SBC News Blue cards and sin bins: the implications for operators

Blue cards and sin bins: the implications for operators

Jeevan Jeyaratnam, COO of Abelson Odds, offers up a fascinating thought-leadership viewpoint on the impending arrival of the blue card to the beautiful game. Operators and suppliers, he says, will have to carefully consider how they intend to handle its implications. 

Feeling Blue

The controversial decision on the use of blue cards has been delayed until March 2 after, most notably, FIFA objected to the proposals forwarded by The International Football Association Board (IFAB) in early February.

The proposed new law permits referees the option to show a blue card; for either dissent or a tactical foul. Blue cards differ from yellow cards because they carry a 10-minute trip to the sin bin as an instant penalty. As with yellow cards, two blue cards would result in the player’s dismissal for the rest of the match; as would a blue and a yellow card.

While any trials won’t take place in the Premier League or FA Cup it is worth considering the myriad of implications for betting operators if and when a new card type is introduced.

Where’s the love?

This season has witnessed a dramatic increase in the number of yellow cards awarded for dissent. Stricter rules, introduced at the start of the 2023-2024 season, have seen the number doled out by Valentine’s Day reach 155; compare this with just 86 for the whole of the 2022-2023 season. 

So, how would the mix change if blue cards were to be introduced? According to research by The Athletic, 514 blue cards would have been distributed already, with Sheffield Utd, perhaps not unsurprisingly given their league position, leading the way. More surprisingly, the teams in second, third and fourth are Liverpool, Chelsea and Man Utd; Chelsea have the worst record for dissent. 

The impact on the success of league leaders Liverpool, had they been punished with 31 blue cards in the season so far, is unknown but it stands to reason that playing 310 minutes with a player disadvantage would negatively impact their points total. 

Chaos Theory

Operators and suppliers will have to carefully consider how they intend to handle the new metric. Player cards are one of the most popular options for bet builders, they don’t have strong correlations to other match events and so are great for boosting the overall odds in a bet builder combo. 

Player card prices are formulated using a value for the total expected booking points for each team and the player’s expected proportion of that total. Typically, the industry counts yellow cards as 10 points and red cards as 25 points. Considerations around a new card type include, how many points would a blue card be worth and how that then affects how many yellow cards are awarded, which in turn has an impact on the pre-match and in-play total booking points calculations.

Logic suggests that fewer yellow cards will be shown because two of the historically yellow card offences will now draw blue cards (dissent and tactical fouls). Accepting that two blue cards result in permanent expulsion, perhaps the simplest answer is to weight blue and yellow cards equally. This is unlikely though as a blue card comes with a more severe and immediate impact and so it makes sense that blue cards should be worth more than yellows. Therefore, the short-priced favourite is that the industry settles on a fixed 15 points for a blue, which will push total booking points quotes up slightly.

Any fundamental changes to underlying algorithms bring uncertainty and that usually results in operators increasing margins and/or pros and syndicates having a field day while the slower moving industry plays catch up.

Collateral Damage

This leads to another impact of the rule change, one that could cause much wider-reaching turbulence for pricing providers. Namely, the effect of sin bins on the game as a whole. The key parameters for almost every one of the hundreds of derivatives available on a soccer match are supremacy and goal expectancy. 

By handicapping a team for 10-minute periods we are upsetting the balance of the supremacy. A team defending a sin bin penalty is more likely to offer up defensive tactics while the clock counts down. We can draw parallels to ice hockey; a shorthanded team defending against a power play will send its defensive unit onto the ice in a bid to limit damage. 

Generally, industry hockey algorithms are designed to handle these temporary changes to expectancies, but how many industry soccer models are designed in the same way? Of course they can handle the permanent expectancy changes that a red card brings, but I am reasonably confident in stating that not all will handle the temporary changes of a blue card.

It’s hard to equate how this may impact the expectancy figures, too. A more negative overall approach could reduce the number of goals scored in a season; even playing against 10 men it is difficult to break down a side that is determined to throw those ten behind the ball. There would be sure to be more time wasted too, so reducing the amount of time the ball is in play would also have a negative effect on the number of goals scored.

Again, as with booking points, there would be a large degree of uncertainty in supremacy and expectancy evaluations. The complete lack of historical data would mean that many operator and supplier algorithms wouldn’t cope with the change; they have been honed on thousands of games using data in the pre-blue cards era. 

Syndicates and agile pros would have a period of grace while operators scramble to catch-up with the changes. Margins would become more defensive and the product as a whole could suffer. 

While these changes have yet to be ratified, there’s a more than fair chance that there will be a trial of the scheme at some level of the sport. The women’s game, an increasingly important cog in the overall soccer betting product, is rumoured to be a potential testing ground. This itself would pose issues for operators who would have to consider whether to offer pricing on games using pre-existing or untested new algorithms. 

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