Using history to predict the future in football betting

February 23, 2018

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Kåre Hilt Ingvaldsen walks us through the process of betting on football and how historical data informs that process.

Professional sports trading is a world of its own. Although it shares certain similarities with other forms of trading, it has some unique factors that makes it probably the most exciting one: there can be so many ups and downs within a day, or even within a single match.  This goes particularly for Asian Handicap live trading (or in-play trading), where everything will be settled within a 90-minutes period, or shorter.

Before each match, a professional trader will have made a thorough research about the 2 teams in action, and made up an opinion pre-game that he or she will use throughout the match. Team news in particular is important, but also other factors, such as form, venue, travel or even weather might be taken into consideration depending on the match. How much weight is put into the different factors is very individual.

Most traders will also create their own price (odds), and compare it to the bookmakers they use. If there is a big difference between the trader’s own price and what the bookmaker has to offer, it will generate a pre-match bet.

Some traders prefer a flat betting model, meaning all bets will be the exact same amount of money.  While others prefer a staggered model (usually a 3-2-1 model), which means the higher the difference is between the two prices, the higher the bet will be too. In this way, the trader will be able to bet a higher amount (3 units) on a bet he has confidence on, while he or she can be more careful on bets where the confidence or value is low (1 unit).

Historical data over personal opinion

But even more important than the trader’s personal opinion is the use of historical football odds data, put into computer models.  These models can have different purposes, but the most common one is to create a synthetic price based on all the data for a certain team/match, and then compare it to the current price.

Having all the odds data for the last 5, 10 or 20 years for a particular league can be extremely useful, as it shows what odds bookmakers had on the same match in previous seasons.  Although the team’s strengths might change from one season to another, this is usually something that both bookmakers and betting syndicates put a lot of weight on.  Also, by looking at the opening and closing prices and comparing them, you can predict how the odds will move and already take a position.

Having different strategies for different leagues is also very usual.  A common opinion among in-play traders is that the amount of goals late in a match in German Bundesliga 1 is significantly higher than what it is in other major European leagues.  This goes especially in matches where a team is 1-goal up.

This opinion is also backed by statistics and data, and based on that the willingness to take higher risks when a goal down is relatively very big in Bundesliga compared to for example Serie A or Premier League. And the teams in front also seems to be willing to send players forward on counter attacks more frequently.  On the other hand, in Serie A it might be more common to see players time-wasting or heading to the corner flag instead.

Therefore, placing bets late in the game for a Bundesliga-match will usually pay off more often than what the case is for example in Italy. And the bookmakers know this as well (they didnt always do), which is why the prices on Over/Under bets with 10-15 minutes to go can be extremely different from one league to another.

Within Asian Handicap betting, it is most common to bet on the main line, which is the line closest to 2,00 / 2,00 on both sides of the outcome.  Where there is a big favourite, the main line might be -0,75 or -1,5, while between more evenly matched teams it might be -0,25 or 0 (Draw No Bet).  No bookmaker will offer a price of 2,00 / 2,00 though, but by looking at the main line it is easy to see how much commission the bookmaker takes.  The closer to 2,00 the better, and among the major bookmakers today it is most common to offer something along the lines of 1,99 / 1,96, which means the bookmaker will end up with 5% commission on that particular bet (0,1 + 0,4 = 0,5).

This goes usually only for the bigger tournaments though, and for a lower league match amongst some bookmakers it can even be as low as 1,87/1,83 (which means 30% commission that goes straight to the bookie).  Using a tool to compare what prices the various bookmakers have is therefore essential in order to get the best prices.

Because beating the bookmakers is what sports betting is all about.


Kåre Hilt Ingvaldsen is an Asian Studies and Japanese Language & Culture graduate with vast experience within sales, administration and management in form of various manager roles in the retail business. He has worked several years as an In-play and Pre-game Sports Trader (football), where he conducted background research for football odds markets, placed high-stake trades as well as creating and maintaining databases with key info regarding the odds market.

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