Over/Under Betting Value Across Different Sports - An Analysis

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Is there greater value betting the Over or the Under? Does it vary across different sports and leagues? Today on the blog, Andrew considers a discussion paper that touches on this very subject.

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An interesting piece from the Journal of Gambling Business and Economics (2009) came across my desk recently entitled Are Behavioural Biases Consistent Across the Atlantic: The Over/Under Market for European Soccer.

In it, Rodney Paul and Andrew Weinbach conduct an analysis across 22 European soccer leagues in an attempt to see if European soccer bettors share the same general behaviour as North American sports bettors when it comes to betting Over/Under totals; that general behaviour being a preference for taking 'The Over'.

North American Betting Behaviour

The study begins by taking a look at the behaviours of North Americans with regards to Over/Under betting, citing previous analysis undertaken across sports and leagues such as the NFL, NCAA football, Arena football, CFL and the NBA, telling us that betting the Under in these leagues produced a better result than betting the Over and that in some cases, betting the Under generated a straight up profit.

How does this happen? Well to put it simply, when the majority of bettors bet the Over (or bookmakers anticipate that they will), it inflates the Over/Under line to a point where it does not accurately reflect the true potential of the game's outcome. In such cases, taking the Under is the value play as the realistic potential for the game to finish with total points below the Over/Under line is greater.

As the study points out, North Americans in general like to bet the Over, people want to see points and the notion of betting (hoping) against scoring or “action” seems self defeating to the whole idea of watching a sporting contest in the first place, that being, to be entertained.

“Scoring plays, or sequences leading up to scoring plays, tend to generate the most excitement and it is only natural that consumption-based bettors would prefer to wager on the over than the under.”

The term I like here is 'consumption-based bettors'. Whether or not the authors intended it to be so, it describes what we commonly refer to as The Betting Public so perfectly, capturing the nature of their betting instincts. Consumption-based bettors would claim they want to win as much as the most serious professional bettor but they are in actual fact more interested in the thrill than the outcome. They want more of everything, whether it be cheese stuffed pizza crusts at halftime or points in the football game. Perhaps such betting behaviour is a little like taking a two leg multi-bet to win a thrill ride. Bet the “Thrill I will Get Of Winning a Bet” into “The Enjoyment I Will Get From Watching A High Scoring Game” and you've got one entertaining afternoon's football coming up. They're not looking for a value bet, but rather the promise of greater excitement. You don't have to look at too many splashy bookmaker website promotions to see who they are directing such promotions at. Consumers. So simply ask yourself the question: Are you a serious bettor equipped with well fought discipline? Or are you a consumer lured by the bright lights looking for a good time? If you answer is the latter, then you're probably more prone to betting the Over without much consideration.

Upon Further Analysis

Although the study cites previous analysis of Over/Under betting trends in North American sports, much of the data is somewhat outdated. So thanks to my friends at Sports Insights, I decided to take a more detailed look at Over/Under betting across the major North American leagues, from 2007 to 2012.

League Over % Under % Over Betting ROI % Under Betting ROI %
NFL 51.8 48.2 +1.8% -6.4%
NBA 48.8 51.2 -4.8% +0.1%
MLB 49.1 50.9 -3.6% -1.0%
NHL 48.1 51.9 -3.5% -0.5%
NCAA Football 49.3 50.7 -3.8% -1.0%
NCAA Basketball 49.5 50.5 -4.1% -2.1%

As we can see, such a bias still remains across each of the major North American sports leagues, with the exception of the NFL which has seen the Over win almost 52% of the time the last five seasons for a straight up profit of 1.8%. This profit was generated primarily over the last two seasons, seasons which saw an average of 44.4 points per game in 2011 and 44 in 2010. The 2011 average points per game of 44.4 ranks as the highest scoring NFL season since 1965, while the 2010 average is equal with 2008 as the 2nd highest scoring seasons also since 1965.( Pro Football Reference). Even still, had we considered the five NFL seasons from 2005 to 2009, the Over still out-performed the Under, generating a loss of 1.8% in comparison to the Under generating a loss of 2.9%.

Football is Football

The study then takes a look at soccer in Europe. It starts with the question: If Europeans enjoy a relatively low-scoring sport like soccer, will behavioural patterns differ to North Americans when it comes to betting Overs and Unders? In other words, will Europeans be equally as tempted to betting on a high scoring match as their North American betting counterparts?

But is it a question worth asking given we have already seen such a bias across American sporting leagues? NCAA football is higher scoring than the NFL, Arena football is higher scoring than both as is the CFL and NBA scoring exceeds each often 4 fold. So given that we have already seen a general trend for the public to prefer the over across these leagues, would it really surprise us if people who bet soccer also prefer betting the Over? In terms of scoring, a NFL game is much closer to a soccer game than a basketball game, as is a ice hockey game. The average number of goals in a soccer game is in the range of 2.5 to 3.0 depending upon the league. The average number of points in a NFL game is in the precinct of 42, but the average number of “scores” in a NFL game is around 8. The average number of “scores” in a basketball game can be well in the range of 80 plus while the average number of goals in an ice hockey game is in the range of 5 and 6.

If we were to find differing betting behaviours by Europeans when it comes to Over/Under betting, then perhaps the real question is whether the betting behaviour of Europeans and North Americans has a cultural basis and not so much to do with what sport is being bet on. If it turns out that the same trend for betting the Over is not found in European football betting, then perhaps it could be argued that it is true because European bettors are not as prone to consumer betting as are North Americans.

Those Europeans

Well dont get too ahead of yourselves my European readers, because as it turns out, you are (in general) as tempted to betting the Over as North Americans. The study considers odds for the Over/Under 2.5 goal markets for 22 European soccer leagues across the seasons of 2005-2006 and 2006-2007, a total of almost 16,000 matches. Across these two seasons, the study found that betting the Over would have seen you take an average loss of -0.116 units on each bet, while betting the Under the average loss would have been -0.047, concluding that as was the case with North American Over/Under betting, European soccer bettors are just as prone to taking the Over and the hopes of a high scoring match giving the Under greater betting value.

Deeper Analysis

Given these numbers were taken from a sample of 22 leagues over just two seasons, I decided to look at the most popular betting leagues in Europe and assess Over/Under value over the last 10 seasons, betting on each match at even stakes.

League Over Betting ROI % Under Betting ROI %
English Premier League -4.9% -4.3%
English Championship -6.7% -2.5%
Serie A -6.2% -3.1%
Primera -5.3% -4.1%
Bundesliga -4.2% -5.3%
Ligue One -11.1% +0.4%
Eredivisie -5.2% -4.0%
Scottish Premier League -5.9% -3.1%
AVERAGE -6.2% -3.3%

Taking into consideration almost 29,000 matches played across these eight leagues since the 2002-2003 season, we can see that there has been a value bias towards the Under. In only one league, the Bundesliga, did we see the Over perform better at even stakes than the Under. In each other league you would have lost less money betting the Under than the Over, with Under bettors claiming a slight straight up profit over the last 10 seasons of French Ligue One.

Given these figures we can say that the overall value has been with the Under in both North American sports and European soccer, although bettors would have still made a loss in most cases betting the Under blindly.

What to do now

It's widely known by serious bettors that public money pushes the value in the direction of the Under as well as Underdogs. The only thing the casual punter likes more than a favourite winning, is a favourite winning in a high scoring game. But as bookmakers take their commission, betting the Under straight up consistently is only going to see you lose your money albeit less swiftly.

So which situations is it best to bet the Under so as to enhance our disciplined advantage? That's a discussion for another time and something I will return to on the blog as the next football season gets closer.

bettingexpert blog editor. Always taking the alternative route to finding the value.