Introduction to Futures
You may or may not have already learned that future bets are wagers placed far in advance of a sporting event after reading our Overview of Sports Gambling Bet Types. The basics are all there, so the purpose of this article is to explain why futures offer such strong value and give tips on improving your chances to win when betting futures.
The main advantage of futures is that you can get appealing odds by betting when oddsmakers first release them or well before an event is decided. For example, placing a future wager on the Kentucky Derby a month ahead of time can get you a much better price on a horse than betting much closer to the race when the real contenders are revealed for all to see. Future odds are not set and can be adjusted by sportsbooks periodically, but the odds at the time of your wager are the odds you are locked into.
A futures bet example with major team sports would be NFL futures, where you often can get much higher odds on a team by betting before the season starts. An NFL future bet on a team to win the Super Bowl might be 20/1 in the preseason, but by midseason, those odds might decrease to 10/1 if the team turns out to be a legitimate championship contender.
It's important to note that sportsbooks can change futures at any time, and they are available to be bet all the way until the event gets underway. Future bets are also not restricted to the championship game, as you can bet on who will win a conference or division too.
Future bets in NFL and college football, NBA and college basketball and MLB baseball are team-oriented in that you bet on the team's performance while proposition bets on non-team future events that involve individuals like boxing, tennis, golf and NASCAR are also available. Keep in mind that with futures you are always betting that the event will happen, on whether the team will accomplish something such as a championship and not against their chances of doing so. For example, if Duke is 5/1 to win the NCAA Basketball Championship, you can bet $100 on Duke and will win $500 if they win it all - but with standard future betting you cannot bet against Duke winning it all.
Tips to Win
The key to betting futures is realizing their true value and using the right Tips to Win. The most important consideration is determining what changes a team has made to enhance their chances of vying for a championship like the Super Bowl or World Series. Draft choices, coaching changes, free-agent signings, trades and returning starters all impact a team's ability to compete, so each aspect should be considered when making your future bet.
The draft is a much bigger factor in NBA basketball and NFL football since a rookie can approach superstar status much earlier (i.e. LeBron James) than other sports like MLB baseball where it can take years for players to develop. Of course the way the drafts are structured, the weaker teams almost always select players higher than the stronger teams. However, elite teams like the San Antonio Spurs and New England Patriots are well-known for making the most of their picks despite poor draft positioning.
Nothing has changed the landscape of sports over the past 20 years more than free agency. Superstars like Shaquille O'Neal can simply walk away at the end of their contracts, forcing their teams to decide the likelihood of their re-signing and potentially trading them before their contracts are up to get something in return.
O'Neal is a perfect example to examine since he left the Orlando Magic as a free agent to join the Los Angeles Lakers in 1996, leaving the Magic with nothing in return. Eight years later, he forced the Lakers to trade him to the Miami Heat so the Lakers could get something in return while he was still under contract since he made it known he would not re-sign with them.
O'Neal's status changed the balance of power between the Eastern and Western Conference in both situations, with the Heat becoming serious title contenders in his first year with the team. A smart NBA futures bettor would have put money on the Heat to win the NBA title or Eastern Conference right after the trade was made.
In NBA basketball and MLB baseball, the midseason trade deadline could also be very critical to a team's improvement. The New York Yankees tried very hard to yank ace pitcher Randy Johnson from the Arizona Diamondbacks at the 2004 deadline and probably would have won the World Series if they had done so. Instead, they were forced to wait until the offseason to make the trade for Johnson and didn't have enough pitching to get past the Boston Red Sox, who went on to win the World Series.
In college football and basketball, there is the added dimension of a team's returning starters. Graduation or early defection of players to the pros play a critical role in the team's makeup for the next season and should be examined. However, while losing a Heisman Trophy winner like quarterback Carson Palmer in 2003 seemed to be a blow to USC's chances of winning a national title, it also allowed another Heisman Trophy winner to shine in Matt Leinart, so not all losses hurt an NCAA program.
Timing is everything with player movement. Sometimes these moves pay off, sometimes they don't, but they often seem to give teams a fighting chance in bettor's minds and make future bets more interesting.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers made big news during the 2002 offseason when they pried Jon Gruden away from the Oakland Raiders to be their head coach. Tampa Bay management felt like they had the right players in place and just needed the right person to put all the pieces together and lead the way.
After a series of hiring mishaps, including the failed recruitment of coaching legend Bill Parcells, Gruden turned out to be their man and proved to be the difference. It wasn't cheap since it cost the Buccaneers a number of draft picks and money, but nobody could argue it wasn't worth the price when they won their first Super Bowl. The best futures price on the Bucs turned out to be before the regular season started and the full impact of Gruden was felt in Tampa and throughout the rest of the NFL.
Measuring True Value
Once you put all of the Tips to Win together, you need to try to measure the true value of a team's future bet chances. But your perception of how well a team will perform and how you interpret the significance of the Tips to Win will determine whether or not a team is worth betting on.
Sometimes a team comes along like the 1999 St. Louis Rams, who won the Super Bowl that year despite entering the season as a longshot at incredible 200/1 odds. When such longshots come in it demonstrates another strong appeal of future bets, that a fan can make a small bet on a longshot, enjoy following their results all season, and just maybe cash a huge ticket! A safer approach is to pick a playoff team or one that just missed out from the previous year and made some smart moves to turn them into a contender.
Betting the preseason favorite like last year's champs is a bit risky since their odds are already so low and a lot more money would need to be wagered to make it worthwhile. However, there is still some value in instances like this if you feel strongly that they can go deep into the playoffs again. The further they go, the smaller their odds will likely get along the way and the more value you will have by betting far in advance.
That's the bottom line with any futures bet - the true value comes down to how you feel about a team compared to the oddsmaker's projections. If your Tips to Win point to a team worth betting on and that team ultimately follows through, you'll have a rooting interest all season long and will get the very most out of your futures wager!
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