Amidst all the excitement, or intrigue, that surrounds the role of the video assistant referee (VAR) – particularly ahead of its impending introduction to the Premier League – bookmakers have so far been forced to take a defensive stance to the detriment of the customer experience.
However, after a World Cup which passed “largely free of VAR incidents”, the bookmakers – or more specifically the trading teams that underpin such operations – are ready to embrace the opportunities it presents, according to Sky Bet Head of In Play Football Joe Petyt.
Petyt said that the prolonged decision making periods, while often frustrating for the spectacle of the game, can provide the operators with a window of opportunity to take advantage of unique content, particularly when paired with an increased standard of customer messaging.
He explained that customers, whether it’s those in the stadium, watching on TV or following on a mobile device with no pictures, are far more willing to accept a market suspension if they know the reason for it. It is also true that at a time where most traditional markets have to be suspended, you have a captive audience ready to engage with innovative markets.
“We saw during a Harry Kane penalty at the World Cup that customers want markets to bet on at times when markets would traditionally be suspended,” said Petyt. “For example, does he score yes or no, what price is it that he hits the post etc. However, you are relying on skilled traders to react and price things quickly.”
This reference to skilled traders is something of a throwback given the recent drive to automate as much as possible when it comes to in-play betting. Petyt said that while traders are currently expected to monitor multiple games simultaneously – mostly checking that algorithms are running smoothly – VAR may flip the script back in favour of the skilled trader.
This would mean that rather than the quick blanket suspension of markets every time the referee signals for VAR, or indiscreetly feels for his earpiece, markets could be kept open.
“VAR may dictate a return to more trader skill, where a quick judgement is made based on what’s happening on the pitch,” he said. “Longer term, it might be that we need that trader to come up with a price. For example, is there an 80% chance a penalty is given?
“If so, can the trader quickly adjust the prices accordingly and keep the markets active. This would be so difficult to model, because obviously every instance is different.”
Petyt also predicted that if delays persist, operators may be forced to find a balance where margin “takes a hit” to preserve the customer experience. This is because, moving forwards, customers are unlikely to accept that this “defensive stance” translates to immediate market suspension for every contentious moment, even those that don’t bring about a pause in the play.
“If we are less aggressive on market suspensions, or allow our traders more subjective control over pricing, it would inevitably leave us more exposed to customers picking us off if they spot something that we’ve missed. However, if this is limited to a few incidents per week, is it worth taking the hit for the overall product? We have to retain the quality of experience that our customers have become used to.”
Finally, Petyt admitted that this margin versus customer experience trade off has led Sky Bet to look into the benefits and pitfalls of keeping cash out active even during VAR decision-making periods, noting that “cash out availability is a key consideration for our customers and a part of the overall product in which they will not accept long suspensions”.
‘VAR: An opportunity or hindrance to the growth of in-play betting?’ is first up on the ‘Betting on Marketing’ track at this month’s Betting on Football conference (19-22 March).
On Wednesday 20 March from 10:15 to 11:00, Petyt will be joined on stage by Abelson Odds Head of Compilation Jeevan Jeyaratnam, C&N Sporting Risk Owner Rory Campbell and RedZone.bet Managing Director Warren Llambias.
For more information about Betting on Football, please click HERE.