In the internet age, everyone with a smartphone has access to nearly unlimited information. What used to take overnight to appear in the newspaper is now found on twitter within seconds. With all of this valuable material at their disposal, are average NFL bettors gaining against the sportsbooks?
Fortunately, I have access to the betting trends information for the past ten years that should give us some answers. Along with the percentage of bets on each side, I also have the number of bets placed on each game. Using the closing line from Pinnacle to grade, I can calculate how many bets were winners and how many bets were losers.
(I realize that using one number from one book is not ideal as different players will use different sportsbooks with different numbers throughout the week. It should still give us a significant estimate of performance from year to year.)
Here are the results from the analysis:
The general public is remarkably consistent, hovering right around 50% in each of the ten years that were sampled. The worst season was 2007-2008 where the win percentage was an abysmal 44.91%. The best season is actually the oldest in the sample, 2005-2006, in which the public went 50.58%. The fact that the best season is also the oldest doesn’t bode well for the narrative that betting on the NFL is getting easier for the average Joe.
While you can improve your individual percentage by beating the closing line (known as closing line value or CLV) or by finding books that are half a point off the rest of the market, there is still no evidence to show that the overall betting community is improving against the sportsbooks.
The ratings for the NFL are growing, the salaries in the NFL are growing, the amount of money wagered on the NFL is growing. The only thing that has leveled off is the players’ level of success at the betting window.