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January 29, 2014

Do analytics make the Super Bowl a safe bet?

How the bookies are using data to predict this year's winner.

By Claire Vanner

"The Super Bowl is the Holy Grail for sportsbook operators that focus on North American bettors."

While this statement may seem a generalisation to some, Mike Pickett, NFL analyst at Odds Shark is pretty much on the money.

Close to $99m was bet on the peak game of the NFL league last year, and some US-based casinos are expecting to see a rise of up to 25% this year.

Thanks to similar tools used in business analytics and business intelligence, sports analytics in betting is now really taking off, helping bettors to make a more informed decision when placing their all important bets.

"Data is data, whether you are trying to identify a trend in your monthly sales report or you are looking for a trend in running backs to find a replacement for you fantasy football team," says Evan Welsh, director, global corporate affairs, SAP.

"It is translatable technology, which means that it can be applied to other industries. What fans see with sports analytics ultimately teaches people how technology can help people make better decisions."

Aggregating data
This year, the 48th annual Super Bowl, sees the Seattle Seahawks take on the Denver Broncos at the MetLife Stadium in New Jersey on February 2. CBR spoke to sports betting analysts at Odds Shark and Sports Insights about how they aggregate data prior to the big game to help bettors know who to put their money on.

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"The smart punter is always looking for an extra edge to help beat the odds and they are willing to pay for that information," says Pickett. "Knowledge is power and it is much tougher for the bookie to maintain his edge over the bettor these days, because there is so much powerful information readily available on sites like"

Odds Shark uses the Chalk data engine to aggregate their data prior to the game. The databases contain spreads and boxscore material reaching back to NFL games in 1980. Chalk crunches numbers and runs formulas that produce the matchup reports and betting trends and other handicapping stats that licenses. Odds Shark then customise the data depending on the league and provide it in free searchable databases so handicappers can gather their own results and research their own betting angles.

Sports Insights takes a similar approach by monitoring and archiving as much betting data as possible, such as live odds, public betting trends, stats, line moves and matchup information so bettors can analyse historical data while tracking the live betting market. This is put into statistical models and historical trends, along with public betting patterns, to identify profitable betting opportunities.
Footballer jump

Sports props or hat props at Super Bowl XLVIII
"Based on our own analysis, we’ve found that, in general, the public (or recreational bettors) tend to overvalue big favourites and popular teams, and we often look to fade these teams and find value by betting against the public," says PJ Walsh, director of sport information at Sports Insights.

"The digitalisation of betting data has made it much more accessible and, in turn, driven the demand for even more detailed data as bettors look to dive even deeper to find an edge," he says.

According to Paddy Power sports trader Joe Buckwell, Denver are currently 10/13 favourites, giving Denver a 55.87% chance of winning the game.

It’s not all as simple as this though: the Seahawks play defensively, as opposed to the offensive Broncos and historically, defensive teams have nearly always come out on top.

Weather is also playing its part in betting this year, as the cold weather and storms potentially hitting New York would also favour the defensive Seahawks.

Weather may also affect what kind of hat Bruno Mars will be wearing at the half-time performance – another bet that some bookmakers are offering. It’s no longer just about the sports: bets can be placed on the coin toss, how long it will take the anthem singer to complete the Star Spangles Banner.

"Every year, new props emerge, requiring more research and new ideas on how to display the data and make it useful for bettors," says Odds Shark’s Pickett. "Sportsbooks sensibly respond with tons of prop wagers and hundreds of different wagering options. So there is always a crush of information swirling around which stats providers must organise and rationalise."

Live betting platforms

Despite being the all-American game, the Super Bowl no longer has an all-American audience. Buckwell says that Paddy Power’s UK and Ireland audience has seen more interest in NFL since 2007 when season games have been played at Wembley stadium.

He says: "We expect to see a high volume of traffic on site for the 200+ markets we will have up during Super Bowl week. Turnover always increases as the game gets closer and the hype intensifies. We also predict high volumes of traffic for live betting during the game."

Live betting is a fairly new form of gambling that is becoming more and more popular. Sports Insights offers a Live Odds page with a Value Meter which is heavily weighted towards finding contrarian value by betting against the public, which is one of a handful of factors we consider when determining our Best Bet picks.

"For the record, we don’t officially recommend a play until we release it as a Best Bet, but our members often like to see which way we’d lean on a specific game, even if we don’t think it has enough value to warrant a bet," advises Walsh.

He also stresses that it’s tough to find historical archives or databases of in-game information with enough data to analyse and draw meaningful conclusions. "With that said, as more historical in-game data gets archived, in-game betting will become more and more popular," he adds.

Odds Sharks’ Pickett agrees that the North American punter is still mainly focused on the point spread, total and halftime wagers, mostly because not all sportsbooks offer a solid live-betting platform.

He says: "The problem with stats and analytics with live betting is timing – how fast can you get the game data into the software and how fast can it return new result sets and trends? The other side of the timing problem is latency from the source. Many games have a slight delay before they hit the web or TV station, so unless you have a person in every stadium inputting data every second, there is risk for the bookmaker. With better technology and faster servers and smarter developers, this is heading in the right direction."


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