Sporting event's odds key part of game's story

Mar 4, 2014 3:00 AM

Growing up in a small coal-mining town along the Ohio River – 20 minutes from Steubenville (the hometown of Jimmy the Greek), one hour from Pittsburgh – I started betting sports at the young age of 14.

Stereotypically hitting my first ever four-team parlay or a $200 cash – then betting $20 a week after that till the envelope was empty. When my buddies and I were not playing sports, we were watching them on TV. Whenever my grandfather would walk into the living room, he would stop and watch a play or two, and then inevitably ask “who is favored?”

My grandfather isn’t a big sports fan, and he’s never made a sports bet in his life. But he understands that game’s odds are a key part of the game’s story. Some of the most resonate narratives in our culture are about awe-inspiring dominance, or thrilling upsets.

In 2014, far more time is spent previewing a game than actually playing it. Even so, none of the talking heads offer more predictive insight than the betting odds. Each bet is a type of vote, and the more money you are willing to back your opinion with, the more votes you get.

No publically available opinion on a sporting event is more predictive than the betting odds, and the major media companies are starting to understand the value of this insight.

ESPN, Fox, and others are using Vegas odds more and more often as a context creator for general sports conversation. Said another way, these media platforms are answering the “who is favored” question because they know millions bet on sports – and perhaps more importantly, they also know if you care enough to listen to a game preview, you are likely interested in the most accurate predictor of them all even if you don’t bet.

Consider how different this is compared to events without widely disseminated odds. For example, many sports books around the world (but not in Nevada) posted Oscars odds. In fact, Entertainment Weekly published odds on the eight major categories provided by Pregame.com.

Even so, only a tiny portion of previews referenced any odds source – meaning a vast majority watching on Sunday had no idea who was favored. The reality was, in every one of those eight major categories was a favorite with a better than 50% likelihood of winning.

I feel strongly that much of the coverage would have benefited from the conversation context created by the odds. I also believe many watching the ceremony would have enjoyed knowing which winners were expected, and which were big upsets.

Creating context for conversation about upcoming events can be a gigantic business – creating million-dollar opportunities for Las Vegas if we can meet the standards of professionalism expected by the mainstream media. By the way, the eight Oscars favorites were a perfect 8-0 on Sunday night. Even Hollywood can’t beat the bookies.

RJ Bell of Pregame.com is the only sports bettor on Forbes’ list of Gambling Gurus and has been called “a true insider” by ESPN and a “point-spread maven” by USA Today. Pregame.com is the largest sports betting news website compliant with US Law. Follow on twitter: @RJinVegas. Contact RJ at [email protected]

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