sport

10th April 2019

The Video Assistant Referee (VAR): Could it be an engagement and acquisition tool for in-play betting?

Speaking at Betting on Football, Joe Petyt, Head of in-play football at Sky Bet, revealed that bookmakers have been forced get on the defensive given the discrepancies with VAR. Inconstancies between federations, competitions and referees have all led to the normal average of “97-to-98 percent availability on in-play football games” being eroded as firms take a cautious stance given the frequency of VAR related incidents. Industry leaders have indicated the teething problems occurring with VAR have resulted in lengthy suspensions with in-play markets and subsequently user experience has been impacted.

The position for sports fans is potentially just as unclear. The terms and conditions of many bookmakers reflect their cautious and at times confused state when it comes to VAR. Having looked through the terms and conditions of many leading players, their rulings on VAR differ and often are not even stated. The underlying stance among bookmakers seems to be mirrored by the response one gave when it came to VAR settlement:

“There is no specific rule or term and condition regarding this, however, all bets will be settled on the official result and if funds have been incorrectly added to a customer’s account we have the right to remove those funds.”

The different rules and adaptations of VAR from league to league is making how bookmakers deal with VAR decisions increasingly difficult. The handball rule in Serie A for example seems to differ from that adopted in England in the FA Cup. Even from match to match the rules don’t seem to marry up. The Champions League last night was a good example; Danny Rose conceded a handball penalty for Tottenham, yet Trent Alexander-Arnold for Liverpool escaped punishment from what seemed a very similar issue but in a different game. When the interpretation of the laws seem wildly inconsistent even in the same competition, it is clear to see why bookmakers find setting odds and algorithms on various markets such as penalties, cards and goals increasingly difficult.

However, inconsistency among referees in any league is no new phenomena, with VAR or without. The disruption that this has caused bookmakers in the past, is felt equally among punters who have been aggrieved by referees applying the laws of the game with reckless contradiction from one day to the next. This is not an attack on referees but more that imperfections in the game either have to be embraced as part of the drama or removed by the introduction of technology. Technology is in place across a wide spectrum of popular in-play sports and has been used to great effect, not only to improve the reliability of refereeing, but also to engage and create drama. TMO in rugby, DRS in cricket, Hawkeye in tennis all occasionally slow down the natural rhythm of their respective sports. However, they all undoubtedly bring a new drama and controversy to the games they are applied in. With this in mind there is absolutely no reason why this does not create a plethora of opportunities for in-play providers when it comes to football.

At IMG ARENA we are dedicated to delivering world-class content and products that can enhance the way that fans interact with sport. What immediately can be seen from the introduction of VAR is the possibility of more in-play markets for players to engage with. This surely must be incorporated rather than seen as a danger to betting availability. The number of VAR reviews per game, the time of the first VAR, a VAR red card/penalty, and so on! The possibilities for more markets are numerous and fans watching, streaming and betting will no doubt reap the benefits of the excitement VAR decisions can create. As was said last night when Son Heung-Min’s goal was reviewed and deemed a goal; “the fans have been able to celebrate the goal twice”. Of course this can go the other way but the undoubted drama created should be used by stadiums, federations and media distributors to further grow engagement and excitement during matches.

It also presents another opportunity for bookmakers, should they be able to price up markets at speed, the opportunity to bet on VAR decision outcomes as they happen could be lucrative. In horse-racing, odds on photo-finishes are generated in an instance via the exchange model and if a similar solution could be found it would present a huge amount of possibilities for in-play football markets as VAR decisions happen. The more engrained and clear VAR becomes to bookmakers and referees, the easier in-play betting will be able to utilise its benefits. As traders and their algorithms adjust to VAR, the greater the enhancement it should bring to fans and bookmakers. It is no great surprise that our stance on VAR should be one of excitement! We are committed to constantly evolving the offering for fans engaging with sport and given the possibilities, drama and controversy that VAR brings to football it should be embraced as an in-play acquisition tool for bookmakers rather than one that keeps people away.

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