How Sportradar works with FIFA to combat betting corruption during the 2022 tournament.
Bettors are expected to wager more than $160 billion during the 2022 World Cup. With that much money sloshing around the betting markets, FIFA has enlisted Sportradar, a Switzerland-based sports data and technology company, to monitor every bet and look out for irregularities.
The world of soccer is no stranger to match-fixing scandals and Sportradar says it has identified more than 700 matches so far this year that have been manipulated by players or officials. Andreas Krannich, the managing director of Sportradar’s integrity services division, likens players and officials fixing a game to executives on Wall Street making well-timed stock trades.
“Match-fixing is like insider trading,” says Krannich. “Someone has insider information and they’re betting on it.”
But Sportradar is not monitoring all 64 matches of the World Cup alone. This year, FIFA put together an integrity task force composed of Sportradar, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL), and the International Betting Integrity Association (IBIA), ESPN first reported.
Match-fixing may seem outlandish and far-fetched, but it isn’t. At least one player currently in the World Cup has been accused of manipulating a regular season match.
The best-known example of modern-day match fixing happened on November 12, 2016, during a qualifier match between South Africa and Senegal for the 2018 World Cup. Joseph Lamptey, a Ghanaian soccer referee, awarded a sham penalty kick to South Africa. (The penalty was for a handball, but the ball clearly hit Senegal defender Kalidou Koulibaly on his leg.) South Africa won 2-1. A couple days later, Sportradar, Global Lottery Monitoring System, Starlizard Sports Betting Consultancy and Genius Sports filed reports that the sports betting market showed “irregular” movements and evidence that gamblers knew what the score would be ahead of time. FIFA’s judicial body banned Lamptey for life and the Court of Arbitration for Sport found him guilty of “unlawfully influencing match results” to “make pertinent bets successful.”
In 2005, a German court sentenced Robert Hoyzer, a soccer referee, to two-and-a-half years in prison for participating in a match rigging scandal. In one game, a German Cup match, Hoyzer awarded Paderborn two penalties, which helped the team beat Hamburg SV. A professional gambler and pub owner, Ante Sapina from Croatia, organized the scheme and paid Hoyzer €67,000 to rig nine games.
This year in Austria, 15 people, including soccer players, officials and bettors, were arrested for allegedly fixing at least 19 games between 2019 and 2021 in regional leagues.
Soccer is the most targeted sport for match-fixers because it is the world’s most popular and most bet-upon sport. Figures vary greatly: according to a report by the IBIA, the global regulated betting market loses $25 million to match-fixing every year. That is a paltry sum while considering sports betting companies generated nearly $70 billion in revenue in 2020. According to a report published by Europol, organized crime groups use sports match-fixing to launder proceeds from drugs and prostitution and each year, gangs make an estimated €120 million from match-fixing and wagering.
“Soccer is the most prominent and attractive sport for match-fixers,” says Krannich. “Where’s the biggest liquidity? It’s not in esports. On average, for the World Cup in Qatar we expect there will be more than €1 billion wagered on each match.”
While match-fixing is a relatively small problem for sports, it is getting worse. Last year, Sportradar identified 500 suspicious soccer matches while this year the company has already identified 700 by mid-November. Across all sports, the company has found 1,100 games that were manipulated, up from 903 last year.
“We never had such a high number,” says Krannich. “This cancer is spreading.”
Match-fixing is not about a player or a ref throwing an entire game. It’s more nuanced. These days, most match-fixing scandals are about fixing a quarter or the point spread.
“Match-fixing these days does not mean that you are deliberately losing a game,” says Krannich. “That’s boring and also dumb.”
Team captains, goalkeepers and defenders are the most targeted players, thanks to their integral role on the pitch. “A simple mistake can easily lead to the conceding of a goal without raising suspicion,” Europol’s report states.
“If you’re the underdog, you know you’ll lose the match anyway,” Krannich says, “so what’s the difference between losing by two goals or five goals?”
With a team of 60 people spread across the U.S., South America, Europe, and Australia, Krannich’s team and its artificial intelligence software process 35 billion odds changes a year during 890,000 sports games in 90 sports. The integrity team’s algorithm will flag irregularities in betting patterns, like a spike in betting account signups and big movements of money—both signs of match-fixing underway. When his system spots an unusual pattern, Krannich says he can tell you which team will win just by watching what team bettors wager the most money on.
“Either I’m Jesus, or we know what we’re doing with the metrics,” he says, joking. “We only look into the facts and the facts is the money flow. Money never lies.”
Sports betting monitoring is a small portion of what the $3.2 billion market cap company does. Founded by entrepreneur Carsten Koerl, Sportradar helps sports leagues compile data like in-game statistics and distribute it to media companies and betting operators.
Koerl, who serves as CEO, became a billionaire after Sportradar went public on the Nasdaq in September 2021. Sportradar has more than 1,700 clients, including 900 sports betting customers like DraftKings, FanDuel and Flutter, and 150-plus sports league partners, including FIFA, NBA, MLB, NASCAR, ITF and the NHL. Other billionaires like basketball great Michael Jordan, Mark Cuban, and Ted Leonsis all own minority stakes in the company. The company generated €186 million in EBITA from €561 million in revenue last year.