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Our SVP, Sportsbook, Keith O'Loughlin recently shared his thoughts with EGR on betting trends and patterns in 2020

Major U.S. leagues like the NBA and NFL are paramount to an operator’s offering and serve customers in a way only tier-one sports can, with in-depth markets across match betting, prop bets, player betting and specials.

Traders can deliver these with confidence considering the vast data sets and tried and tested models that have emerged over the years. But this year, tried-and-tested isn’t the right term considering the unpredictability of recent events. A number of betting models have been shown up short with 2020 and sent back to the drawing board due to the impact of COVID-19. After all who could factor 2020 into any predictive model!

Betting odds intrinsically factor in, to borrow an expression, known unknowns, but when you look at the unknown unknowns, this is when trading departments have to act fast and demonstrate expertise in the face of ever smarter, better resourced punters. And that’s just what’s been needed, arguably more than ever, in recent months.

NBA matches saw their points per game (PPG) skyrocket by seven when the bubble started, with teams increasingly focusing on more effective shooting practices over defensive formations. Home field advantage also waned in the neutral venues, with the nominated road team effectively gaining six points compared to previous seasons.

NFL’s 60-plus man rosters also took a hit when it came to co-ordinating pre-season training, leading more socially-distanced offenses to take a lead on the harder to organise defensive unit training. This has led to a four points hike per game versus 2019 stats and with partisan crowds kept to a minimum, visiting teams are now only at a half point disadvantage.

Regional bettors have taken to these ongoing trends in their own manner. The European punter has, on the whole, carried on as normal post lockdown, finding value in the early weeks as trading models recalibrated. US bettors tend to still regard betting as part of the matchday experience, rather than a standalone activity, and to this end, volatile models and major line changes haven’t always been picked up on by the everyman. Value has been left on the table.

Flexibility has been required by the sports betting industry more than ever before. But it’s this disruption and renewed focus on how to deal with it that will ensure a better product delivery in the coming years from outsourced trading platforms. A short-term shock, which is what we all hope it will be, has allowed sportsbook suppliers to rethink their risk management and modelling flexibility across a number of sports.

NBA and NFL lines may revert to their long-term means, but if they don’t, the more experienced odds compilers and quant teams will be far more adept at moving with rapid change. More unknowns are now known, and they have an ever-increasing data set to back them up. We must prepare for future disruption and those with flexible, data-driven modelling, backed by qualified experience, will continue to perform.

Ultimately, operator partners want to know their bottom lines are safe. Sportsbook suppliers can only do this through consistent margins on sustained, high revenue. Those with poor trading experience will come unstuck when there are shocks to their rigid models, while those who can learn from the past and build for the future will prosper.

As online sports betting in the U.S. moves from a second-screen entertainment tool to a more integrated pastime, bettors are going to gradually demand lower margins and higher stakes. With the market changing so rapidly, now’s the time to act and partner with those that can deliver this in a compliant, flexible manner.

2020 has affected us all as people and all the old paradigms, models, structures, customs, habits and things we took for granted have irrevocably changed. We have all changed, evolved and learned a lot and look forward to a more positive outcome for 2021 and beyond. This is exactly how it is in the world of Sports betting too.