Almost all betting operators have stated that through intelligence and effective data gathering they are becoming smarter…but so too are professional gamblers who are looking towards ‘big data’ to gain their advantage on bookmaker markets! Scott Longley examines new trends and strategies taken on-board by pro-punters…
Scraping through against FC Midtylland may have given Manchester United boss Louis Van Gaal a managerial lifeline, but for the betting world the first-leg victory of the Danish Champions held much more significance, heralding nothing less than the triumph of the utilisation of big data.
Owned by renowned gambler Matthew Benham (who also owns English Championship side Brentford), the young Danish club formed in 1999 uses Benham’s own data company SmartOdds to back up many of its footballing decisions, including scouting and transfers and even how the team plays.
Both Midtylland FC and Brentford represent the coming of the ideas of ‘Moneyball’ into football, but more intriguingly, the data that lies at the heart of the SmartOdds proposition at the same time represents a betting evolution. The company provides underlying performance indicators that have more predictive value than bald statistics, and as much as this approach is useful to any football coach pitting themselves against another team, it is also has obvious utility in the battle between the bookmaker and the punter.
Kentish Town-based SmartOdds doesn’t give an awful lot away on its website, but it does describe itself as a “statistical research and sports modelling” service; translated it means it provides data for professional gamblers, presumably including Benham himself.
It bears comparison with another operation based a stone’s throw away in Camden Town. Starlizard doesn’t just share a geographic link. It is similarly an in-house data operation for another renowned pro-gambler, Tony Bloom, who like Benham owns a Championship football club (Brighton & Hove Albion), and also provides data research to back up his Asian-handicap focused gambling.
Clearly the closely-held nature of each company and the status of their owners captures the interest, and not just within the realm of professional sports-betting. Starlizard was the subject of investigative piece from Business Insider which not surprisingly came up with very little by way of official comment but it did highlight the centrality of data to both sports-betting providers and customers – and not just to the high-rollers.
The data massive
“We’re bringing betting-specific big data to the masses,” says Nathan Rothschild, the co-founder of Melbourne, Australia-based sports data provider iSports Genius. The company recently announced its first deal, providing the data services that powers Ladbrokes Australia’s new ‘InfoHub’ service. “We scan literally trillions of data points and package that up into useful and informative content that can be set against betting events and can help punters come to a decision based on actual facts.”
The iSport Genius product gives data clues, such as how a given team performs at night or during the day following a short turnaround or an extended lay-off between matches and can identify discrepancies in a team’s performance in different weather conditions. It can also pinpoint how susceptible a team is to conceding a half-time lead. “We are providing a truly engaging product that looks like it is really capturing the consumer imagination,” he adds. “The consumer is much more attuned these days to seeing data in conjunction with sport; it’s part of the package now in a way it really wasn’t until just a few years ago.”
This chimes with the thoughts of Aidan Cooney, now in charge of mobile app fan engagement company InCrowd but previously the founder of sports data company Opta. He says that when he founded Opta in the early 2000s, there was a lot of prejudice against what many saw as the “Americanisation of football”.
“It took about eight years of slogging to get recognition,” he says. “Then around 2010 and the World Cup, we saw some traction when the blogosphere started seeing the value of stats, and started attacking the BBC and ITV for their appalling use of data in their coverage of the competition. Then Gary Neville turned up on Sky Sports and attitudes changed.”
While Cooney warns that the use of data in broadcasting runs the danger of having “too much of a good thing”, he adds that it is different online. “For interactive services, it is likely the case of the more data the better,” he says.
Jesper Søgaard, founder and chief executive of Better Collective which runs the affiliate betting site Bettingexpert.com, agrees that the consumer appetite for sports data is “greater than ever before”.
The site has been using its own proprietorial data research to promote its offering in the media and recently did some work showing how goals were distributed in the Premier League according to the colour of the keepers’ shirt. He says the readers really respond to this type of data-rich content. “The most important aspect is ensuring we can find an interesting angle that’s useful to our users and readers, who then have a desire to share the content and help others.”
He adds: “Today consumers are very savvy and generally in the know, so the goal for bettingexpert.com is to supply them with another view of the data that can give them insight that they perhaps hadn’t considered or seen before.”
This can prove to be very popular, according to Rothschild who says the early response to the insights provided by iSport Genius has been very encouraging. “It’s an added-value thing,” he adds. “Our data gives more information than is available anywhere else in one place. What we are providing is immediately understandable, highly interesting insights – it is about entertainment and engagement.”
That may not quite be the motto of the likes of Benham and Bloom, but the democracy of data is a profound idea all the same. As Cooney summed it up: “The principle is the same – that people who like sport like information about it and that if you give them that information, they will be more engaged.” We might only be at the start of the sports data story