Director of Sportsbook and Trading Thomas Molloy speaks to EGR and explores whether coronavirus has changed betting behaviour
11 March 2021 marked a year to the day since Atletico Madrid knocked champions Liverpool off their perch and out of the Champions League. What none of us knew then was that this game would be the last to take place in front of a full and baying crowd. What followed was a significant mid-season break, a host of safety stipulations put in place and empty stadia followed by fans sitting in front of their screens watching with pre-recorded crowd noise to improve the experience. It was always unlikely that football would return with its usual pizzazz.
12 months on, we are now well into the 2020/21 season and despite the very different environment that players are still performing in, we are now able to look back and reflect on what, if any, differences are evidenced in betting behaviour and what that means for sportsbooks worldwide.
What was really fascinating about the return of the Premier League in particular was the initial way in which the trends around bets shifted after the resumption in June 2020. Here at Pronet Gaming, we kept a close eye on how the new conditions affected play on the pitch and, in turn, how gamblers were placing wagers.
What was clear, was that teams struggled to pick up where they left off before the lockdown. Many who were safe from relegation appeared to be playing the season out. This resulted in fewer goals, fewer shots and a lower conversion rate of chances to goals. With the exception of Serie A, which bucked the trend, this was the case across all of the big European leagues. Over 70% of goals were scored in the second half of games, indicating that the extended hiatus may have had more of an impact on match fitness than some previously envisioned.
Football is a game in which teams thrive in a febrile atmosphere. Our early prediction that an absence of cheering fans would affect player performance initially proved accurate, with Premier League home games as close to being played on neutral ground as they could be. We anticipated last season’s games would be more likely to be cagey as a result, and that certainly rung true, with 58% of matches proving to be goalless at half time as opposed to just 29% before lockdown. Reflected today, those numbers are in stark contrast. For Premier League in particular, average goals per game has risen from 2.72 in 2019/20 to 3.25 goals per game in 2020/21! What is also interesting is that this trend has been picked up by bettors, with Total Goals markets now the most popular on our platform, now turning over more than the previous favourite 1X2.
In contradiction, what we have also evidenced is how bettors strong pull towards favourites and home teams hasn’t changed, which has resulted in strong margins for our clients. According to research, the falloff in home advantage due to empty stadiums was substantial once the 2019/20 season restarted and has become even more established in the current season where, it has all but disappeared on average across the top five European leagues. Average home point advantage per game before Covid was 0.48 but now sits in the region of 0.1! It’s interesting, when looking more closely into this, that home teams are scoring at broadly the same rate whereas away, teams’ average goal ratio has risen from 1.19 to 1.38 per game.
As these trends play out, we continually amended the logic around our models accordingly. This proactive approach has been paramount in helping our clients maintain consistent returns.
When it comes to the return of recreational bettors with no hidden agenda, many have picked up where they left off, with match accumulators, over goals and both teams to score remaining popular, but savvy bettors have picked up on the trends above, turning their attention and backing teams both to win away from home and score more heavily in doing so. Our traders and customer profiling departments have proactively stayed ahead of the curve by ensuring our risks are properly managed across the lifecycle of the odds, from creation to settlement and everything in between.
What is clear is the importance of packed stadiums and the old saying ‘our fans are our 12th man’ has rung true! Covid 19 has brought many questions with it in a betting sense but by staying nimble, proactive and by tailoring our offering at a local level, we have been able to ride this unprecedented year with a solid commitment to our clients. All of us are hopefully closer to the end of the pandemic than the start and enjoying the solid performance so far in 2021. Normal service will hopefully resume once again but if it has not, we’ll be prepared.