The Premier League makes its eagerly anticipated return tomorrow, starting with Aston Villa vs Sheffield United, but how will the ‘fanless’ aspect of ‘Project Restart’ translate to betting behaviour?
And what about the Bundesliga, the first major football league in Europe to bounce back following the COVID-19 enforced break. How can punters and traders learn from what’s happened so far?
We received expert insight from a trio of sportsbook providers – SG Digital, Pronet Gaming and Sporting Solutions – as well as the operator view from betting exchange Betdaq.
SBC: What do you expect to see in terms of betting behaviour?
Trevor Dunne (Betdaq): Punters are likely to be cautious at first. Results in Germany have thrown up some surprises and early indications suggest home advantage – at least initially – may be levelled out a little by playing without fans. People may want to have a look at a few games first to work out what bearing the break and current circumstances will have on games and results.
How much will form from earlier in the season count; how easily will teams be able to put on winning runs; which players will thrive in this environment? There is plenty to find out.
In the opening rounds of the Bundesliga, there was a reduction in home teams’ success rate and their players were more prone to picking up bookings. Is the lack of noisy, partisan supporters the reason? It will be fascinating to see how much is about acclimatising and what are new trends. But there is a huge pent-up demand and appetite for quality football like we have seen in Germany.
We are now even more aware of the top-class teams and players. A number of leagues and competitions have increased their exposure to new and unfamiliar audiences, which will educate bettors when it comes to future fixtures in the Champions League and other competitions around Europe and beyond.
Bobby Longhurst (Pronet Gaming): Betting behaviour isn’t a uniform thing, unfortunately. There are trends, of course, but the nuances within them is what we need to treat with caution.
As a general rule, recreational bettors will just be happy to have live sport back and to bet on the teams and players they enjoy watching. They’re not looking for an edge per se. Those that take it a bit more seriously will be aware that the pre COVID-19 in-play models may not have been adjusted and will be looking to take advantage.
A case in point is the weight given to the home crowd. In football home sides normally win 46% of their matches, and yet this has significantly reduced to just 19% in Germany (before the last round of games) where matches are being played behind closed doors.
In fairness, this number is only taken from a very small sample size of matches thus far, but it is fair to say that the pendulum appears to be swinging in favour of the away side. As a result, the playing field has levelled significantly and our traders have had to be on their toes, thoroughly analysing the effect on our end prices and adjusting our models accordingly for clients.
Nikos Konstakis (SG Digital): The enforced restriction of fans entering football grounds is sure to have an impact on both the players and how bettors approach wagering on these games. Sport is all about mental strength and how players react to key moments in games.
Some footballers thrive when they have a raucous crowd on their back, and it will be interesting to see how they cope with the new surroundings. Others are known to perform strongly in training sessions, and this might be their opportunity to step up a level or two. Home advantage won’t have the same impact either and prices will reflect this.
From what we’ve seen so far from the Bundesliga and the return of other sports, there’s going to be a level playing field for bettors and traders. The Premier League is very different to the Bundesliga, with games played at a different pace and it will be fascinating to see what the new measures imposed will mean for the world’s most popular football league.
Edward Peace (Sporting Solutions): There’s an outstanding question around how pent up demand will be released from customers starved of top-flight football for such an extended period. A lot has been made of the growth in substitute content and its success in absorbing surplus demand during lockdowns, but at a macro-level we expect the return of leagues, teams and players people know and understand to be a more significant driver of betting activity and behaviour than whether or not stadia are empty, furnished with decorated cardboard or filled with fans.
That’s supported by what we’ve seen in the opening rounds of the German Bundesliga, where bet numbers for our sister B2C company Sporting Index were up almost eight-fold on pre-suspension. That’s obviously based on a very narrow profile, and we would expect the distribution of betting activity to revert to longer term trends as more leagues and competitions kick off again, but it goes to show the undeniable importance of high-quality product.
The efforts to make the English Premier League accessible to a wider remote audience when it returns – through staggered kick off times and free-to-air distribution – will also increase the opportunities for customers to place bets, although with that comes a very real responsibility for operators to ensure harm mitigation strategies are in place.
SBC: Are there particular betting types which are more or less suited to this new environment?
TD: Popular tactics like backing and perming the home win and the buying of cards are markets worth reviewing based on the evidence we have seen so far. Likewise, with seemingly fewer bankers to begin with, punters will need to be smart with their accumulators.
On the BETDAQ exchange, we expect that in-play will take on added significance. Not only will the increased volatility provide more opportunities to trade in and out of positions, but more people may want to wait until a game is underway before making their betting decisions.
BL: The trend in Germany has been for fewer goals in games. In fact, the goal rate per match has dropped from 3.25 to 3.07 goals per game (before the last round). We can’t say for certain that the change in atmosphere is completely responsible for this as a lot will be down to player fitness and sharpness in front of goal.
What is interesting, and seems almost contradictory, is that despite a shortage of goals there have been significantly more big wins by three goals or more in the matches that have featured them.
This doesn’t bode well for the correct score bettor, many of whom normally back score lines like 2-1 and 2-0. These have been reduced and scores like 5-2 and 4-1 are more commonplace for now. I don’t see a change for in-play per se. It has been a significant source of revenues in the past and I don’t see that altering. If anything, it may increase with fans watching at home rather than in-stadia.
NK: In-play markets will be an important focus for sure. We’ve gone several months without Premier League football, and now we’ll be spoilt for choice with every game being broadcast live on TV! It’s the perfect opportunity for in-play mobile betting, with punters able to see every kick of the ball.
Given the new conditions, we’re expecting far more interest in over/under goals markets and less engagement with those odds offering the next card to be given. Referees will be impacted too by the empty stadiums and will probably look to be more generous and keep games flowing. They won’t be subjected to immediate scrutiny by fans either.
EP: It could be more instructive to think about these specific format changes in terms of wider market trends. One of the key narratives over the last few months has been how lockdown measures will accelerate channel shift from retail to online.
The growth of in-play has dovetailed with the proliferation of online betting historically, so if there is a continued shift in this direction it’s logical to assume a continuing appetite for deeper, more sophisticated in-play products that give customers greater control.
If they have any particular concerns about the “behind closed doors” aspect of matches, for example, the option of in-play betting will let them adopt a “wait and see” strategy allowing them to gauge for themselves what impact it may or may not have.
That being said, whilst the impact of domestic lockdowns has been especially profound for those with retail exposure, a sustained and material shift to online shouldn’t be a foregone conclusion, with future trends likely to depend on how soon (and in what form) land-based operations can restart. That could have some bearing on the direction operators take with regards to market offering and product strategy.