Football and tennis trading on betfair

When I first started out on Betfair I was interested more in the football markets (especially the under/over markets), but as I began to experiment with trading on other sports I discovered that tennis is a much more suitable – and profitable – sport for me to trade.

During the years I couldn’t help but observe some of the differences between the two sports and what these differences mean as far as trading them on the betting exchanges. What I would like to make clear right from the start is that both sports are great for trading and both presents traders with huge opportunities but the two main reasons why I took the decision to spend more time on tennis is because it’s the sport that has less efficient markets (both pre-play and in-play) and is more suited for my particular style of trading.

The suspension of in-play markets

Betfair Suspended Market
In football the market is suspended every time something significant happens in the match

The first difference between the two sports is the suspension of the in-play markets.In football the market is suspended each and every time something significant happens in the match that also leads to the odds having a significant movement due to that event. Examples include a goal being scored, a penalty being awarded or a red card being shown. This of course makes perfect sense as some traders might have longer delays for their live pictures and what they might consider as being “live pictures” are actually delayed pictures with the delay ranging anywhere from 30 seconds to two minutes, and when they are seeing a drive forward from one team, other traders with faster pictures might already have seen the goal being scored. The same goes if a penalty is awarded or a red card in shown. If the football markets would not be suspended in these types of situations, for the vast majority of punters, the exchange would be a “less fair” place to put on their bets. So it’s perfectly understandable why the football markets need to be “regulated” for in-play trading, but for tennis things are different.

In tennis the market in only suspended once, when the match starts and the market is turned in play. This leads to a lot of in-play opportunities for someone who has extremely fast pictures. This is why you have courtside trader problems in tennis and why it is deemed as an unfair activity.  If an important event is about to occur in a tennis match – a player breaking serve, a player winning a set, injury – that would lead to significant movements in the odds the market is still open and that is what I enjoy most about this game. It is a “free” market.  This also allows more automation for some types of trades.

Momentum swings and efficiency of the markets

The scoring system for tennis  is quite unique. Individual points create games, which in turn creates sets and the player who first makes two or three sets (depending on the match) wins the match. It’s not unusual to see a tennis match where a player has won more points than his adversary yet he has still lost the match. This scoring system makes tennis a very momentum type of sport which leads to a lot of momentum swings within a match. This momentum changes also occur because of the fact that tennis is an individual sports rather than a team sport, and as we know it’s hard for one individual to keep a high and constant level of play for the entire duration of a match. It’s this lack of consistency during a match that lead to momentum swings. In football, being a team sport, it’s not that important if a player is not 100% on any given day, since there are other 10 players on his team that can compensate.

Federer vs Gulbis - 27-04-2010 - Rome 2nd Round
Federer vs Gulbis - Match Odds Betfair Graphic - 27th of April 2010 - ATP 1000 Rome - 2nd Round. Match finished 2-6, 6-1, 7-5 in favor of Gulbis. Federer traded as low as 1.02 and over £1 mil. was traded at 1.05 before going on to lose the match

Momentum swings are a common occurrence in tennis matches – especially WTA matches – and are one of the main reasons I prefer tennis over football trading. In football, it is almost impossible to get such momentum swings on a regular basis. Imagine a football match in which a team is leading by 2 goals and goes on to lose the match. Such results do happen in football but not that often and are hard to spot, while the equivalent of such an outcome in tennis happens more often and is easier to identify.

Ferrer vs Verdasco - ATP 1000 Rome 2010 Semi-Final - Betfair Graphic
Ferrer vs Verdasco - Match Odds Betfair Graphic - 1st of May 2010 - ATP 1000 Rome - Semi-Final. Match ended with a 7-5 6-3 win for Ferrer. A straight sets win that might be mistaken for an easy win, but you can clearly see that Ferrer was available to back as high as 4.40 in-play. What happened was that Verdasco had a 5-1 lead (as far as I can remember) before fatigue started to become a factor. (Verdasco was coming after a 3 week period of daily tennis )

Another factor to take in consideration is that the tennis markets are a lot less efficient on a relatively consistent basis. To be successful at sports trading (or sports betting) the odds need to be wrong and most of the times they are wrong. Let me explain a little further. For the football markets there is plenty of time for the markets to form and thus be more efficient (or in other words for the odds to have less value) since most markets for the European league have a full week to form. In tennis there are only 24h or less from the moment a certain match (market) is listed till the moment it is turned in-play. This gives  you the chance to take advantage and correct any early inexactitudes of the markets. Of course this only works if you compile your own odds or have enough experience to know what is or isn’t value.

Betfair graphic analysis

Federer vs Nadal - ATP 1000 Madrid 2010 Final - Betfair Graphic
Federer vs Nadal – Match Odds Betfair Graphic – 16th of May 2010 – ATP 1000 Madrid – Final. Match finished 6-4 7-6(5) for Nadal, a straight sets win but even so there was plenty of movement and action in the match with a swing trade from 1.05 to 1.28 opportunity towards the end on the second set that otherwise we would have missed when making an analysis of the match

A football betfair graphic is pretty straight forward. When I look at a particular betfair graphic for a football match it really doesn’t tell me anything special or anything that I did not already know about that match provided that I already knew the final score. One thing for which the football graphics are good for is to analyze how the odds move in the absence of goals or in other words when you’re trading the passing of time.

But with tennis it’s a different thing with the Betfair graphics. When I take a look at a tennis graphic I instantly know what happened in that match. You can look only at the final result of a tennis match that ended, let’s say with a 6-4 6-3 score line. Most would assume that it was a straight forward win but if the player that lost in the end was actually up in both sets, let’s say 4-1 up in the first set and 3-0 in the second,  just looking at the final match result or the statistics of the match would not give you a clear indication of the way the match unfolded. But taking a look at the graphic, would indicate exactly what happened in the match.

Tennis, basketball and snooker are sports in which you can take the betfair graphic and as there is no suspension in the markets, you can tell a lot from the graphic and identify patterns for players and teams; and being able to identify trends and patterns in matches will certainly make you money in the future.

Year-round sport

Another reason why I prefer trading tennis over football is that it’s a year-round sport. Basically from the 1st of January until the end of  November there will always be a week with tennis matches. Football is a year round sport as well, but the major european football competitions – which are the ones I care to trade – take a break in the summer time and leaves a full time football trader with almost nothing to trade on. Of course this happens only once every two years as during the summer break we either have the World Cup and Euro to trade.

Overall, I see tennis as a better sport to trade, more suitable for my style, but I would never neglect football. Both sports generate considerable amounts of profits, but for me tennis has turned out to be the sport that turns out the most profit with the least amount of time invested.

Other sports similar to tennis are basketball – NBA – and snooker as far as trading goes. I have tried trading both in the past, and I have to say that basketball is the one I find bring more obvious opportunities and I have given it a more closer look in the last 5-6 months and although the profits are there,  the difference in time zone for in-play trading make it a bit difficult but it’s surely a sport I will look more into, during the coming months (seasons).

Have I missed anything ? Do you have anything else to add ? Leave me a comment below.

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