Ahead of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, team SBC catches up with Rob Esteva Director of Sports Research & Analysis at Onside Analysis, specialists in performance analytics and qualitative analysis in sport. Rob discusses the current data and analysis set ups of sports betting operators, and how they could be improved. Esteva further discusses why sports data and analysis will become a vital tool in an operators arsenal, as the sports betting punter becomes more better informed and ultimately more intelligent.
A veteran in sports data analysis, Rob Esteva has held senior analyst positions in UEFA, helping the sports body in multiple international data and analysis projects. In 2011 Esteva helped set up sports data and analysis insight company – Onside Analysis Ltd with the aim to bring clearer data insight and analysis into sports value chain.
SBC: Hi Rob, pleasure to meet you, can you give SBC readers a breakdown of Onside Analysis and what its product offers to sports betting operators and services?
Rob: Onside Analysis specialise in statistical performance analysis of football. As part of our parent company, Stratagem Technologies, this analysis is used in a wide variety of products for the betting industry. Our products combine the highest level of performance analysis on the market with statistical modelling and our own unique methods of collecting data on teams and players.
We have been feverishly working on our World Cup Trading Pack which we are incredibly proud of. We launched it last week and the feedback has been excellent so far. The pack contains a wide range of statistical analysis including our expert analyst rankings, our model-based probabilities and ratings, along with in-depth Team Profiles on every team. Our Analysts have spent weeks analysing every team in the competition, studying their qualifying matches and friendlies to the finest detail. Most people are fully aware of the likes of Spain, Brazil, England and Germany, but we can provide equally strong analysis across all 32 teams including the lesser-known sides. This is where we really add the value as it is often matches involving those teams where misconceptions and value is most likely to be found in World Cup tournaments.
During the regular season, we analyse domestic league competitions. We deliver our content through a web platform. As part of our redesign before next season, this platform will feature a suite of new tools for understanding and evaluating sports betting decisions. Along with these tools we will continue to provide the statistical models and high quality previews and reviews on all matches that our clients have come to rely on.
By the turn of the year, we plan to incorporate additional sports to our offering such as Horse Racing, Basketball and Cricket. We will also roll out our data collection across more football competitions globally.
SBC: In recent years the sports betting industry has seen numerous statistical and data analysis services appear, your market appears to be getting crowded, how do you make your product and services stand out from the competition?
Rob: It is true that there are now many sites presenting data and rich content in a compelling way. However, we feel that fundamentally the data that is being analysed only tells part of the story of the underlying matches. We focus our energies on collecting data and information that we believe offers the clearest picture of how a game is playing out. Finding the signal from the noise in 10,000 data events per match is challenging enough and while we embrace the concept of big data, there is a role for explicit and more subjective data in the market to help paint the picture better.
In terms of our analysis, over 95% of the matches we cover are reviewed in full by a specialist performance analyst studying every move in its finest details. Rather than a review being thrown together from watching highlights or reading newspapers and websites, the client can get the clearest picture of exactly what happened during a game first-hand from somebody who has watched it and analysed it in its entirety.
Another key for us has been to identify areas where there is still considerable scope for adding value. For example, if you compare the array of tools available for finance traders with those available for sports betting, we feel that existing products are well short of what could potentially be provided.
SBC: When analysing sports you are inundated with Data, what key variables does your team choose to focus on and how do you make this data beneficial to clients
Rob: This season we have trialled insight-driven data for the English Premier League offering. This has focused much more on the quality aspect of various events during a game. For example, two shots on goals may be very different depending on variety of circumstances. Take the number of players between the attacker and the goal as a specific example. Developing ways to quantify this idea of event quality significantly improves the information in the data.
A notoriously difficult area of data collection is capturing defensive actions. Indeed, many actions do not explicitly have an event attached to them because they are associated with non-events (e.g. the opponents not attempting a key pass). For example, if Franco Baresi or Rio Ferdinand constantly position themselves well, are good communicators and show great anticipation defensively, traditionally measured statistics such as last ditch tackles and key interceptions may not be registered in many of their games. This might compare to defenders who make a series of last ditch tackles but only because they may not have defended so well initially. This illustrates that the event-driven approach of many of the established providers cannot capture the subtleties of good defending.
We are happy to record this more subjective data because we recruit highly skilled analysts. Our analysts are trained to identify strengths and weaknesses, great play and subtle but costly mistakes to help give our clients an edge.
SBC: We have seen bookmakers take a rough set of results in January and March 2014, could bookmakers and sports data analysts work together in order to make betting markets more secure?
Rob: My overwhelming feeling is that bookmakers could embrace sports analytics far more than they currently do. With the increase in sophistication in sports betting I think this will become a necessity as the limitations of the methods and products that they have traditionally used become apparent.
The tools that we are developing within Stratagem Technologies have applications for traders and bookmakers alike. Using a data driven approach to manage your risk and portfolio is something that will soon become essential.
I also think that the bookmakers would benefit by recruiting the same profile of trading candidates as syndicates. Last year I consulted for a betting company in Asia to assist them in their recruitment of traders in the UK. They received hundreds of applications from all kinds of backgrounds including odds compilers, prop traders, statisticians and analysts. I’ve interviewed hundreds of traders in the last 8 years. However I am always astounded by the number of candidates who were currently working for bookmakers as odds compilers or in hedging teams that possessed below average football knowledge. In comparison, those with syndicate and proprietary trading experience had far greater knowledge and expertise. Those groups and individuals are constantly evolving to stay ahead of the game, and I think the operators need to do the same to keep up with them.
SBC: In your opinion can statistical sports data be used, by operators to help other areas of their operations, such as marketing and retention.
Rob: There is a real lack of quality in-play content at the moment in terms of bet-prompts and information to really match the drive and growing popularity of live in-play betting. Much of the content out there revolves around the final score and the next goalscorer. Given the number of different markets that we will see in the World Cup, certainly more could be done with the data out there to make more compelling bet prompt content.
Bookmakers already know the lifetime value of their VIP clients and how important it is to look after them. We feel that this will increasingly involve providing these clients with enhanced tools and analysis to help their decision making. When the alternative for the client is to source this information from third parties at their own expense, the perceived added value is significant. By taking advantage of significant bulk discounts, the bookmaker can buy a product such as our World Cup Trading Pack at a relatively low cost, and significantly increase brand value and loyalty.
SBC: Finally, the question everyone wants to know, who will win the upcoming World Cup 2014?
Rob; I dread these questions! My typical response would be to combine the statistical model output with what our analysis says. Unsurprisingly, this would spit out Brazil, Germany and Spain. The fact that the World Cup is happening in Brazil will definitely be a disadvantage to the European teams. However, with tournaments of this nature where luck can play such a large part, there are a number of teams that could win. Our models and analysis would suggest that England are not one of them!
At all times I would look at the value propositions to identify who is overrated and who is underrated. To give an example, I think Belgium have been hyped so much as dark horses, that the market has now overrated them. Combined with their relatively easy group, they are 5th or 6th favourites in the outright which I struggle to support. Look at their paths to the final and the two most likely scenarios are Portugal->Argentina->Spain if they finish top of their group, or Germany->France->Brazil if they finish runners-up. I rate all those team higher than Belgium in my 1-32 rankings, so I would be looking for opportunities to oppose Belgium in various markets for this World Cup.
Rob Esteva – Director of Sports Research & Analysis at Onside Analysis