Tom Byrne, HBLB: Horseracing gets race-by-race betting data boost

News that five of the UK’s top operators had committed to a ten-fold increase in voluntary levy to GambleAware made big news in July, but a major deal for horse racing announced the following week – involving four of the same five – passed with considerably less fanfare. Tom Byrne, Operations Manager at HBLB, tells us more.

The horseracing sector undoubtedly faced its fair share of hurdles to start 2019, including a nation-wide shutdown due to equine influenza, a significant cut to prize money, and the impending fall-out of Brexit due to take effect in the coming few months. 

However, out of a period of doom and gloom the industry came the announcement that five of the UK’s leading bookmakers had entered into a major data-sharing agreement with the Horserace Betting Levy Board (HBLB).

Betfred, Ladbrokes Coral, Paddy Power Betfair (Flutter Entertainment), Sky Bet and William Hill all confirmed that they would be voluntarily sharing with the board race-by-race betting data from both digital and retail channels for every British racing fixture from January 2017. 

The move, according to the consortium of bookmakers, could help develop a more thorough understanding into the type of contests which are most attractive to punters, as well as the types of bets that attract the most attention from punters.

Tom Byrne, Operations Manager at HBLB, explained that the racing sector will ultimately benefit greatly from the decision to share data.

“HBLB receives an aggregated and anonymised dataset for each race, thus never seeing any individual firms numbers,” he said. “This data is already being used by HBLB through a collaborative approach with the bookmakers to assess and challenge any existing assumptions, structures or processes that may permeate existing working theories within Racing. 

“The ambition is to use this updated knowledge to move to an evidence based decision making process so that trackable KPIs can be used to measure the successes and failures of racing as a betting product and thus drive new innovations.”

The agreement, initiated by HBLB’s Betting Liaison Group (BLG), has shown a significant shift towards industry collaboration in developing a sector-wide betting strategy. However, the agreement also marks the first instance where there has been such deep-seated data sharing among the industry’s biggest operators. 

Byrne continued: “This data project is managed directly by the Levy Board’s Executive, which has spent considerable time planning the collection and has invested significant resources in building a project that has the support of Racing and the confidence of bookmakers, in particular around handling their confidential, commercial data.

“Importantly, the participating bookmakers are fully integrated with the project, as they have taken advantage of this opportunity to work collaboratively with Racing and influence its direction. In turn Racing will benefit directly from having access to bookmaker knowledge to further the sport’s understanding of the drivers behind betting on Racing and their impact on the sport.”

The horseracing sector is undoubtedly going to face a number of challenges in the upcoming twelve months, and so an industry-wide collaboration is key to engaging with both the core audience as well as reaching a new demographic of punters.

“The data analysis will be led by HBLB which, by working closely with racecourses, BHA and Horsemen, will research race performance and recommend actions to drive turnover on competitive racing, through data-driven optimisation of the race programme,” continued Byrne.

“This includes looking at individual races and fixtures, as well as taking a broader approach in assessing and predicting overall racing trends.

“In particular the data will be used to ensure that Racing understands the best times to maximise its exposure to potential customers when they are looking to have a bet.”

Earlier in the year, the HBLB offered its support to the extension of lunchtime racing with the intention of boosting the revenue that could be generated over the lunchtime period for both on-course and off-course bookmakers.

The extension to lunchtime racing has been seen as a potential opportunity to provide content at a time when customers are looking for suitable betting events, while also allowing both on-course and online bookmakers to capitalise on peak-footfall figures.

Byrne explained: “One immediate example of this that has already been implemented is the recent Lunchtime Racing trial, from which the data provided is being assessed to understand the quantifiable impact of this initiative and any further action we may wish to take.”

“Although betting will never be the only consideration when decisions are made, this project will challenge and qualify existing knowledge with data and be radical in its approach to maximising betting activity. 

“Alongside the Board’s investment in Sectional Timing and Tracking, this exciting project shows our innovative strategy to use new technology and data to grow Racing and ensure the long-term future of the sport.”

As confirmed at the same time as the data sharing agreement, further plans have been put in place for all British racecourses to have live sectional timing and tracking data by the end of 2021 following a financial commitment of £900,000 from the HBLB which will go towards the operating costs of the initiative over the next three years.

Under the terms of the agreement, the HBLB plans to work alongside media rights holders and their selected tracking partners, the BHA and the RCA to realise the plan.

At the time of the announcement, Byrne added: “The vast majority of Levy income is generated by off-course betting, rather than on-course, and feedback has suggested that there are some early positive signs but full analysis of the data when available will be carried out before HBLB can draw any firmer conclusions.”

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