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

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.

Football in-running arbitrage opportunities

GP Liang, a quantitative analyst of Eclipse Research, considers the arbitrage opportunities between the Asian-style bookmakers (IBC, SBO, Pinnacle, etc) during a game.

This article considers the arbitrage opportunities between the Asian-style bookmakers (IBC, SBO, Pinnacle, etc) during In-Running. With the correct prices and stakes allocations there are enough opportunities to achieve a strategy with “guaranteed profits”. However, there are still some risks, which should be considered carefully before implementation.

In-Running sports betting has becoming more popular in recent years with the advancement in technology such as live TV/data feeds  assisting the sportsbook’s traders to monitor the matches closely and adjust prices quickly. Punters place their bets, hoping to earn quick cash (bets will be settled in less than two hours’ time), whilst enjoying the live game.

Bookmakers such as IBC, SBO, Pinnacle, etc. are offering low spreads for Asian handicaps and Total Goals – Overs/Unders (abbreviated to AH & OU) to attract volume. For the major leagues the spreads can be as low as 8 points (ie. evens odds of 0.96-0.96, implying an over-round of just 102.1%) for AH and 10 points (ie. evens odds of 0.95-0.95, implying an over-round of just 102.6%) for OU. Bookmakers have their own price adjustment mechanisms to balance their risk exposure which can take them out of line with other marketmakers. That is when there may be arbitrage opportunities. Here is one such example:

Match Date: 07 Apr 2014;

Home Team & Away Team: Tottenham Hotspur vs Sunderland

Match Minute: 1h, 25’;

Current Score: 0-1;

For OU handicap 3.0, IBC is offering Over @0.72, Under @1.21; while Pinnacle is offering Over @0.84, Under @1.06. Converting from Hong Kong Odds to Malay Odds the IBC Under 3 price is -0.82, which can be arbitraged with the Pinnacle Over 3 price of 0.84. The profitable spread is 2 points (-0.82 + 0.84 = 0.02). A risk-free stake allocation is shown in Table 1:

Over 3 Under 3
Bet Odds 1.21 0.84
Stakes $450 $540

Table 1: Stake allocation for arbitrage bets

The pay-outs are as shown in Table 2:

Over 3 Pay-outs Under 3 Pay-outs Final Pay-outs
If Final Total Scores higher than 3 $544.50 -$540.00 $4.50
If Final Total Scores equal to 3 $0.00 $0.00 $0.00
If Final Total Scores less than 3 -$450.00 $453.60 $3.60

Table 2: Final Pay-outs based on stakes allocation & betting Odds

From Table 2, it is guaranteed that you will make a profit or, if the total goals is exactly 3, get your stake back. The ROI could be 0.45% ($4.50/ ($450 + $540) x 100%). With possible 0.25% rebates, the actual ROI could be up to 0.7%. The final score for this match was 5-1.

The Author has done some back-tests with such a strategy using IBC, SBO and Pinnacle. For a strategy where one bets whenever the profitable spread is higher than or equal to 2 points, the average month yielded 1,657 arbitrage opportunities, with a potential ROI of 1.22%. When the minimum profitable spread was reduced to 1 point, the average month yielded 2,371 arbitrage opportunities, with a potential ROI of 0.9%. The number of paired bets could be increased further if more bookmakers are included.

However, before you make your decision to grab those “guaranteed profits”, there are some potential pitfalls which you should consider carefully:

  1. You must have a solid system to support your strategy which can scan prices with accuracy and then place both bets within a short time period. The arbitrage opportunities only exist for a few seconds, as bookmakers closely monitor their rival’s prices. Also, it is likely you will be competing with other “arbitrage bots”.
  2. If only one of your bets is successful you will be exposed. For example, if your over bet was successful but the price for the under bet has dropped it is unlikely you will get another opportunity to complete the arbitrage. If it is the over bet that fails you may have chance to try again, unless there is a goal and you are left with a bet very likely to lose. If your ROI from successful arbitrage pairs is 1%, then for every time you are only successful with the losing bet of an arbitrage pair then, on average, you will need 50 successful arbitrage pairs to compensate.

Avoiding Betfair’s premium charge

Since the introduction of the punitive charge for the most successful players globally, there are some strategies that such players can adopt to minimise their exposure to Betfair’s platform.

Betfair is the world’s largest sports trading exchange, controlling an estimated 80%+ of exchange liquidity globally. Betfair initially introduced the Premium Charge for winning customers in 2008, to an array of criticism from their biggest winning customers. In 2011, they went further and increased the charge on profits for these customers, to 60%. In effect, this was targeted at high-end syndicates and traders as well as auto-execution algorithmic players, also known as robotic players.

Due to Betfair’s dominance as the world’s largest betting exchange, traders using any winning strategy to make consistently high profits, have no option but to accept the 60% charge. However, more and more successful football traders are looking for other strategies and platforms away from Betfair.

Asia offers a unique opportunity for winning football / soccer betting strategies, within pre-game or in-play betting. A number of Asian-facing trading platforms exist which offer better prices and liquidity with no premium charge. These can be either 1×2 or Asian Handicap lines and can be manually or electronically traded. However, many of these Asian books rely on agent accounts to gain access and for large volume trading, these bookmakers will use a credit system, rather than a more traditional European approach of cash deposit betting.

Our network includes operators based in London, Singapore, Hong Kong and Manila, who are looking for winning traders in football and basketball, whether you are currently working for a bookmaker, a syndicate or from your home in your part time. These groups can offer high-speed, low latency betting platforms with better liquidity than Betfair across pre-game and in-play markets, 1×2 or Asian Hadicap.

Sports betting in Asia

Betting in Asia is huge in comparison to the rest of the world, the sports betting industry in Asia accounts for billions of pounds every year. This means that there…

Betting in Asia is huge in comparison to the rest of the world, the sports betting industry in Asia accounts for billions of pounds every year. This means that there are bigger bets and more competitive prices to take advantage of. Due to the massive stakes involved, the large Asian bookmakers such as SBO operate on a much lower margin than the European counterparts.

It is more akin to high frequency trading in the sense that they look for the small spread in-between the shifting prices than taking a position on individual outcomes. The punter therefore has a better chance of winning long term than they do using many European books where the margins are typically double or three times that of those in Asia.

Due to this massive demand for sports wagering, the major bookmakers in Asia offer prices and significant liquidity on almost every game for football, no matter how obscure the league or division. Sports’ betting is a big part of Asian culture today. There is no sporting event that you cannot place a bet on. People think that betting adds a little more fun to the game and that’s why they participate in this activity. Almost all sports fans in Asia place wagers in sports at some point in time. The most common type of bet struck on sports in Asia is the Asian Handicap. Asian Handicap betting is becoming more and more popular as it providers punters the opportunity to eliminate the ‘draw’ in a sports game. For this reason, this form of bet has become popular not only in Asia but also in Europe. While handicap betting applies to several sports like hockey, NHL etc, Asian Handicaps remain very popular in football.

This form of betting gives the bookmaker a smaller margin; it also tries to balance the odds as best it can to a 50-50 outcome. This means all games can be made interesting and balanced no matter how varying in ability the two teams facing each other are.  This allows for much bigger volumes and competitive prices than those seen in Europe. Over/Under and 1 X 2 betting is also offered widely though Asian Handicaps allow for the biggest bets.

The Asian betting market is opening up more towards the European market, from recreational players to semi-pro and professional trading groups and syndicates. Laws which had previously been an obstacle to some of the betting practices have been lifted or relaxed. The reputable agent system in Asia allows for a safe-guarding of funds for the more cautious individual has brought in many high staking players. Major operations such as SBO, Mansion and 188bet sponsoring premiership teams have also increased awareness to the Western market. However, it has to be said that these sponsorship deals are primarily for the colossal Asian television market that watch these teams every week and provide the majority of the liquidity. Some Asian sports betting sites are getting Western interfaces opening up this huge liquidity and competitive pricing to a larger customer pool.

It is often said that the prices on the majority of football games are derived in Asia and any odds changes are seen with the Asian’s first. This tends to be true for almost all matches. It is very easy to see the price change in Asia due to a number of big bets, often placed because they are best price. It is then inevitable that the smaller European bookmakers or the exchanges react similarly.

As the awareness in Europe grows for the sizeable volumes and best price available in Asia for individuals and betting syndicates so will the appetite for accounts with them. As more punters make inroads into the Asian betting market the punter will benefit from an ever growing liquidity for big bets and best price in a virtuous circle.

Asian handicaps – the basics

An article that briefly outlines the commonly used Asian lines which are becoming more prevalent in today’s global sports trading.

Asian Handicap betting is becoming more and more popular as it providers traders the opportunity to eliminate the ‘draw’ in a football game. For this reason, this form of bet has become popular not only in Asia but also in Europe. While handicap trading applies to several sports like hockey, Asian Handicaps remain very popular in football.

Handicap bets in general work by providing a team with an advantage or a disadvantage of goals. By doing so, the draw outcome of a match is eliminated, leaving only home and away wins as the choices. By awarding an advantage to one of the teams, the probability of either home or away win is balanced, and the odds are usually evens (or plus-minus 10%) for these bets. The advantage awarded in an Asian handicap could range from as little as 0.25 (quarter-ball) to much higher, such as 4.5, for a weak team.

Some examples will now clarify how Asian handicap bets work.

  1. Half-ball (0.5 goals advantage): One of the most popular bet formats. For example £100 is placed on Liverpool with a handicap of -0.5 (Liverpool have a -0.5 goals disadvantage) against Swansea City. Here essentially, Swansea is the underdog, and the bet is only a winner if Liverpool wins the game. Should Swansea get a draw or a win, the handicap tips the bet the other way. This system works for 1.5, 2.5 goal handicaps etc.
  2. Full-ball or an Asian Handicap of 1: This time, let’s say Manchester United have a handicap of -1 against Norwich City. In this case, the bet is won, should United win by 2 goals or more. Should Norwich draw or win, we will lose our bet. However, in case United win by exactly one goal, our bet will be a push or void bet, and our stake will be returned. This system works in a similar manner for handicaps of 1, 2, 3 etc.
  3. Deadball or 0 handicap: In this case neither team has a clear cut advantage. Say a game between Spurs and Arsenal. Let’s assume we back Spurs at a 0 goal handicap. Should Spurs win, we win our bet. We would lose the bet if Arsenal win the match. In the case of a draw, the stake will be refunded (void bet). This is the same as the western draw no bet