As IPL T20 cricket returns this weekend, albeit with a new home, we pick the trading brain of William Stephenson, Head of Data & Trading Feeds at RPM Gaming, whose new PACE feed promises the fastest and most accurate data and pricing for the sport.
SBC: The Indian Premier League returns this weekend, but how much uncertainty still remains?
WS: It’s great to have the IPL back and the authorities have done a wonderful job of moving this T20 showpiece to the United Arab Emirates where Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi will play host to the most eagerly anticipated cricket tournament of the year.
However, while anticipation is at fever pitch and most appear to have arrived safely in the bubble (although a few sides have reported isolated cases of COVID-19) the variables of human behaviour, psychology, not to mention the sometimes stealth asymptomatic spread of the virus itself, mean nothing can be taken for granted.
Having a Plan B isn’t enough. In fact, there probably aren’t enough letters in the alphabet to cover the conceivable contingencies, such as quarantine periods, the bubble-to-bubble transfer of players involved in this week’s England v Australia series at the Ageas Bowl, varied points on the spectrum of player-fitness and match-sharpness for those selected, alongside the safe and proactive management of all those players who aren’t picked for any given game.
Just imagine being away from your family, in the company of the same people who are, on some level, competing for your job. Biosecure cabin fever could even lead to one or two players simply walking out. It’s a logistical headache, but one well worth getting your head around. After all, the IPL is cricket betting’s biggest bonanza.
SBC: More specifically, then, how will all this unique variability affect trading of these games?
WS: Well, as alluded to above, there will surely be more vagaries to contend with around starting XI selection and man-motivation as the tournament unfolds. More tellingly, seeing as there are just three grounds for this year’s reconfigured event (a typical IPL season employs double-digit venues) these pitches will suffer much more wear and tear over a packed timetable of 60 games in 53 days.
Progressive degradation under scorching skies will be the inevitable, if non-linear, outcomes at the Sheikh Zayed, Dubai International and Sharjah cricket grounds. As a result, as the IPL moves towards its sharp end, expect a general lowering of total scores (well under the 200-mark) and individual batting averages along with a shift in side-composition for spin-friendly wickets.
The high clay content in this UAE soil means it’s tricky to produce a hard wicket. Teams will look to select their sides accordingly, so traders and their algorithms must respond.
SBC: From a market-making perspective, why is T20 so popular as a betting medium?
WS: The high-octane, volatile cut-and-thrust of the T20 format is perfect for betting’s swings and comebacks, particularly in-play where the action now accounts for roughly 90% of turnover, versus about 70% for most other sports. The short-course nature of events like the IPL and Australia’s Big Bash (also set to resume in early December) have really captured fans’ hearts, elevating engagement in both the casual consumer and the committed follower.
No other form of cricket engenders such broad appeal, while cricket on the Indian subcontinent constitutes the most popular and loyal fanbase. Indeed, the IPL stands alone for its broad reach across social channels, due to a jaw-dropping global audience of 800 million.
These fans have been largely starved of action across a decimated sporting calendar, so they’re primed to make up for missed opportunities over the remainder of the season. Just take the recent Caribbean Premier League (CPL), which eloquently demonstrated the pent-up passion, despite being a comparatively second-class, month-long tournament.
SBC: Which product sets will operators require?
WS: There’s obviously a progressive call for short-form betting opportunities, and that’s a universal trend across all sports. Markets-wise, somewhat predictably, that equates to more “innovation” around types of runs bands, next method of dismissal, next batsman out, under-over runs for any bracket from first-five overs to total innings runs, or highest team scorer.
As another differentiator, PACE also offers individual over-by-over runs lines, allowing operators to better engage their customers at any stage of the proceedings, no matter the score. If it sounds like a cluttered, even standardised space, you’re not wrong.
Which is why it’s so important to have the finest, up-to-the-millisecond feeds that make your cricket service stand out on a range of markets for accuracy and speed. As a result, we’ve gone out of our way to create a feed which dependably delivers the lowest latency ball-by-ball data on the game.
SBC: What makes the PACE feed compare so favourably with other long standing offers in the industry marketplace?
WS: PACE’s legitimate points of difference centre around this absolute lowest-latency data, finer margins, match continuity and a dedicated team of top traders for every game. In recent years, cricket has had its feet up on the Lord’s balcony from a data-based trading perspective. Data-driven pricing expertise has turned to expert unease, even rank laziness. Consequently, it’s commonplace for markets to be suspended off a single or fail to update for tens of seconds after a boundary.
Which either means your prices are flat wrong (in which case you’re picked off by sharps) or they’re simply unavailable for core customers crying out for product, or even just a betslip that will actually confirm a trade without suspending or changing the price.
Over just the past 12 months, I’ve heard some shockers – recreational punters stuck in eternal betslip limbo, arbers with accurate weather forecasts exploiting Test match quotes overnight, or even 50-over ODIs initially traded as T20 games. Even if exceptional, such issues speak to a wider problem and a deep deficiency in cricket betting that our PACE product now fulfils.
SBC: Why is it so important to get as close to zero-latency as possible, and where are the operators currently going wrong or missing out?
WS: While it’s crucial in all formats of the game, of course, things move and change faster in T20. You need a feed you can rely on to provide the single point of truth that truly tracks the state of play at any given second, delivering the fastest and most accurate data for the sport drives every component of market-making and settling that an operator could wish for.
Not that you should get necessarily carried away with a myriad of markets. After all, match-winner and the total-team-runs lines are still the most popular betting mediums, so be sure your interface doesn’t confuse the end-user with reams of niche derivative markets. The key is keeping the core markets, alongside a handful of other more time-sensitive ones, open for business and up-to-date.
Next, these markets need to be settled as quickly as they are determined – i.e. “Over 34 Runs” for the first five overs should be settled as a winner as soon as the batting team scores 35, even if that’s in the third over. By logical extension, this also relates to Cashout functionality for which there’s seldom any excuse not to offer a live value. This popular modern product (with up to twice the normal margin at its disposal) always redounds to the operator’s advantage.
Therefore, harnessing dependable data and trading capacity to offer consistent Cashout will effortlessly drive incremental profits. After all, the rapid recycling of customer funds at a competitive margin will naturally hand any operator competitive long-term benefits.
SBC: How do things currently stand when it comes to your competitors, or for operators who use multiple feeds?
WS: Latency issues for most operators, with the notable exception of bet365, mean that prices routinely lag behind both Betfair and the super-fast Asian exchanges, underscoring the demand for a new zero-latency feed. Having identified this area for disruption, RPM Gaming is now targeting it with successful PACE trails at a number of tier-two operators.
As cricket returns behind closed doors, some of these latency issues may be less prominent because in-venue scouting and attendant data supply will be very difficult to acquire. Consequently, “courtsiding” is a diminished threat. However, this is no time for operators to draw false confidence from their current data sources. Instead, they should look to integrate a step-change service as quickly as possible.
Our trading comparison studies, even since the return with no crowds, have highlighted some savage disparities. Overarchingly, without naming names, RPM Gaming’s comparative research has repeatedly shown that PACE will prove more precise and faster than its competitors with far fewer market suspensions. We’ll even get the starting XI comfortably ahead of most media outlets.
SBC: Can you give us some examples of where the in-play T20 market is failing its customers?
WS: While there’s not always a huge amount in it when it comes to overrounds, we’ve seen PACE betting at 104% when there’s plenty of 113% elsewhere. That’s hugely uncompetitive for customers and indicates a fundamental lack of faith in their pricing from the operator which, in turn, can only harm betting volume. As for latency, well over ten seconds can sometimes elapse before runs lines react to boundaries.
On the flipside, odds can fluctuate wildly (say from 1.8 to 2.1 with a boundary) even at midway or less consequential stage of the match. Again, to me, that indicates poor-quality quoting. A more gradual move would be reflective of robust and precise pricing which allows bettors to get on in size and frequency.
Of course, at pivotal points in a T20 match, the trading valency ramps for wickets or boundaries. However, the “recency bias” inherent in some of these moves is not the mark of level-headed algorithms. While regular market suspensions of Total Runs (sometimes over a minute after a mere single has been scored) are akin to a trader packing up his stall and going home early. Customers won’t wait for the stall to re-open, they’ll just shop elsewhere.
Away from the pricing, it’s also vital that the live broadcast pictures or scoreboards chronicling any game keep up with the live data, so that the viewing and betting experience are synced-up and seamless. We’ve seen supposedly “live” scoreboards from Tier-1 operators that are up to a minute behind the real-world action. Clearly, this is far too slow – and even if their live markets keep better time, the end-user can be left befuddled by such discrepancies.
Worse still, some top operators compile and update some of the core cricket lines “in-house”, alongside integrating and managing multiple data feeds from other sources for their other odds.
However, because of those latency issues and little joined-up thinking on the underlying platform, these markets can end up speaking at parallel channels with one another. And in extreme cases, you can even arb some lines with the same operator! The upshot of all these combined inefficiencies is also a high percentage of genuine bets being rejected and an appreciable drop in turnover.
In life, it’s very easy to be content, but to not know what you’re missing out on. So, it’s high time all operators had a look over their fences and asked themselves why that rival IPL-watching party next-door seems to have a much bigger turnout. It can’t just be the canapés.