For a lot of casual bettors, women’s tennis comes across the radar a few times a year. Grand Slam events like the US Open command a good deal of action in regulated sports betting markets.
The world of professional tennis is much more expansive than just that very top tier, however. The experiences of players like Brittany Collens show just how much of a difference governmental oversight can make.
A regulated sports betting market is about more than taxes
When a lot of people think about the legalization of wagering on sporting events, the dominant paradigm is money. That’s understandable, as the commodity everyone is dealing with in the industry is literally and only money.
However, the regulation of sports betting reaches many more aspects of life and sport. For example, the International Tennis Federation renewed an “exclusive data provider” deal with Sportradar in 2016.
Sportradar paid over $70 million to extend the partnership through 2021. Stats Perform will take over for Sportradar in WTA events next year, having just secured that contract through 2026.
Technically, Sportradar and Stats Perform sell access to their feeds of information about tennis matches governed by the ITF around the clock all over the world. This includes a point-by-point record of every match that the ITF and WTA sanction.
What Sportradar really sells, however, is security. Gambling companies trust that the information they get from Sportradar about a match in Luxembourg between two players who have never cracked the top 100 of the Women’s Tennis Association is both accurate and free of any manipulation.
The regulated market that Sportradar participates in deters bettor manipulation through constant reviews of wagering data as well. If 70% of the market for an event is comprised of small wagers on one side and one bettor comes along wanting to put millions of dollars down on the other side, red flags pop up immediately.
Like with most other things, the current system is not perfect. Governmental bodies still have work to do in terms of ensuring the athlete experience is the same throughout the ranks of massive global sports like professional tennis.
One professional tennis player shares her experiences
Collens, a WTA player from the United States who currently ranks No. 1,243 in the world, has recently come into the spotlight because of her petition against the NCAA to restore her athletic achievements at the collegiate level. Collens shares what it’s like to play her sport at levels where media attention isn’t the most robust.
“I can honestly say that I have never been approached by anyone trying to fix a match,” Collens said. “I know that it happens quite a lot by word of mouth, but I have been lucky enough to never be asked this.”
Collens goes on to say that the current level of oversight by governmental bodies in the sport often leaves athletes to fend for themselves.
“I know that, unfortunately, some tournaments and organizations are not always honest,” Collens stated. “When this happens, a player must report it immediately to the ITF; but I think players are fearful that they might also get wrapped up in the investigation. Usually, this happens at the much lower levels because there are so many tournaments being played worldwide simultaneously, all professional. It becomes hard to regulate them. The system relies based on people reporting for the most part which doesn’t always happen. It’s very comparable to the NCAA and the need for self-reporting. Those who are doing something bad would never self-report.”
What the governing bodies are doing right now
The ITF and the WTA are making efforts to educate athletes about match-fixing attempts according to Collens. That education includes a breakdown of potential consequences for involvement.
“All WTA players have to go through several documents and online training that are power-point presentations and interactive lessons on what we can and can’t do with sports betting and such,” Collens explained. “I believe you have to pass the quiz when you first become [a] professional. It’s very clear, if you suspect match-fixing, or are approached to do so, you must report, or you can also be punished.”
Both the ITF and the WTA fund the London-based Tennis Integrity Unit. That body is the premiere investigative arm of professional tennis around the world. Earlier this year, the TIU reported 38 cases of unusual betting.
Governing bodies like the WTA enforce standards to protect the integrity of competitions and athletes as well. Collens has seen bettors trying to record videos of players’ practice sessions in order to try to glean some information.
“It only happened to me one time when I first started playing and the tournament director asked him to leave,” Collens remembers. “However, I hear it happens all the time and it’s really weird to have people in the resorts filming you not because they think you’re going to be great someday but because they want as much info on their bet as possible. It’s odd. I think it happens less at stricter tennis facilities but at the resort tournaments, I think it’s quite common.”
Protecting athletes’ mental health is paramount, too
Perhaps the area in which regulated sports betting has the most potential for growth is regarding what athletes like Collens describe as abuse from bettors. Most of this type of bullying takes place through social media.
“Whether I win or lose, there is a great chance I am receiving a lot of messages,” Collens commented. “Sometimes, they are mad I beat a girl or lost to someone or even mad that I won a certain number of games as they can bet on the first percentage, games won, and many more options. It leaves a lot of people unhappy because the number of betting options is ridiculous. I get messages in all the languages you can name. I guess it’s best when I don’t get them in English.”
She says the WTA does try to educate players on this unfortunate aspect of their careers as well.
“I believe they have basic tips like don’t engage, etc., in their training,” Collens elaborated. “It’s actually really hard to tell players not to respond. I get why. It’s a total waste of time and effort. But, it’s natural to want to defend your character and if it’s after a match you lost, there’s a good chance you are angry, to begin with. I think I do a great job of paying no attention to it except for when they bring up people I love like family members. That is when I get very angry.”
Sportradar has started to expand on its services in this regard as well, launching a program designed to improve outcomes for athletes like Collens on social media in interactions with bettors. They could definitely use the support.
Regulated sports betting isn’t just superior for bettors or governmental bodies – it’s good for athletes as well. While there’s still work to do, the expansion of regulated markets has signaled progress on the issues.