At this time of year bettors have their pockets full of money and are just dying for the football season to start. In an attempt to get their hands on as much of that money as they can the sportsbooks offer an increasingly diverse range of season long futures and prop bets on both the NFL and college sports. You can bet on not only who is going to win the Super Bowl of the BCS Championship, but also which football teams will win each division or conference, which players will win the major awards, and so on. You can bet on the statistical performance of big name players, and which players will have big years at different positions. You can even bet now on individual games that won’t be played until December. Basically, if you want to bet on it you can probably find it. But, are these football futures a good bet for serious bettors? The short answer is probably not, but let’s look at it in more detail:
I have a piece of paper on my wall that says I have a degree in economics. I don’t remember much of what I learned back in the day, and I use even less, but the concept of opportunity cost is a crucial one I will never forget. Basically, every time you make a decision to spend or invest some money in any way the opportunity cost is everything else that you could have done with that money. For example, if you have $10 in your pocket and you can either use it to buy a book or a hamburger, the opportunity cost of choosing the book is that you don’t get to eat a hamburger, and the opportunity cost of picking the hamburger is that you have nothing to read.
Opportunity cost is about making choices when your resources (your betting bankroll in the case of bettors) are limited. When making futures bets considering opportunity cost is crucial. When you make a bet on the outcome of the season that money is tied up for the entire season. The opportunity cost, then, is essentially all of the bets you could have made with that money if it hadn’t been tied up so long – or really the profit you could have made from all of those bets. If you are a winning bettor then your expectation every time you make a bet is positive – over the long term you make a small profit every time you make a bet. If you didn’t have your money tied up in a futures bet all season then you could potentially have bet that money each weekend of the season – perhaps more than once – and could have generated a fair bit of profit from that money. That means that the opportunity cost of having your money tied up in football futures bets is potentially very high for winning bettors.
Here’s the important thing – that high opportunity cost doesn’t mean that futures are always a bad idea. It just means that as a sports handicapper you have to make sure that your expected return from the future bet is bigger than the opportunity cost. If you realistically believe that you stand a good chance of making more from the futures bet than you would by using money other ways then you have found value, and value is what successful betting is all about. In most cases, though, the opportunity cost is too high, and the risk is too high, and football futures bets just aren’t worth making.
If you have evaluated that a bet is worth making then the most important thing to do is to shop around for the best possible price. Different books will take different approaches to their slate of futures. That means that different bets will be available at different places, and you may be able to find a bet that works even better for you. At the very least, you have a good chance of finding a better price for the bet you are making – if you like a bet at 6/1 then you are really going to like it at 7/1. Shopping around is always important, but it’s especially important when a higher return could make such a big difference in your futures betting.
If you’re overwhelmed by all of the theory and your head hurts there is one other very good reason to make futures bets – because they are fun. If you aren’t tying up a lot of money, if you can afford to lose the money you are betting, and if you will still have enough money to bet like you want to during the season then futures can be a great way to have a laugh, and to take a shot at some profits and some bragging rights. Just think of how great it would have been at the final whistle of the last years Super Bowl and pull out a futures ticket on the Packers and show everyone how smart you are. The gloating you could have done as a football bettor would have made up for a lot of opportunity cost.