Some sports, upon returning from their novel coronavirus (Covid-19) enforced suspensions, have made significant changes to the structure of matches and tournaments. This in turn requires new approaches from odds and trading teams looking to provide operators with accurate products and services.

By Warren Murphy

When talk of a ‘new normal’ first emerged, no one really knew what it would look like, but just weeks later we are all adapting to the necessary changes to our everyday lives to ensure we keep the virus at bay.

A similar pattern has emerged across the sporting world and every touchpoint within it. Adaptability, flexibility and getting used to Covid-19 imposed changes are becoming the norm, however these are not just health and safety adjustments. Entire sports and many long-held rules are being altered and these changes are likely to remain for the long term.

Many sports have already adjusted their formats and so have many companies within our industry. At Sportradar, our adaptable data analysts, live odds and trading teams have been working 24/7 to remodel large parts, or even entire formats, to ensure we continue to provide accurate products and services.

Several live sports have already made changes, either for Covid-secure reasons or simply because so many games have been postponed and intensive scheduling has impacted the new season. This has been the case with UK domestic football with both the FA and League Cups in England scrapping replays and two-legged matches.

Other more drastic changes include cutting the duration of games. In Australian Rules Football each quarter has been trimmed by four minutes to 16 minutes, and certain basketball and ice hockey leagues have shortened games to two and three 10 minute periods respectively.

Several tennis tournaments have also incorporated a best of three set ‘fast4’ format where players battle to reach four games first and tie breaks are played at three games all and to five points instead of seven.

Increasing speed of play, particularly in extra time, has also become more common. In baseball, for example, in extra innings runners start at second base while snooker has begun to extend its ‘six red’ format that sees a reduced number of balls for each frame.

Modelling the future
As the sports betting landscape changes at a pace in this new environment, the need for a quick and agile approach is paramount, and we have worked at lightning pace to remodel each format and each game permutation.

This has meant our quants teams recoding each individual model. Each one contains hundreds of lines of code that map out match characteristics including the pace of each match, length of time between each point or period, and scoring rates to name just a few.

Each area is then carefully recoded in line with changes to each sport to accurately predict the outcome of every market. This is then quality control checked twice with no stone left unturned. It must be right and thankfully due to the teams’ expertise and proven technology, is right, every time.

In Australian Rules, where quarters have been cut to 16 instead of 20 minutes, our quants team have re-scaled the time for each period. The usual procedure would be to take existing data and build a model based on historical analysis, but as the time change is new, we do not yet have benchmark data to base this on.

However, to solve this problem, and until we have an adequate sample size and a deeper understanding of how time reductions affect the outcome of each permutation within each period, we have developed highly intuitive and performant solutions. For example, one method includes re-scaling the time by 1.25 (16 minutes multiplied by 1.25 equals 20), for the model to think the correct time has elapsed.

In any live sport there are also uncertainties, and this is intensified with new format changes. We cannot instantly model how players and competitors will react and adapt their playing style to this new time change. It takes a certain amount of time and data to model and predict accurate outcomes.

We don’t know, for example, if more teams than not will increase their intensity in the third quarter due to less time being played and having more energy to push harder for a win, or a bigger winning margin, in the last phase of the match within shortened games.

Our traders rely on our models to price markets. This is largely done on a semi or fully automated basis, however format changes have meant they have had to take a more manual approach and base prices on several factors including adapted models, data and video feeds, real-time bets and the wider market.

To further strengthen our processes and accuracy we work within a complete feedback loop between teams, therefore by collecting more data and insights we can build new strategies into each model to gradually decrease manual interaction.

It’s a great deal of work and collaborative effort to remodel and trade new formats within each sport, but once the mechanics and subtleties of each element are understood and new learnings and new data points inputted we rapidly catch up and establish a fixed formula that never fails.

While many sports are reluctant to change it is inevitable more changes will take place, either for practical, safety or commercial reasons. More game elements will be shortened, overtime or extra time will be reduced or discarded, or the object ball could be moved closer to the winning line, N-zone, or hole. Anything is possible in this uncertain age.

What is certain, however is that fast-moving data and content suppliers such as Sportradar will increasingly have to cope and adapt to an increasingly fluid and dynamic environment. The one positive is that we are already ready.

Warren Murphy is the managing director of betting and gaming at Sportradar. Joining Sportradar in May 2017, Warren has responsibility for the company’s betting and gaming activities. In the role, he manages a global team who help deliver the industry’s most comprehensive offering of betting and gaming solutions.

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