The rise of sports betting apps means that punters are increasingly deciding that sports betting is both a smarter and more convenient pastime than low return pokies or horse racing. But beyond that, the thrill you get from winning bet on a team you support cannot quite be matched by something to which you have no emotional attachment.
As such, sports betting is no longer the retrieve of the high stakes punter, but a part of many fans’ pregame ritual. This might not mean much for the majority of betting markets – a badminton game or an under 18 curtain raiser is unlikely to attract a glut of large bets – but when a well supported team from a major league is playing, or when a national team from a betting-mad country takes the field, you can be sure that there is a large sum of money on the line.
Why fans back their team, or their favourite sportsperson, is an interesting question. Yes, it adds to the experience of the match viewing, and certainly betting against your team can lead to an uncomfortable state of cognitive dissonance, but would a person truly take a bet they don’t expect to win just because it is more enjoyable?
For most people, the answer to that question is probably no. Instead, what may actually be occurring, is that punters are overestimating the probability of their team winning, due to ‘cognitive bias’. Specifically the following two biases:
1. Familiarity Bias
Familiarity bias is one of the best researched types of cognitive bias. It supports the idea that punters might overestimate the chances of their team winning simply because they know the team better. An example might be that the return of a particular player to the squad (who a punter has memories of their winning games for their team) is ascribed more importance than a star player they are unfamiliar with, returning for the opposition.
2. Optimism Bias
Optimism bias is another well supported type of cognitive bias. It posits that punters may overvalue the chances of their team winning because they assign an unrealistic likelihood to an event that would make them happy. This is, of course, one of the reasons people bet in general, but may affect individuals even more profoundly when the financial reward is compounded by the positive emotions associated with a favourite team winning.
Of course, whether you believe that cognitive bias is actually responsible for punters backing their team or not, isn’t really important. What is important is that when a well supported team, player, etc. is playing, they will often have the greater sum of money behind them. Combine this with the fact that bookmakers will seek to maximise profits on any given market, and it’s sensible to conclude that bookmakers may be capitalising on this bias by offering worse than fair odds on the market favourite.
The upside of this, however, is that to maintain their spread, bookmakers will actually offer better than fair odds on the favourite. So keep an eye out, the next time you see a well-supported team with unrealistically short odds consider what you trust more – your sports betting nous or a betting market filled with fans blinded by a love for their team.