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How data can drive the future of betting

Insight | Analysis

The level of data collected on US sports could prompt a major revolution in sports betting, which could have a knock-on effect on markets across the Atlantic, writes Dr Laila Mintas.

The development of the US sports betting market is far from an overnight phenomenon. While the repeal of PASPA may make it feel as if the market has developed rapidly, it has taken years of lobbying, negotiations and carefully constructed legislation to get to this point. The rewards on offer are potentially huge, so it is no surprise that the US professional sports leagues are looking to tap into the new revenue stream. 

Yet there is still a long way to go, especially considering online wagering is by no means guaranteed from state to state. With sports betting restricted to Nevada until 2018, a lot of work and player education is now required to develop a sustainable market powered by sophisticated solutions. Key to this will be effective use of data, something that is not without controversy, as a result of fights over requirements to have licensees use official league statistics in certain states. 

Data today
For most sports, the data that is used for wagering tends to be fairly basic. Datasets currently used include fixtures, line-ups, points scored, penalties, half-time results and end-time results. American Football uses slightly more expansive datasets, including play start and end yard-line, play type (for example, run, pass, kick) and players involved in play (such as runner, passer, receiver, tackler). 

This is usually sufficient for fans to be able to place a range of bets on certain in-game actions and on the end result. Yet it still lags far behind what is on offer in Europe. Across the pond, most established operators offer 300 or more different bet types on one single game, powered using play-by-play data.

This can – and will – change as the market matures in the US. For example, proposition bets, or prop bets, are increasingly popular around the world. In the US, they are wildly popular around Super Bowl time in February but remain curiously limited for the other 364 days of the year. Yet these bets are a great way to further engage dedicated sports fans, provided the data is available to give them as clear a picture as possible of an athlete’s past and future performance. Increased availability of such bets, and the data behind them, could boost uptake in sports betting. 

Yet this is barely scratching the surface of what can be achieved as new forms of data collection emerge. In particular, I see tracking data and athlete biometric data becoming key to expanding the market in the coming years.

The future
Tracking data, collected mostly by the leagues or teams, is used to improve the performance of the players or to prevent injuries. It hasn’t offered many opportunities to generate additional revenue to date, though this could be set to change as a result of sports betting regulation. This kind of data, if collected in real time and with low latency, can provide insights to the sports betting audience to tailor their bet choices. As most of the states in the US have not yet regulated sports betting, tracking data could also be used for gamification products, such as the predictions game launched by NBC Sports and the Washington Wizards in January this year. This sees fans answer one or more betting-related questions, for the chance to win a prize without staking any cash. 

Furthermore, on-field tracking data can be used to measure datapoints that could power new markets. By collecting information on distance traveled, an athlete’s acceleration rate, their speed of movement or speed in changing direction, a new range of player-specific bets could be rolled out. Depending on the data collected, the number and variety of new betting types could be endless.

But athlete biometric data could really revolutionize the sports betting experience. Collected through wearable technologies, the data is used to assess players’ conditions before and during matches. The data collected could then be employed in the next generation of betting products. For example, seeing a player’s heart rate as they are about to take a shot could be used to influence in-play betting odds. Not only would this create a more immersive experience for fans but it would also offer more inducements to bet. 

Of course, there are potential roadblocks. Biometric data is owned by the athletes and their representatives, such as player unions, which would need to be consulted before any data could be shared. It must only be gathered through official channels, with limits on what information is collected (and when it is collected).

It’s worth noting that only the players can collect the data, meaning they could well create a new revenue stream for themselves. 

It is only a question of time when tracking data and athlete biometric data will be used to create the next generation of sports betting products. These new datasets have the power to transform the sports fan experience and take it to an entirely new level. With so many stakeholders looking at how they can benefit from sports betting regulation, the demand for innovation is higher than ever before. If clear parameters are set and long-term, commercially viable agreements reached, this could revolutionize sports betting. 

Dr Laila Mintas is the chairwoman of the Advisory Board for Bet.Works. A lawyer by trade, she was previously deputy president of Sportradar US.