Sundays are holy. Millions wake up on this day of rest to gather in their sanctuary with family, friends, neighbors and all people of a similar faith, hoping, pleading and praying things go their way.
I am referring of course to NFL Sundays — a day when we give up our time, our emotion and, for many, our hard-earned cash for entertainment that usually ends in severe depression. Overdramatic? Not so. Clearly you have never bet on NFL football.
Although you are not alone, you almost are. An alarming amount of people bet on the NFL every week. Stats are extremely hard to find but Nfl.fanhouse.com reported that 147 million people watched last year’s Superbowl between the Cardinals and Steelers for at least five minutes, and I have a hunch a few dozen or so of those people had a little wager (or two or three or 10) on the game.
While I don’t recommend it one bit, NFL wagering can be a true roller coaster ride. Gambling as we all know is truly an addiction and the NFL has turned betting into something truly extraordinary. Who wants to wager $100 on “black” at a roulette table when they could take that same $100, do strategic research about how a certain sports team plays in a certain situation and then put the fate of their money in the hands of that team — 11 men putting their bodies on the line, battling in the trenches for the masses? The NFL is like Gladiator with bookies. What’s not to love?
The issue, however, is that many experts attribute the NFL’s extreme popularity to the league’s gambling appeal. The argument is fairly simple: things like the NFL’s scoring system, the nature of the quick point-swings in the game, the amount of information and analysis available prior to a game and the one game per week schedule are all unique and all highly favorable gambling factors. This in turn is responsible for the league’s dominance as a business in North America. People are watching because they’re wagering.
But just how dominant is the NFL? After all, it is only a 16-game schedule, thus opportunities for revenue are extremely limited. Well, annual revenue for Major League Baseball, which works on a massive 162-game schedule, brings in a respectable US$6 billion. The NBA brings in US$3.7 billion on an 82-game schedule while the NHL brings up the rear with US$2.5 billion of annual revenue on 82 games as well. The NFL and its microscopic 16-game schedule? It accumulates an astounding US$7 billion.
The NFL season runs from September to February, six months, while the NBA and NHL go from October to June, nine months. Despite all these extra games to sell tickets for and all this extra time for the other leagues to sell advertising, jerseys, posters, hats and lunchboxes, none come close to the amount of advertising, jerseys, posters, hats and lunchboxes sold by the NFL. It simply makes no sense. What is the X-factor that makes football king of all sports? Why are so many more people obsessed with the NFL compared to any other pro-sports league? It is the least glamorous of all four bigs, as helmets and cages cover up the players’ pretty faces (damn it Brady). It is the most complicated to understand, and it is the only sport where people will pay thousands and thousands of dollars to freeze their butt off while sitting outside in Green Bay, Wisconsin in the middle of January. What are people thinking? In the humble opinion of this author, they are most definitely thinking about gambling.
There is one last thing that cannot go unmentioned when talking about the betting appeal of professional football. One word: Fantasy. (No, not Heidi Klum coming to vacuum your room in her tighty-whiteys, fantasy. Football). For those who are not already obsessed, allow me to educate. Fantasy football involves a group of people getting together and starting a fantasy “league,” usually monitored online. Each member of the league drafts NFL players to their respective teams, and then watches with excitement, terror and anxiety as these players compile statistics (yards, touchdowns, interceptions, sacks, etc.). Each member’s team tries to attain a higher point total than the team they play against each week. It’s completely interactive and really provides a hands-on experience to gambling (as things like adding and dropping players, trades, deciding who to start and who to bench each week significantly affect your team’s point totals.) The team with the best record at the end (weekly wins vs. losses) takes home the money. In essence, fantasy football is a season-long wager placed on your knowledge of the NFL relative to the other players in your league. Yes, pride plays a huge role and usually even overshadows the money. I may be $500 richer than you, but what I really care about is that I was right about thinking Peyton Manning was going to be terrific this season, when you clearly thought otherwise. In yo face!
Fantasy football is just another form of wagering and is as well a huge contributor to the insane popularity of the NFL. At the beginning of the 2007 season, Nbcsports.com ran an article that chronicled the fantasy football obsession, saying that the Internet had contributed to a 19 million player niche market. Since 2007 the numbers could only have gone up.
Other sports do have fantasy capabilities, but only fantasy football works on a week-to-week basis where nearly everything happens on Sunday. The NFL is truly ideal for gambling in every way.
Except for the fact that you’ll almost always lose.