Smarts, specialization in pro football beat books odds

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The media landscape is currently evolving at a faster pace than any time in history. I was in high school during the late 80s – and our textbooks for the most part had been printed in the mid-70s.

Imagine learning from textbooks today printed 15 years ago. Heck, imagine a media discussion that did not consider the prevalence of Twitter! And Twitter blew up less than five years ago.

OK, things are changing fast. What does that mean to the sports bettor? Let’s first establish the two approaches to beating the bookie. One is to know more than the betting market.

Imagine you follow the Mountain West with intense passion: you read the school newspapers online; watch the post-game press conferences on YouTube; follow the school’s beat writers on Twitter; and participate on the fan posting boards. Assuming you are bright and understand basic handicapping, you likely know more about the Mountain West schools than the people making the opening line.

Translation: You have a good chance of winning in the long run betting games in your area of specialization.

Why don’t more people do this? For starters, it takes tons of work. And it also takes discipline to only bet in the conference you have the knowledge edge. Much of life is beatable with work and discipline – but as we all know, mustering it consistently might be life’s greatest challenge.

Instead of needing to know important factors that market doesn’t, the second approach to beating the betting market is the ability to identify factors the public is being biased by – factors that don’t really matter even though the public thinks they do.

Let’s consider a big conversation getting tons of attention on talk radio and Twitter in the last week. New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez has been embroiled in a public murder mystery, and many have asked me how this affects the Patriots odds.

Typically individual non-QBs – even well-known players – do NOT affect a team’s odds. In fact, only about a dozen non-QBs affect an NFL team’s odds in any tangible way. So the amount of noise created by Hernandez speculation outweighs the effect on the field. Meaning that changes in Patriots odds would likely be driven by public bias – offering opportunity to “fade the bias” and back the Patriots.

Unfortunately for the value hunter in this case, Patriots odds for the most part have not been adjusted. The bettors have not been biased. Just keep in mind that fading the bias requires an over-adjustment by the market, which requires the public to not only react to the factor, but to also be the source of a majority of bets on the event.

For example, there is no public bias for a Portland State college basketball game, because the public makes up only a small percentage of the bets on the game (i.e., the Wiseguys are responsible for a majority of the action). The best sport by far for public bias in the NFL (with college football bowls and March Madness a distant second).

Find the instances when the public is the majority influence on the line, understand their bias, and you can fade that bias for profit. To understand the bias, you must know the way media works in 2013. You must understand the 24-hour news cycle, the need to tell the same story over and over again (in a dozen different ways), to appeal to the lowest common denominator of the audience.

It’s necessary to know the power of the democratization of the Internet, understand that not only are the base instincts of the audience being catered to but actually setting the agenda one Twitter account at a time.

If you can understand when the public is wrong, you know the right bet.

RJ Bell is the founder of Pregame.com – and co-host of FIRST PREVIEW, heard Monday through Friday at 10 am on ESPN 1100/98.9 FM. Follow on twitter: @RJinVegas. Discussion of this article continues at Pregame.com. Contact RJ at [email protected]

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