Can you make BIG money from “small sports”?
Explaining how betting on niche sports can create a Catch 22 for punters
Now when I say “small sports” I’m referring to what you might call “minority sports”.
And let me just clarify what I mean by this term.
I’m not talking about their global appeal, levels of participation, TV and media coverage, or their prestige among the general world of sport.
When it comes to these so-called “lesser sports” I have in mind those pursuits which are significantly smaller in terms of betting appeal, than those which are currently mainstream within the industry.
And in some cases, the degree of betting interest might be totally opposite to their perceived level of interest/importance among sports fans at large… for example, Formula 1 is a massive global phenomenon, watched by millions, but does anyone actually bet on it? Very few I’d wager.
Now clearly there will be regional differences around the globe on what can be categorised as the “leading sports” to bet on…
And to throw out some stereotypes to illustrate the point… you won’t be surprised to find more punters per capita betting on cricket on the Indian sub-continent, whereas across continental Europe it’d be fair to say that soccer is the main driver of trade, just as it would be American Football or basketball in the States.
And just staying with the USA, I was looking at Statista.com which quoted a report from 2019 (although it looked at betting patterns for 2017) where it was shown that the NFL was wagered on by 77% of the betting community, compared to 24% on the NBA (basketball) and 17% the MLB (baseball).
Scanning the internet for some other facts and figures, or at the very least an alternative viewpoint, I came across an article on the website of The London Economic which suggested, in the following order, that horseracing, football, golf, boxing and tennis were the biggest sports (presumably, given the website’s location, this primarily concerned the UK market).
Euro Weekly News listed boxing, football, golf, tennis and rugby. Here a more European take on things discounted horseracing.
But within the UK, and drawing largely from personal experience, the two biggest sports would be, by far and away, horseracing and football.
These would be “Tier 1” level in terms of betting turnover, and by some margin.
I would then loosely group together (and roughly in this order) in “Tier 2”, sports such as golf, tennis and maybe greyhounds… and then in “Tier 3” you’d find rugby, boxing, snooker, darts and the aforementioned F1.
In terms of US sports, it’s difficult to gauge their share of the UK market… but it’s certainly on the rise, no question. And more than likely NFL betting, and basketball turnover, these days would fall firmly into the category of “Tier 2” sports.
Clearly there will be differences in these listings, from one geographical area to the next… even from one social group to the next.
For example, these days many would see horseracing as more of an old man’s game, in the same way that soccer betting could be seen as more appealing to the younger punters… although for my sake, I hope not!!
But as a rule of thumb, I think these categories are broadly representative of how UK punters choose to place their money on sports betting.
The pros and cons of betting on Tier 1 sports
The obvious advantages of betting on what we consider to be the main sports is that you’ll have lots of outlets at your disposal, excellent market coverage and diversity, plus high levels of liquidity.
[And this last point – liquidity on the exchanges – is an ever-increasing necessity due to bookmakers becoming more and more officious when it comes to account restrictions and closures.]
Those who bet on horseracing and football also have a wide range of High Street firms to choose from, whether online or in betting shops, as well as on-course outlets, brokers… and then there are the exchanges (Betfair, Smarkets, Betdaq, Matchbook), where betting on these sports is greatly assisted by high levels of liquidity on their main markets.
The main downside is a long-standing truism that “more heavily traded markets are more efficient markets”.
Point being, because of the weight of money, the level of punter interest (whether professional or amateur), and the degree of skill and technology layers use to price up these markets… they tend to be “about right” when it comes to the odds of certain horses in the case of racing, or teams when it comes to football.
And a better aligned market is one where it’s harder to locate real value.
It’s still there, of course, it’s just harder to find!!
So it’s something of a Catch 22…
With these bigger sports like UK horseracing and soccer, yes, you can get your wagers on, through one outlet or another… but even if you can, finding a consistent value edge is much harder, because the markets have been streamlined over time by the sheer weight of money and interest that has gone before you, or simply by the bookmakers themselves paying more attention, and having better tools, to manage these sectors more accurately.
Yes, you can still make money on these sports, but it’s not like picking low hanging fruit. It can be a bit of a grind, with much lower ROI’s (more so without access to good sources of information).
The good and bad of betting on lesser sports
Right through my career in this industry – getting on for 30 years now – I’ve been regularly approached by all manner of different experts, and would-be tipsters, whose expertise has been on what I’ve always seen as “niche” sports. Those sports that I’ve referred to above as Tier 3 pursuits (and in some cases, the more obscure markets found in Tier 2 sports).
And more often than not, their figures have been very good.
They know their sport back-to-front, have a good understanding of the betting markets and what constitutes value, and as a result they make a healthy trading profit on the likes of rugby, snooker or boxing.
And the beauty of it is… because their specialist knowledge of their chosen sport often outstrips the educated guesswork of the market makers and odds compilers at some (but not necessarily all) bookmakers – and certainly their rivals on the exchanges – they can spot, and profit from, value opportunities, the like of which you rarely find in other, more heavily traded sectors.
That’s not to say they have an unfair advantage… but the playing field is certainly much flatter when it comes to the eternal battle of punter vs. bookie.
This gives these “niche sport experts” a significant headstart over the majority of backers who play these markets, allowing them to get in early and hoover up what value there is… basically picking-off those bookies, or exchange users, who make errors when assessing or pricing up the markets.
A sure-fire recipe for success wouldn’t you say?
Well, let me ask you this… would you rather have £100 win on a 6/4 chance, and trouser a £150 profit. Or would you prefer £10 on something that’s 10/1 on the exchanges and makes you £100.
What’s going to pay more bills come the end of the day…
And it’s this issue with (a) liquidity and (b) market correction, that causes major problems when it comes to betting – and making consistently heavy profits – on these under-played sports.
Because what you find are markets which lack depth, and suffer from a shortage of money… so that your shrewd bets are easily spotted, and get knocked back by the layers, or they simply aren’t matched for sizeable stakes on the exchanges – merely peanuts.
Or even if you do manage to get on at a value price, the market quickly corrects itself, as there’s not enough competing money around (let alone shrewd money) to create a balanced book… so you can’t go in again.
This means all the snooker betting experts, Formula 1 shrewdies, and boxing aficionados out there are left feeding of scraps. Finding value bets – great! – but they’re then unable to profit from them to the level that they would, were these opportunities to be found in other, more bet-on sports.
The end result is a paper-trading figure that looks fantastic, and can knock most other betting interests into a cocked hat… but one that in reality is very hard to monetise to any great degree for any length of time.
So what we have is another infuriating Catch 22 scenario.
Different to the one highlighted above, but no less frustrating for backers.
What are you saying? It’s not possible to win either way…
As you’ve seen, each tier of sports betting has its own characteristics, it’s own pluses and minuses.
Painting with broad brush-strokes, the top tier is a case of “you can get your bets on, if you can find them”…
Whereas the second level is one where “selecting bets is one thing, but putting your money down is quite another”.
Which would you prefer?
Personally, and from a business perspective, I’ve always followed the former path.
Just imagine how hard it is for an individual to get a decent bet on a snooker player at 25/1 in the Welsh Open or a tennis player at 50/1 in some obscure Challenger Tour event… and then think how easy it would be for a betting advisory service that has 20, or 30, or 50 members, all chasing that same price.
It simply wouldn’t last.
Better for me, and for members, to bet on sports where there is liquidity… all I then have to do is find the right level of betting expertise to make money from these markets.
Don’t get me wrong, that’s bl**dy hard… but it can be done. And services like the Scottish Football Income Booster and Racing Intelligence prove these experts can be found (and often within the bookmaking community, as it happens).
In more general terms I’m always wary, and I’d advise you to be the same, of betting on sports (either as an individual or as part of a service or betting syndicate) that are niche, specialist or “Tier 3” level.
They might work on paper, but I’m not so sure they work in reality… in terms of putting actual, long-term betting profits in your pocket, or simply keeping your betting account open!
OPINION: Making money from betting, and by this I mean good money for a sustained period of time, isn’t easy. Sadly! But that’s not to say it can’t be done. What this article highlights is the need, whatever sport you’re betting on, to have two key components in place… (1) access to the right information, whether your own or that provided by A.N. Other and (2) the ability to get your bets on. Because one without the other leaves you caught between a rock and hard place. My preference is for market availability, and higher liquidity levels… because even if this squeezes the value, the ability to bet in much larger sums means you can make a bigger long-term profit on these “Tier 1” sports.