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Oddsmakers Explain How Their World Really Works

“The best guys I’ve seen have their “thing” that they do best. “He’s a golf guy.” “That guy is sharp with totals.” “He is a prop man.” Find yours and go at it 100%.”

Vik Chokshi

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On May 14, 2018, the Supreme Court overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), the federal law that effectively  limited sports betting to just Nevada. That ruling gave each state the individual right to decide whether to legalize gambling, and since that time 22 states, plus Washington D.C. have adopted sports betting in some capacity.

That decision also opened up the floodgates for the sports betting industry as a whole, and with that came an influx of new bettors. 

First time bettors come with a lot of questions, and understandably so. Since I’ve been writing about the gambling industry for a few years now, I was frequently getting asked about how it all worked. I decided to go straight to the source, because who better to ask than Oddsmakers themselves? 

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So I chatted with my guys in Las Vegas: Chris Andrews, the SportsBook Director at the South Point Casino; Alan Berg, the Trading Manager at Caesars/ William Hill and long-time Vegas oddsmaker Dave Sharapan to gather their insights on commonly asked questions by beginners.

How do oddsmakers set their lines? 

Chris Andrews: I, along with most oddsmakers I know, start with keeping power ratings. Everyone has their own methodology for doing that, which is good. We all don’t want to come up with the same number.

Alan Berg: Usually a place has a set of ratings and opinions based on their staff. And depending on the shop they are aggressive, indifferent or passive on activating the lines. The world market is key to many books turning on their lines, if you are off that market at all there will be bettors willing to oblige you with a bet. 

Dave Sharapan: You’d be surprised how the lines are set.  There is no magical formula or one way to do it. Ideally, you have an odd number of guys (3 or 5 works best) who do power ratings and “make” numbers. They are independent of each other and have their own methodology to arrive at the number. You take them all, mix ’em up all together, and you have a number. The reason for the odd number of guys is so there is never a tie. Oddsmakers and sportsbooks are not big fans of pushes.

What’s the toughest part of the line making process?

CA: The toughest part is making the right adjustment after an upset or a blowout. Both circumstances mean something, but you don’t want to overreact or underreact.

AB: Preseason stuff is always the toughest because so many things change. As the year goes along in any sport all your stats, bets and opinions are based on what you are seeing vs. predictions. 

DS: The discussions are fun, but they can get heated. A lot of ego gets involved, and nobody likes to admit they might be wrong. It’s a lot like making a case in a courtroom, only you don’t have a judge and bailiff to maintain order.

I respect the hell out of guys on both sides of the counter who have models, use algorithms, and rely on the data. Same goes for the guys who do it with number two pencils and paper.

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Ultimately, someone who comes up with good numbers and can tell me why BEFORE the games are played and bets are made…that’s the tough part.

For a lot of new gamblers out there, they always ask the same question, ‘how is it that Vegas’s line is always so close to the final outcome’? 

CA: First of all, we’re not always that close. Just when we are, people make a big deal out of it. Secondly, we don’t want to be close. That’s when we get hurt is when it falls right on the number.

AB: A lot of times that’s an illusion, but using the NFL as an example. The numbers are a whole lot closer near the end then the beginning. Mainly because the math is based on what’s actually happened. 

DS: I laugh when I hear this. Only because people only remember the ones that landed close to the number. There are way more that aren’t close than are. Oklahoma was a 28 point favorite and lost outright to Kansas State. And the Ravens were a 3.5 favorite on Monday night in prime time to the Chiefs and never had a shot. 

I am impressed with the totals more than anything. Like Game 3 of the NBA finals, line closed Lakers -10, total of 219. Final score, Heat 115, Lakers 104. Side not close, total right on the number. Which one is the story?

One piece of advice you’d give to bettors on increasing their odds to win?

CA: The juice will kill you more than bad numbers. It’s important to get a good number, but look at a bookmaker. They never get the best of the number, yet they mostly win because the juice is on their side. Depends on the situation, because there are many different scenarios, but if you can sacrifice the best number for a better money price it might be worth it. Be careful either way. The other thing I would tell you is constantly evaluate your method. Don’t just ‘believe in yourself.’ Question yourself. Constantly. 

AB: I think learning to make your own numbers through stats, research and matchups will help if you put enough work in. You’ll know when you start doing a good job when your openers are close to the world market. 

DS: Narrow your focus. Get good at one thing, one conference or one sport. The best guys I’ve seen have their “thing” that they do best. “He’s a golf guy.” “That guy is sharp with totals.” “He is a prop man.” Find yours and go at it 100%.

Can you explain the importance of bankroll management? 

CA: Tough one. You have to bet enough to mean something but not enough that it can break you. I would also tell you if you’re serious about betting don’t piss away your money screwing around with TV action or parlays. You’ll blow a lot of money before you know it. And the tables and slot machines are a no-no.

AB: More than bankroll I think just making sure you get the best number you can at the time is the most important. People always think it doesn’t matter for one bet, but you’d be surprised how fast that adds up if you bet multiple straight bets every day. 

DS: Bankroll management is essential to being successful. It’s not just about picking winners and losers. Usually takes some hard lessons to really learn how to do it…or, if you are lucky, a really good mentor.

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Like anything else, you can read books on how to manage your bankroll, but until you do it, you don’t truly understand it.

Is the rapid growth of media outlets producing and promoting sports betting content good or bad for the industry?

CA: Good overall for the industry, but there is a lot of bad advice floating around out there.

AB: Combination like most things. I would like to see a niche carved out in the mainstream for people who have actually bet or taken bets to help educate the people who watch all these shows. Someday we will likely get there but it will likely be a painful road. 

DS: The growth of sports betting content is both good and bad for the industry. It’s good because it’s opening up opportunities for people in the industry who otherwise would be kept in some back room somewhere. It’s fun to talk shop with guys like you who want to cover it and give guys like us a forum to do it.

It’s bad for the industry in a way. In that there Is just bad content out there too. Stuff that paints the industry a certain way or takes advantage of novice bettors, man, it’s hard to stomach sometimes.

Finding a happy medium is the sweet spot. Good content that is entertaining without being too in your face.  With everyone in a race to get customers, it seems like it can be too much at times.

It’s all exploding so fast. You just have to see what works for you and what you want to consume. And just like bets in a book, opinions will vary on what is and isn’t good content. 

BSM Writers

The Future Is Now, Embrace Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+

As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible.

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This week has been a reckoning for sports and its streaming future on Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+, ESPN+, and more.

Amazon announced that Thursday Night Football, which averaged 13 million viewers, generated the highest number of U.S. sign ups over a three hour period in the app’s history. More people in the United States subscribed to Prime during the September 15th broadcast than they did during Black Friday, Prime Day, and Cyber Monday. It was also “the most watched night of primetime in Prime Video’s history,” according to Amazon executive Jay Marine. The NFL and sports in general have the power to move mountains even for some of the nation’s biggest and most successful brands.

This leads us to the conversation happening surrounding Aaron Judge’s chase for history. Judge has been in pursuit of former major leaguer Roger Maris’ record for the most home runs hit during one season in American League history.

The sports world has turned its attention to the Yankees causing national rights holders such as ESPN, Fox, and TBS to pick up extra games in hopes that they capture the moment history is made. Apple TV+ also happened to have a Yankees game scheduled for Friday night against the Red Sox right in the middle of this chase for glory.

Baseball fans have been wildin’ out at the prospects of missing the grand moment when Judge passes Maris or even the moments afterwards as Judge chases home run number 70 and tries to truly create monumental history of his own. The New York Post’s Andrew Marchand has even reported there were talks between YES, MLB, and Apple to bring Michael Kay into Apple’s broadcast to call the game, allow YES Network to air its own production of the game, or allow YES Network to simulcast Apple TV+’s broadcast. In my opinion, all of this hysteria is extremely bogus.

As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible. Amazon brought in NBC to help with production of TNF and if you watch the flow of the broadcast, the graphics of the broadcast, NBC personalities like Michael Smith, Al Michaels, and Terry McAuliffe make appearances on the telecast – it is very clear that the network’s imprint is all over the show.

NBC’s experience in conducting the broadcast has made the viewing experience much more seamless. Apple has also used MLB Network and its personalities for assistance in ensuring there’s no major difference between what you see on air vs. what you’re streaming.

Amazon and Apple have also decided to not hide their games behind a paywall. Since the beginning of the season, all of Apple’s games have been available free of charge. No subscription has ever been required. As long as you have an Apple device and can download Apple TV+, you can watch their MLB package this season.

Guess what? Friday’s game against the Red Sox is also available for free on your iPhone, your laptop, or your TV simply by downloading the AppleTV app. Amazon will also simulcast all Thursday Night Football games on Twitch for free. It may be a little harder or confusing to find the free options, but they are out there and they are legal and, once again, they are free.

Apple has invested $85 million into baseball, money that will go towards your team becoming better hypothetically. They’ve invested money towards creating a new kind of streaming experience. Why in the hell would they offer YES Network this game for free? There’s no better way for them to drive subscriptions to their product than by offering fans a chance at watching history on their platform.

A moment like this are the main reason Apple paid for rights in the first place. When Apple sees what the NFL has done for Amazon in just one week and coincidentally has the ability to broadcast one of the biggest moments in baseball history – it would be a terrible business decision to let viewers watch it outside of the Apple ecosystem and lose the ability to gain new fans.

It’s time for sports fans to grow up and face reality. Streaming is here to stay. 

MLB Network is another option

If you don’t feel like going through the hassle of watching the Yankees take on the Red Sox for free on Apple TV+, MLB Network will also air all of Judge’s at bats live as they are happening. In case the moment doesn’t happen on Apple TV+ on Friday night, Judge’s next games will air in full on MLB Network (Saturday), ESPN (Sunday), MLB Network again (Monday), TBS (Tuesday) and MLB Network for a third time on Wednesday. All of MLB Network’s games will be simulcast of YES Network’s local New York broadcast. It wouldn’t shock me to see Fox pick up another game next Thursday if the pursuit still maintains national interest.

Quick bites

  • One of the weirdest things about the experience of streaming sports is that you lose the desire to channel surf. Is that a good thing or bad thing? Brandon Ross of LightShed Ventures wonders if the difficulty that comes with going from app to app will help Amazon keep viewers on TNF the entire time no matter what the score of the game is. If it does, Amazon needs to work on developing programming to surround the games or start replaying the games, pre and post shows so that when you fall asleep and wake up you’re still on the same stream on Prime Video or so that coming to Prime Video for sports becomes just as much of a habit for fans as tuning in to ESPN is.
  • CNN has announced the launch of a new morning show with Don Lemon, Poppy Harlow and Kaitlin Collins. Variety reports, “Two people familiar with plans for the show say it is likely to use big Warner Bros. properties — a visit from the cast of HBO’s Succession or sports analysis from TNT’s NBA crew — to lure eyeballs.” It’ll be interesting to see if Turner Sports becomes a cornerstone of this broadcast. Will the NBA start doing schedule releases during the show? Will a big Taylor Rooks interview debut on this show before it appears on B/R? Will the Stanley Cup or Final Four MVP do an interview on CNN’s show the morning after winning the title? Does the show do remote broadcasts from Turner’s biggest sports events throughout the year?
  • The Clippers are back on over the air television. They announced a deal with Nexstar to broadcast games on KTLA and other Nexstar owned affiliates in California. The team hasn’t reached a deal to air games on Bally Sports SoCal or Bally Sports Plus for the upcoming season. Could the Clippers pursue a solo route and start their own OTT service in time for the season? Are they talking to Apple, Amazon, or ESPN about a local streaming deal? Is Spectrum a possible destination? I think these are all possibilities but its likely that the Clippers end up back on Bally Sports since its the status quo. I just find it interesting that it has taken so long to solidify an agreement and that it wasn’t announced in conjunction with the KTLA deal. The Clippers are finally healthy this season, moving into a new arena soon, have the technology via Second Spectrum to produce immersive game casts. Maybe something is brewing?
  • ESPN’s Monday Night Football double box was a great concept. The execution sucked. Kudos to ESPN for adjusting on the fly once complaints began to lodge across social media. I think the double box works as a separate feed. ESPN2 should’ve been the home to the double box. SVP and Stanford Steve could’ve held a watch party from ESPN’s DC studio with special guests. The double box watch party on ESPN2 could’ve been interrupted whenever SVP was giving an update on games for ESPN and ABC. It would give ESPN2 a bit of a behind the scenes look at how the magic happens similarly to what MLB Tonight did last week. Credit to ESPN and the NFL for experimenting and continuing to try and give fans unique experiences.

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BSM Writers

ESPN Shows Foresight With Monday Night Football Doubleheader Timing

ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7 and then 10 on their primary channel.

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The Monday Night Football doubleheader was a little bit different this time around for ESPN.

First, it came in Week 2 instead of Week 1. And then, the games were staggered 75 minutes apart on two different channels, the Titans and Bills beginning on ESPN at 7:15 PM ET and the Vikings at the Eagles starting at 8:30 PM on ABC and ESPN+. This was a departure from the usual schedule in which the games kicked off at 7:00 PM ET and then 10:00 PM ET with the latter game on the West Coast.

ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7:00 PM and then 10:00 PM ET on their primary channel. That’s the typical approach, right? The NFL is the most valuable offering in all of sports and ESPN would have at least six consecutive hours of live programming without any other game to switch to.

Instead, they staggered the starts so the second game kicked off just before the first game reached halftime. They placed the games on two different channels, which risked cannibalizing their audience. Why? Well, it’s the same reason that ESPN was so excited about the last year’s Manningcast that it’s bringing it back for 10 weeks this season. ESPN is not just recognizing the reality of how their customers behave, but they’re embracing it.

Instead of hoping with everything they have that the customer stays in one place for the duration of the game, they’re recognizing the reality that they will leave and providing another product within their portfolio to be a destination when they do.

It’s the kind of experiment everyone in broadcasting should be investigating because, for all the talk about meeting the customer where they are, we still tend to be a little bit stubborn about adapting to what they do. 

Customers have more choices than ever when it comes to media consumption. First, cable networks softened the distribution advantages of broadcast networks, and now digital offerings have eroded the distribution advantages of cable networks. It’s not quite a free-for-all, but the battle for viewership is more intense, more wide open than ever because that viewer has so many options of not just when and where but how they will consume media.

Programmers have a choice in how to react to this. On the one hand, they can hold on tighter to the existing model and try to squeeze as much out of it as they can. If ESPN was thinking this way it would stack those two Monday night games one after the other just like it always has and hope like hell for a couple of close games to juice the ratings. Why would you make it impossible for your customer to watch both of these products you’ve paid so much to televise?

I’ve heard radio programmers and hosts recite take this same approach for more than 10 years now when it comes to making shows available on-demand. Why would you give your customers the option of consuming the product in a way that’s not as remunerative or in a way that is not measured?

That thinking is outdated and it is dangerous from an economic perspective because it means you’re trying to make the customer behave in your best interest by restricting their choices. And maybe that will work. Maybe they like that program enough that they’ll consume it in the way you’d prefer or maybe they decide that’s inconvenient or annoying or they decide to try something else and now this customer who would have listened to your product in an on-demand format is choosing to listen to someone else’s product entirely.

After all, you’re the only one that is restricting that customer’s choices because you’re the only one with a desire to keep your customer where he is. Everyone else is more than happy to give your customer something else. 

There’s a danger in holding on too tightly to the existing model because the tighter you squeeze, the more customers will slip through your fingers, and if you need a physical demonstration to complete this metaphor go grab a handful of sand and squeeze it hard.

Your business model is only as good as its ability to predict the behavior of your customers, and as soon as it stops doing that, you need to adjust that business model. Don’t just recognize the reality that customers today will exercise the freedom that all these media choices provide, embrace it.

Offer more products. Experiment with more ways to deliver those products. The more you attempt to dictate the terms of your customer’s engagement with your product, the more customers you’ll lose, and by accepting this you’ll open yourself to the reality that if your customer is going to leave your main offering, it’s better to have them hopping to another one of your products as opposed to leaving your network entirely.

Think in terms of depth of engagement, and breadth of experience. That’s clearly what ESPN is doing because conventional thinking would see the Manningcast as a program that competes with the main Monday Night Football broadcast, that cannibalizes it. ESPN sees it as a complimentary experience. An addition to the main broadcast, but it also has the benefit that if the customer feels compelled to jump away from the main broadcast – for whatever reason – it has another ESPN offering that they may land on.

I’ll be watching to see what ESPN decides going forward. The network will have three Monday Night Football doubleheaders beginning next year, and the game times have not been set. Will they line them up back-to-back as they had up until this year? If they do it will be a vote of confidence that its traditional programming approach that evening is still viable. But if they overlap those games going forward, it’s another sign that less is not more when it comes to giving your customers a choice in products.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: Sunday Ticket Has Problems, Marcellus Wiley Does Not

Demetri Ravanos

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On this episode of Media Noise, Demetri is joined by Brian Noe to talk about the wild year FS1’s Marcellus Wiley has had and by Garrett Searight to discuss the tumultuous present and bright future of NFL Sunday Ticket.

ITunes: https://buff.ly/3PjJWpO

Spotify: https://buff.ly/3AVwa90

iHeart: https://buff.ly/3cbINCp

Google: https://buff.ly/3PbgHWx

Amazon: https://buff.ly/3cbIOpX

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