues without having to send scouts to each corner of the globe to look at talent.

In the Internet age, this use of resources on scouting trips like this seems very wasteful – when an early look at a player can be done using the numbers.

What does this use of data mean for the betting community? Football becomes more unpredictable and therefore harder for bookies to judge. It also means there is going to be an interest in sports bettors in the next few years also and their models by clubs.

The use of statistical models also makes a global scouting network a lot more affordable for clubs. They can expand to places they couldn’t previously afford to reach. They can also help shrink the current scouting department. FC Porto has 200 scouts currently employed, how many would they need if they implemented the use of statistical models?

In terms of on-pitch applications of data, a recent article by Michael Caley revealed the rate of scoring from a corner. Roughly speaking, a goal from a corner is scored 3.5% of the time and conceded 0.4%. This 0.4% represents goals being scored on the counter against a team taking a corner.

Brentford and FC Midtjylland are the current poster boys of the analytics revolution in football. (Note: Matthew Benham, the owner of Smartodds and Matchbook, owns both clubs.) The former securing promotion to the Championship and a play off spot in the space of 12 months, the latter just won their first league championship.

Both of these teams, and more specifically Midtjylland, have benefited from what Goodman has written about recently and turned the odds on scoring from set pieces in their favour.

So much so, that Midtjylland have scored an unprecedented amount of goals from these situations, averaging one goal a game. Why is this important? If other teams adopt these new set piece strategies in the future there could be scope to beat the odds.

This ability to beat the odds is interesting. Evidently bookmakers are quick to adapt to the changes in tactics, but there are always efficiencies to be seen in the smaller leagues – which bookies are always slower to adapt to.

Furthermore the more teams slowly begin to copy the tactical ideas of Benhams clubs we’ll see more uncertainty in the market in the short term. Potentially we are entering an era of more goals, potentially less.

Another new trend is the rise and popularity of football data sites such was Whoscored and squawka. Despite these sites providing the data – and not necessarily the analysis – they do mean fans have access to football data. The everyday fan can now easily pull together some basic metrics to aid their betting decisions.

These metrics or models that fans are creating may not be that advanced, and may require further analysis to fully understand the meaning behind the numbers. Having said that, there are certainly more ‘fanalysts’ now than there were 10 years ago.

For bookies, a smarter bettor means a squeeze on the easy money they’ll make. A squeeze of a large size would mean that the odds would have to change to be more enticing for people to make bets – exposing bookmakers to potentially bigger loses in the future.

This all really does depend on a few factors. For one, the fact that education in betting catches on and more fans start betting smartly. There are many sites out there promoting odds that are enticing, but these are usually quickly changed by bookies to prevent them losing too much should the bet comes in.

Evidently one problem is actually getting the bet on, but there would definitely be a point where if a great majority of bettors start adopting simple models and making smarter betting patterns, then the bookies would be helpless in closing these accounts. The closing of a multitude of accounts would lead to unsustainable large losses.

Secondly this is definitely more long term (and wishful) thinking – but if the playing styles of Brentford and Midtjylland take off and beat the odds more than they are doing – we’re likely to see other teams take note and therefore unpredictability in the markets will set in.

This unpredictability is – as most of the readers of sports trading network know – an opportunity to make great returns.

So evidently there are hopefully bigger gains to be made in the future. For years we’ve had stupid play and uninformed bettors. With an influx of data and more informed bettors, maybe this could change.