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NFL's Problem is Poor Product, not Disrespect

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President Trump has lambasted the NFL more than 20 times for players’ “Total Disrespect of Our Great Country.” Ratings are down for NFL games and Trump figures it’s because some players aren’t standing, hand over heart, and mouthing the words to the national anthem.

Trump may have made some political hay out of all this, but one only has to follow the money to learn the real reason pro football ratings are down — competition from college football. The fact is, “Their product isn’t very good these days,” Nick Bogdanovich told the Las Vegas Sun. He is the chief oddsmaker for William Hill, which operates 107 sportsbooks in Nevada.

The league that used to claim any team could win on “any given Sunday” has turned into a predictable “If you have a quarterback, you have a chance. If you don’t, you don’t,” as Ben Volin wrote of the Boston Globe at the finish of last year’s regular season. As evidence, he pointed to “the four quarterbacks remaining in the playoffs — Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers, and Matt Ryan.”

Jimmy Vaccaro has been running sports books for four decades. He says, it used to be, “Nearly $4 on the NFL for every buck on a college game.” That is no longer the case. Now it is more like 60–40 with the college betting handle gaining.

Joe Drape writes of the sportsbook legend,

And when Vaccaro says he is becoming bearish on the betting health of professional football, you lean in and listen. Last month, for three consecutive weeks, for the first time that he can remember, betting on college football at South Point surpassed betting on the NFL, by as much as $400,000.

The Wall Street Journal did a study back in 2010 and found that of the 174 minutes of an NFL broadcast there was 11 minutes of game action. The WSJ found there was about 60 minutes of commercials and “As many as 75 minutes, or about 60% of the total air time, excluding commercials, is spent on shots of players huddling, standing at the line of scrimmage or just generally milling about between snaps.”

This has only become worse with the advent of constantly replaying questionable calls. Meanwhile, many college teams have gone to the no-huddle offense to squeeze in more plays.

Making accurate point spreads on 16 pro games is much easier than getting 50 college games right. “There’s more volatility and room for mistakes in the college game,” John Avello, a bookmaker at the Wynn Las Vegas, told the Sun. “You can find an edge there, and that is what gamblers do. We are hard to beat when it comes to the NFL.”

Professional gambler Chris Lawless wagers more on college games not only because there are flawed betting lines to take advantage of, but also because the games are more enjoyable. “There are more momentum shifts and more exciting plays and more passion,” Lawless said.

Vaccaro believes betting on college football will continue to gain on NFL action. Overall, Nevada sports books are expected to post their eighth consecutive year of record handle, with Las Vegas taking in $5 billion in sports wagers.

September saw Nevada set a new betting handle record of $558.4 million, and the Nevada Gaming Control Board has now revealed that the handle in October came in at $522 million, the best-ever performance by Nevada sportsbooks in the month of October, as well as the third consecutive month of a betting handle in excess of $500 million.


Doug French

Douglas French is President Emeritus of the Mises Institute, author of Early Speculative Bubbles & Increases in the Money Supply, and author of Walk Away: The Rise and Fall of the Home-Ownership Myth. He received his master's degree in economics from UNLV, studying under both Professor Murray Rothbard and Professor Hans-Hermann Hoppe.

Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
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