A challenger appears…

Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote:

Football Index (FI) are also having to maintain our attention against the backdrop of a slick new competitor entering the market – SportStack… while this feels like quite a different beast at the moment (more akin to the Betfair Exchange), they definitely have FI’s customers in their sights as they are already talking about season-long markets.

I gave SportStack a whirl at the time but the matchday trading wasn’t really for me. I’d almost forgotten their longer term aim to take on FI toe-to-toe. That was, until Friday.

The audacity to post under the FI hashtag, straight after FI’s announcement was quite something and certainly got tongues wagging. Whatever you think of the ethics of that, you can’t fault them for choosing their moment and going in for the kill. I guess that’s the sort of chutzpah you would expect from two former Goldman Sachs senior professionals with big ambitions.

In truth, watching the timeline on Friday was like watching a fatality play out on Mortal Kombat over and over again. I could almost hear ‘finish him’ ringing in my ears.

But does this ‘finish’ FI?

Before I go into this, I want to emphasise that Football Index are the masters of their own destiny. They have first mover advantage, a war chest of cash they’ve built up over five successful years and some degree of brand recognition – they are ‘the football stockmarket’. When I posted about SportStack a year ago, I also said:

So we have a bit of healthy competition! This could be a good thing if it helps to keep Adam Cole and the team on their toes and drives them to accelerate the planned improvements to the Index.

We shouldn’t be afraid of competition – it can be a good thing. But, as punters, we do need to be alive to new challengers entering the arena and make our own decisions about where we feel the best returns lie.

Sportstack careers – what is it?

Rather than betting on the performance of a player in a match, the SportStack Careers app allows you to bet on the performance of a player over his whole career. Once added to your portfolio, players are eligible to win dividends based on their point score in each match – the point scoring being the same matrix that SportStack use in their Matchday app.

You can see the points racking up in real time and the app promises to ping you a notification when you win dividends. Smooth.

Players usually score between 0 and 100 points in a match. 50 or more points and you win dividends – regardless of how other players score. This is quite different to the ‘winner takes all’ dividend structure on FI but, as you’d expect, the dividends on offer are quite a lot lower as a result.

I won’t go into detail about the mechanics of how this works as there are plenty of informative guides already out there, like this one from AlphaStack.

And the POTENTIAL RETURNS?

It’s hard to talk with any confidence about yields on a platform that is only a few days old and only has a fraction of the final player pool listed on it. I’ve seen posts saying that the yields are amazing, and others saying that the yields are terrible. I think the truth is somewhere in the middle (as always).

Betting on a player’s whole career is fraught with difficulty. There are so many unknowns – injury, transfers etc… so I think it’s perhaps easier to look over a 2-3 year timeframe to try to spot players who might be able to return their price in dividends in that time, and still be young enough to be able to sell on to someone else for a good price. On that basis, I’m confident that there will be some ‘good buys’ on SportStack, along with plenty to avoid.

Below I’ve picked out some of the players who were on the platform for the launch, and compared their prices against the dividends they would’ve taken home this season so far and in 2019-20:

  • Timo Werner (£3.08): 23p this season so far, 7p last season (at RB Leipzig)
  • Che Adams (£0.82): 3p this season so far, 7p last season
  • Andy Robertson (£3.00): 7p this season so far, 43p last season
  • Neal Maupay (£0.75): 11p this season so far, 8p last season
  • Jack Grealish (£3.46): 32p this season so far, 49p last season
  • Nick Pope (£1.38): 10p this season so far, 22p last season
  • Kevin De Bruyne (£4.32): 30p this season so far, 78p last season

On the face of it, those returns looks pretty shocking when you consider that a Gold Match Day positional win on FI is now 14p, and another 14p on top for Star Man.

Putting that aside though, I think there will be some players who can make back their value within 3 years and the thing that differentiates SportStack from FI is that your players are only competing against the scoring matrix, not against each other – it’s easier to win. Basically you are banking on picking up a lot of small wins, week on week.

Some players, like Werner and Maupay, are likely to be better rewarded through the SportStack matrix than the FI matrix because of the heavy weighting towards goals and the lack of a competitive element. The scoring matrix looks less kind towards defenders, while Goalkeepers in defensively-minded teams look like they could hold some value.

What about players that haven’t been launched yet? Here are some you might be waiting for, alongside my best estimate of what they would’ve won (which might be a few pence out if I’ve missed the top player payouts)

  • Harry Kane (£?): 36p this season so far, 40p last season
  • Marcus Rashford (£?): 18p this season so far, 61p last season
  • Bruno Fernandes (£?): 22p this season so far, 31p last season (from February)

The three players above have media appeal so I think we can safely say that they are likely to pick up far more in dividends on FI than they would do on SportStack (and probably hold their value better during the off-season too). Whether they represent any value on SportStack will obviously depend on their launch price.

and the trading element?

SportStack launched with a fully functioning order book with market depth and liquidity on the sell side to help traders to be able to exit trades at a fair price. Commission is charged at 2% on the sells only.

With only a small number of players (and traders) on the platform at the moment, it’s impossible to say whether there will be enough organic liquidity to support things as the platform grows. However, anyone who has used the Matchday app in the past will know that the tech is pretty slick and the liquidity deployed by SportStack so far has worked well. So it should, in theory, be possible to look for points to sell players off the back of good performances and buy back during dips, rather than simply hold to collect dividends until they retire.

And there are some key risk points to be aware of where player prices might dip. Dividends across the other main leagues are half that of the EPL, so any player transferring out of England effectively halves in value. Long term injuries, loss of form and players coming towards the end of their career will also carry additional risks, particularly as dividends can only be won based on performances, not new haircuts or rows with the manager.

Of course there are always flipsides to this too. The potential to pick up a low priced gem in one of the other leagues and wait for them to secure a move to the EPL shouldn’t be overlooked. Likewise the youngster who starts to get a run in the team after spending weeks on the bench or the player who suddenly finds himself playing in the Champions League.

As I’ve said, it’s far too early to draw any conclusions from this but Careers has piqued my interest. Definitely one to watch…

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