It was Aristotle — yes, we’re starting this with Aristotle — who once said, “It is possible that the many, though not individually good men, yet when they come together may be better, not individually but collectively, than those who are so, just as public dinners to which many contribute are better than those supplied at one man’s cost.”
In short: Ol’ Ari was probably the first dude to come up with the whole “wisdom of the crowds” thing. If everyone puts their heads together, a better answer may follow.
Through the years, the idea that the collective has a better handle on any matter than a single person — even if that person is an expert — has been tested, twisted, and applied.
The wisdom of the crowds. pic.twitter.com/ApgbnwZMww
— Thinkwert (@Thinkwert) July 1, 2021
Now, a trio of economists at the University of Reading in England have put the theory to the test, more or less, when it comes to women’s tennis, Wikipedia, and sports betting.
The “more or less” is because the researchers didn’t sit 20,000 people down and ask who would win last summer’s U.S. Open: Emma Raducanu or Leylah Fernandez.
What they did, instead, was scrape the internet and see how many were reading up on the players on Wikipedia.
“We’re looking up players before the matches start, and the idea being maybe that represents some information about buzz, how interested the public is in the players,” said Carl Singleton of Reading’s Department of Economics. “It could reflect how those players are doing, it could reflect unusually good performance in their last match. The activity captured from Wikipedia, of people just having a look at these players, we thought it might capture something about how those players have been performing.”
So Singleton — along with Philip Ramirez and J. James Reade, his co-authors on the paper titled “Betting on a buzz, mispricing and inefficiency in online sportsbooks” — looked at that U.S. Open match, and at over 10,000 more women’s tennis matches from 2015 onward. They scraped the publicly available Wikipedia API to create what they called Wiki Relative Buzz Factor.
In a nutshell, it’s how many people were looking at the Wikipedia pages of a tennis player, relative to both how often people previously looked as well as relative to the player’s opponent.
And what the researchers found was that buzz is real.
“We found if you followed the players through Wikipedia and bet on players with higher relative buzz — the idea being more people are looking at them relative to their opponent and relative to past amount of interest — it implies you should bet on them,” Singleton said. “If you follow that strategy, based on our look at historical matches, you could make a sustained profit.”
To be clear: Wikipedia buzz did a better job at predicting women’s tennis matches than bookmakers.
What’s more, Singleton said the effect was even greater the tighter the odds got.
“We found the inefficiencies are bigger in matches that are expected to be close, where there was a little more uncertainty in who’s going to win,” he said.
Overall, the method — with bets placed using the Kelly criterion — had a return on investment of over 28% during the five-year period, according to the paper.
Singleton and company also published replication code and instructions for what they did, with the idea others can try and see if the “buzz” also applies to men’s tennis, or any other sport.
The paper, which is currently under review for publication, obviously provides a blueprint for potentially beating the books, and Singleton notes that one of the reviewers has already asked him about that. Namely, why publish something if you think you have this tremendous edge?
“That tends to imply something about bookmakers that I disagree with, that there are all these inefficiencies and mispricings out there, and they’re consistently being identified in academic journals, and then the bookmakers make the mispricings disappear once they are published,” Singleton said. “But bookmakers are not forecasters, they’re profit maximizers and they’re reflecting the biases amongst their customers.”
In other words: Bettors gonna bet, and the bookmakers will adjust their odds accordingly, but not necessarily because a few Englishmen publish something about buzz.
And while Singleton notes this isn’t classic “wisdom of the crowds,” it certainly comes close.
“Wisdom of the crowds, in pure terms, is people actually making predictions,” he said. “Here we don’t know what’s generating this buzz — could be more journalists covering a player, could be the player just had a great match, we don’t know. We just know how much buzz they are getting.”
Interesting side note here: This was an accidental paper of sorts. The trio originally planned to study the effect of beauty when it came to betting on women’s tennis matches. Basically: Do dudes overbet on better-looking players?
She is hot! pic.twitter.com/JdUZpS2bUG
— AmerEurope (@AmerEurope) September 10, 2021
“We’re still working on that,” Singleton said.