Sports betting consultant and expert odds compiler Chris Pearce explains his process for scaling-up markets for minority sports, such as the Winter Olympics. As bookmakers apply standardised strategies for trading mass-market sports, pricing your niche sports correctly could be your edge with customers…
Walk into any trading room and you will see football specialists, horse racing formbook students, cricket stattos and the lads who watch and price darts all day long. What you likely won’t see however are traders and compilers who specialise in the likes of Judo, Equestrian, Short Track Speed-Skating and Luge.
These events form part of a cluster of minority sports which in bookmaking terms only raise their head once every four years. So, what goes into pricing up these events at the Summer/Winter Olympics for the bookmakers? Well, truth be told, that very much depends on each individual firm’s resources and how much they prioritise these stand-alone events.
As someone who has managed Olympic Games trading for many firms over the years, and more recently assisted some of the industry’s biggest bookmakers in a consultancy capacity, I can give you a little insight into my approach to delivering an Olympic product.
1. Plan how you will approach the event
For an event such as the Olympics, getting a grip on the logistics of the task is the cornerstone to the weeks and months of work that will follow. What processes are required to take your initial ideas and turn them into a finalised product available for the customer?
In terms of Beijing 2022, it may be a smaller scale undertaking than the recent Tokyo Summer Olympics, with just 109 gold medal events compared to the 338 in Japan last July/August, however it is still a project on a large enough scale that a plan-of-action needs to be put in place.
- How will the data be formed and displayed?
- What sources do you need to collate the data…and are those sources reliable and accurate?
- How long will it take to put the data together and how close to the event do you still need to be adding this data?
- How do you derive workable prices from this data? Is there part of it that needs to be prioritised over other aspects?
2. Put the database in place to collate the statistical information
I am sure everyone connected with the betting industry is very much aware of how technology has changed (generally for the better) in the way bookmakers go about their process of putting prices on their website or in their shops. Pretty much gone have the days of two compilers shouting 9/1 and 5/1 and a line being drawn down the middle at 7’s, to be sent out and offered to the punters. Data is key these days, with algorithms generating much of the work that would have been manual in the past.
Whilst I acknowledge that times change and the romanticism of odds-compiling in trading rooms is a thing which had to adapt in order for both compilers and firms to survive and progress, my own approach for an event like the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics is to collate the required data in its more basic form. As such I work from excel sheets with player data manually gathered and assembled. Yes, it is time-consuming, and yes, the odd error may creep into that data, but what you gain as you start to put these facts and figures together can help you see the nuance in these players and sports, which could be lost otherwise.
3. Source the information
Before you go putting in data from any site you find with results, you need to make sure those results have been corroborated. Double source the information and don’t just assume that the official sports website will be 100% accurate.
As you work through the data input, go back and recheck random sections to make sure it ties in, and for some sports be prepared to have to dig around online for a substantial period of time before you can fill in all the blanks. This is the cold reality of what this type of approach is like for major championships featuring sports and events which otherwise don’t garner much attention in the four-year Olympic cycle. It’s not fun, it’s slow, monotonous work, but it is the backbone of the much more enjoyable pricing, trading and betting that will come later.
4. Give context to the data. Prioritise and streamline
This is probably the most important aspect of delivering an accurate final product. We have all watched enough episodes of Question Time and seen enough Party Political Broadcasts to know that data can be skewed to fit a particular narrative. Data in itself is the cattle, how you use and analyse that data will determine whether you end up with steak, milk, leather or manure.
I’ll use a datasheet from the Judo at the recent Tokyo Olympics as an example
NB – Recent data is much more prevalent than data from 2,3 or 4 years ago. Give results from the past 6 months more importance than those from pre 2020, and especially from pre 2018
Acknowledge the level of competition in which those results have been attained. String results in regional events may look impressive, but in the context of an Olympic event, they don’t generally carry much weight just by themselves.
Look for recent improvement, in win/loss records or world rankings. Very rarely will major events be won by competitors on the downgrade.
If a competitor is achieving strong results at a young age, then try to take a linear view of where that may lead to over the coming months before the event.
Be aware of the nationality of each competitor. With sports such as Alpine Skiing, Bobsleigh, Luge, Skeleton, Ski-Jumping and Snowboarding, home competitors will very likely have had more training time on the circuits and courses to be used during the Games. This course knowledge can be very helpful.
There are, of course, another dozen similar factors to try and take into account, however by thinking about the above five, you can get a good feel for what sort of shape the market will take once you come to the pricing stage.
5. Read, read and read some more
You have your data, you have a view in the way it should be applied… now for the 3rd part of the jigsaw: Research as much relevant information as you can about the events and its competitors.
Will the Sliding track be running quick or slow? Does it have similar characteristics to the circuits used on the World Cup circuit? If so, which competitors have done well at those tracks?
What has been the selection process for each country’s representatives? Have they had to come through a rigorous domestic selection in order to get the nod?
Are there any injury doubts surrounding any likely favourites?
Is there any indication into the mindset of a competitor coming into the games? Any snippet of useful information in a recent interview which could give you an idea of whether he may have a better/worse chance than what his pure data suggests?
6. Relate the information into tradable prices
For all the work you can do on putting together the data, the figures, the records, the trajectory of a competitor if you don’t know how to turn that into an accurate (or I should say workable) trading price, then let’s face it, you are going to do your dough.
You need to be asking yourself, who will the punters want to be backing? If we are talking about recreational business, then Patriotic betting is clearly going to be very popular, so UK facing sportsbooks will likely lay a glut of bets on British competitors, Aussie books on competitors from Down Under and so on and so on.
Look to price up your book to 100% initially. Once you have put your prices in place, question the percentage chance applied to each, ask yourself, could you make a case for any being higher than what you have it in for?
Finally, acknowledge your limitations! Yes, the hard graft has been done and you have generated 109 outright gold medal markets through detailed data and strong compiling skills, however, remember that these sports are not your everyday bread and butter sports. This isn’t a Premiership football match where you feel confident you have all the information to hand and a strong Belfair market to guide you… in fact it isn’t even a Championship encounter, instead think of it as a EFL League Two match-up.
Respect business layed from certain clients and don’t be afraid to adapt your viewpoint if new evidence surfaces. As somebody who has managed multiple Olympic games products for a number of firms, break-even is the magic word!
Chris Pearce is a 20-year betting industry professional, who has worked as an odds compiler for major industry names such as William Hill, Sportingbet, Coral and Boylesports.
Since 2017 he has focused on working in a remote consultancy capacity for a variety of bookmakers worldwide, offering detailed data and pricing analysis for many major events, such as Winter/Summer Olympics, Commonwealth Games, PDC World Darts Championship, Major City Marathons, World Snooker Tournaments, US and UK Elections and the Eurovision Song Contest.