We speak to Jason Colley who has over ten years of experience in the sport betting and analytics space across the UK & Australia. More recently he’s transitioned in to high performance sport so our conversation is wide-ranging, covering the evolution of data in sports betting to the future of data and technology in sport in 2020 and beyond!
Tell us about your background
I grew up in South-East Queensland as a mad sports fan (like many young kids) and initially had dreams of becoming a professional soccer player, but injuries put an end to that as a teenager. I studied Criminology & Criminal Justice at University but didn’t really know what career path I wanted to go down, so I went to the UK on a working holiday at the conclusion of my studies to avoid getting a real job. Whilst over there, I discovered I could fulfil my passion for sport and get paid for it.
How did you get started in the sporting world?
I saw a job advertised with online bookmaker Skybet looking for a ‘cricket odds complier’ and couldn’t believe they paid people to watch cricket all day, so I threw my hat in the ring. I had been a lifelong fan of the game and loved the statistical side of it, and was given the opportunity to fill the role when the person they initially offered the position to turned it down.
The role basically required me to work with the rest of the team setting pre-match and live odds across a series of betting markets for all domestic and international cricket fixtures across the world. Assessing the probability and likelihood of specific events occurring within a match required a combination of statistical data and a thorough understanding of the game and putting them together was something which I thrived upon and did well at.
You’ve been involved in sports data & wagering for over a decade across Australia and the UK. Tell us about some of your most interesting experiences?
No doubt the most interesting and exciting experiences I have had revolve around personal success stories where my hard work and research have been rewarded. Having spent a long time researching statistical trends and data predominantly for cricket but also for other sports, it’s always satisfying being right about something before everyone else, or even being the only one.
I have plenty of stories about good returns on well thought out wagering investments, but the most satisfying ones are always the ones where you know you’ve worked harder and put in more effort looking into things than anyone else. The Olympic Games was always a great example of that, with weeks of research trawling the depths of the internet for a hidden treasure chest of information about wrestling or fencing often being well rewarded financially.
How has the industry evolved over time?
From a wagering perspective, the introduction of automation has completely changed the way the industry operates, with subject experts now being replaced by people who manage largely automated programs to mitigate risk. The final big project I worked on with Tatts was the introduction of automated betting solutions and as a whole, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to win as a punter, as pricing falls more into line across companies using these systems.
In professional sport, the increased emphasis on data is clear for everyone to see. Sports betting and fantasy sport games have no doubt played a part in the increased interest of the general public, while it is also integrated in broadcasts and public match analysis also. Within sporting organisations themselves, sport is such a big money business that teams are looking to find any sort of edge they can, so I think the emphasis on data and analytics to improve performance will only continue to increase.
As the use of data and analysis becomes more prevalent in sport, the Excel skills which I am most familiar with simply won’t cut it so I need to make sure I expand my skillset with the use of programs such as Python and R.
Looking at the use of data in cricket, what have you noticed so far and where do you think the industry is headed in the next couple of years?
It will be interesting to see how the use of data evolves, particularly in T20 cricket with increasing emphasis on that form of the game. I think there is still some way to go for the Australian sporting codes to catch up with the detailed level of analysis conducted in other sports – particularly in the USA – and I think it will only continue to grow as an industry.
You mentioned you’re looking to move into high performance sport. What drove you to make that decision?
I have looked at a couple of alternate career opportunities over the past couple of years, but nothing gives me the thrill in my professional life like being involved with sport does. Sport has always been my passion and having been away from it for a little while dabbling in other things, I know it is where I want to be.
Have you had any experience within the industry and if so, how have you found it so far?
I made contact with the High Performance Analyst at Queensland Cricket last season and did some voluntary work helping out to try and get a better understanding of what it is really like working in high performance sport. While there appears to be a greater amount of monotonous work than I expected there to be, I can see how the work can be very rewarding and produce practical, tangible outcomes. I can imagine the emphasis on data and analytics will only increase in Australian sport as we catch up with some of the bigger sporting codes from around the world, I think it’s very exciting to see the industry evolve.
What is the ideal next step for your career?
One thing I learnt from the experience I have had with QC is that I need to work on my technical skills. As the use of data and analysis becomes more prevalent in sport, the Excel skills which I am most familiar with simply won’t cut it so I need to make sure I expand my skillset with the use of programs such as Python and R.