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Andy Wright – Sky Bet – The increasing influence of player props

Team and players statistics are playing an increasingly integral role within the global sports wagering sphere, with the changing role of fans and the rising need for a deeper level of data seemingly having a direct knock-on effect.

With a major change being undertaken in recent years, sports analytics firm Opta are one of the driving forces behind sports data going from being a relatively niche offering, to being widely available and utilised across various broadcasts and in media outlets.

One such example is Sky Betting and Gaming (SB&G), with the firm striving to offer player style betting markets both pre-match and in-play.

Andy Wright, Head of Sports at SB&G, has been addressing what drove this decision, processes involved and the overall product offering: “At Sky, like everyone else, we are trying to find exciting innovative markets that will appeal to the younger audience, and really step away from the homogenised betting product, that I think, football particularly, has fallen into the trap of.

“I think over the last few years we have all moved away from that, and really player props was always the next step, we needed the mainstream media to really get involved here, the likes of Opta and Sky Sports, we had conversations with them probably 18 months ago, trying to understand what they were going to do to continue with the success of Monday Night Football.

“I think with the rise of that available data and putting it into people’s minds, in the narrative of a sporting event, then customers will start to be interested in the product.

“All these new ideas will only really stick if customers actually want them, we as operators can put ideas in front of customers but really they need to be driving these things forward, with request a bets and the like.

“Really it was a combination of mainstream media picking these things up, us having the spectrum of data to be able to price them, by offering them in play and being able to offer these more short term markets.”

“We are trying to find exciting innovative markets that will appeal to the younger audience”

Before adding what customer reaction has been like through the early stages, and when the realisation came that this was something that could work: “Around this time last year we had a semi-launch night at a pub in Leeds, when this was at a conceptual stage.

“It was Barcelona vs Juventus in the Champions League and actually the penny dropped, I was a bit cynical previous to the night, because we gave a load of free bets and beers away and everyone was getting all excited.

“But whenever anything happened in that game, whether it be (Leonardo) Bonucci making a tackle or whoever would make a pass, and there’s a cheer from one corner of the pub or the next corner of the pub, we started to think ‘hang on, there’s something in this.’

“So, we sort of ran with it from there really.

“More recently customers are interested, a certain type of customer are interested, and you can’t hide away from the fact we have had plenty of negative sentiment around it.

“There’s been a couple of high profile examples of their being a cross, but in the customer’s eyes because they have £200 on it they think it was a shot on target, but it wasn’t a shot it was an attempted cross.

“So again, lots of learning can come from this, I think between Sky Bet and Opta we have to work through a few operational issues, I think OptaJoe got a bit of a kicking on twitter from some unhappy Sky Bet customers.

“So there’s appetite, but its baby steps with this.”

The nature of offering such markets would always require a process of ironing out the kinks and dealing with disgruntled punters, with points of view about whether something was a cross or shot being heightened when there’s money riding on it.

Wright is quick to point to complete transparency with customers regarding such issues, being upfront with terms and conditions and explaining that ultimately any decision made by Opta is final.

“That’s the challenge in itself, that these markets aren’t mature, and there’s loads of data available”

With plenty of challenges and opportunities encapsulated what is the future from a product point of view? What markets should be offered in the future? And how are customers engaged, to ensure that they have all relevant data available to make an educated bet?

Wright addressed these varying issues: “It is about content, it is about customers being able to see that (Mohamed) Salah had X number of shots on target for the last seven weeks running, why is this 6/1 or 4/1?

“And hopefully that will just introduce it to more and more customers.

“From a marketing point of view, we have had more success with some of the markets we are offering compared to others, we thought offsides was going to be incredibly popular when we first went live with it, but it actually just turned out to be a terrible price.

“But that’s the challenge in itself, that these markets aren’t mature, and there’s loads of data available but teaching traders an algorithm about which parts of that big data are important can become very difficult, and there’s a lot of back testing going on.

“But with regards to new markets, I think that the World Cup will be of interest, where we will have certain matches that will have players people will recognise, but not perhaps teams that people recognise, and therefore these kinds of player props can take more of a starring role in that.”

Wright was speaking alongside Shane Gannon, SVP of Perform Betting, and Duncan Alexander, Opta Chief Analyst, at the recent Betting on Football conference at Stamford Bridge. Forming part of the Betting on Innovation track, their panel was titled ‘Opta and Sky Bet’s blueprint for player props perfection.’