How to bet futures

Apr 1, 2020 |
How to bet futures
Sportsbooks take futures bets all year long on popular markets like MLB, NBA, and NFL futures odds, including who will win the Super Bowl.
Photo By - Covers Media Group
Sportsbooks take futures bets all year long on popular markets like MLB, NBA, and NFL futures odds, including who will win the Super Bowl.
Photo By - Covers Media Group

Whether it’s odds to win the championship, picking which player will win the MVP race or wagering on season win totals, betting on futures odds is one of the most popular options at the sportsbook.

What are futures odds?

Futures are a separate betting market from the game-to-game lines, focusing on long-term results and outcomes, such as NFL futures on Super Bowl odds or MLB futures odds to win the World Series

Futures odds can open before the start of a season and take bets throughout the course of the calendar, with bookmakers adjusting those odds in reaction to season results, injuries and trades, as well as the amount of action on certain teams.  

How futures odds are set

The most common futures odds are associated with league or tournament championships, like NBA futures on the winner of the NBA Finals or hockey futures on which NHL team will hoist the Stanley Cup. However, futures can be booked for any long-term decision or outcome.   

The opening odds for championship futures are primarily based on the previous season’s results – you’ll often find the reigning league champs near the top of the board – with the best teams having the shortest odds to win, based on the oddsmakers’ implied probability. Other factors can play into how oddsmakers create futures, such as offseason player movement and coaching changes.   

Once oddsmakers rank the teams in terms of their implied probability to win, they will set an odds value for each team that will not only attempt to spread action across the various betting options but also limit the book’s liability on one particular team. It should be noted that a team’s futures odds and the implied probability connected are more of a reflection of the sportsbook’s needs rather than the team’s actual mathametical chances of winning.

Teams with the best perceived chance of winning the championship carry the lowest risk and therefor the associated futures odds have a lower possible payout. Teams with lower implied probability of winning the champion have a greater risk and reward a higher possible payout with their futures odds. 

How to read futures odds

Futures odds are displayed in list form, showing each option and its odds – most often ranked from best chances to win to worst. These can be displayed in American odds, Fractional odds, and Decimal odds, depending on the sportsbook.

As an example, there are four teams vying for a championship entering a new season: 

• TEAM A is the defending league winner, was the best team during the regular season, and returns most of the players from that championship roster. 

• TEAM B finished third overall in the standings during the regular season but played well in the playoffs and lost to TEAM A in the final. 

• TEAM C was the second-best team during the regular season but was upset by TEAM B in the playoffs and one of its best players left in the offseason. 

• TEAM D finished last in the previous regular season and didn’t do much in the offseason to improve.

ODDS TO WIN CHAMPIONSHIP

TEAM ODDS (AMERICAN) IMPLIED PROBABILTY
TEAM A +120 45.45%
TEAM B +240 29.41%
TEAM C +300 25%
TEAM D +750 11.76%

 

• With TEAM A being the favorite to win the championship with the highest implied probability (45.45%) it has been assigned +120 odds, which means for every $1 bet on TEAM A’s futures odds you could win $1.20 (A $100 bet would profit $120). 

• TEAM B is the oddsmakers’ second choice to win (29.41% implied probability) and is priced at +240 ($100 bet profits $240). 

• TEAM C is the third choice (25%) and its futures odds to win are set at +300. 

• And finally, TEAM D has the worst chance of winning the championship (11.76%) and therefor the biggest risk, pegged as a +750 long shot. 

As mentioned above (and with those percentages adding up to 111.62%), futures odds are not a reflection of a team’s exact chances of winning and are more constructed around the needs of the sportsbook. Futures on the same market, such as NFL futures odds on the Super Bowl, will differ from book to book. 

Futures odds movement

Like most sports betting odds, futures aren’t static and are constantly being adjusted by bookmakers throughout the year, reacting to several variables including wins and losses, injuries and player movement, as well as the betting handle on those individual futures odds. When an adjustment is made to one team’s odds, most often adjustments are made for all options in that futures market.

Pulling from the example above:

• If TEAM A starts the season on the wrong foot and is suddenly losing more games than it wins, its +120 futures odds may be adjusted to +140 to reflect the decreased implied probability of winning the championship.

• If TEAM C goes on a winning streak and jumps to the top of the standings, bookmakers could move it from the third-overall choice to win the championship to the second – from +300 to +220 - adjusting the futures odds for all four teams in the league.

• TEAM D could strike a trade to add one of the best players in the league, moving it from +750 to +600, not only forcing an adjustment to its futures odds but also moving the odds for the other team involved in that trade. 

• One-sided betting action can also move the futures odds, as bookmakers work to limit the liability on one team and entice money on the others. If TEAM B has played up to expectations – not warranting an adjustment based on results – but is taking 60 percent of the handle (total money bet), books could slide its odds down from +240 to +200 (reducing the possible payout) while increasing the payouts for all other teams in that market, hoping to attract money on those options and spread out the handle.  

Futures bet calculator 

Futures bets come in all shapes and sizes and sometimes it's tough to know just how much you should wager for the return your want or get an idea of an expected payout. Our futures bet calculator is an easy way to convert all three odds variations - American, Fractional, and Decimal - and see the implied probabilty and projected return for your bets on NFL futures, college foootball futures, NCAA futures and more. Find our futures bet calculator here.

Why bet futures

Futures are one of the bigger debates among sports bettors, with some loving the potential value and promise of sizable payouts and others turned off by the overwhelming advantage they give to the sportsbooks and tying up bets for a long period of time. Here are some pros and cons for betting futures odds:

Pros

• Futures odds are almost always available for major sports leagues and can bet at any time: offseason, preseason, in-season, and postseason. 

• Due to the risk involved, most futures odds offer a “plus money” return on your bet, meaning you can win as much or more than your original wager. 

• Futures odds can offer opportunities to hedge your bets and guarantee a profit before a winner is determined. 

• Futures offer a different way to bet on sports, outside of the daily odds, that gives you a rooting interest for or against a team’s success. 

• Some sportsbook operators allow for early cash-out on promising futures bets, allowing you to opt for a portion of the potential payout (rather than the full payout) before that futures market is officially closed.  

Cons

• There’s a huge house advantage for sportsbook operators when it comes to futures odds, as only one result is graded as the winner. For example, an NFL futures bet on the Super Bowl winner is a 1-in-32 proposition (3.03%) before calculating for team strength and other factors.  

• Futures odds and their corresponding implied probability are not accurate reflections of the actual chances of your bet winning and often favor the book, not the bettor. 

• Futures odds require money to be tied into those bets for an extended period of time, not allowing that money to be bet on more timely markets. 

• Compared to a single-game bet, there are countless outside influences that could impact the outcome of your futures wager over the course of a season.

Types of futures bets

There are myriad futures odds available throughout the course of the sports betting calendar, well beyond just betting on which team will win the championship. Here are some of the most popular variations of futures odds:

• Odds to win championship, conference or division.

• Season win totals: Over/Under betting on a team’s number of wins or points for the entire season.

• Odds to win awards and league leaders, such as Most Valuable Player or top scorer.

• Odds to make the playoffs or postseason

Futures betting strategy/How to hedge

• One of the best ways to bet on futures odds is to “buy low” when talented teams or players aren’t playing up to their expected potential, most notably early into the season. 

There is often an overreaction to struggles with top teams, forcing their futures odds to move and present a higher payout. Many times, those struggles are short lived and talent takes over, leading the team to overcome those issues and play to their expected high level. 

• Bettors love hunting for value in the futures markets and immediately omit any of the teams at the top of the odds board, looking beyond the betting favorites and to that second level of contender that has the potential to be great. A perfect example of spotting futures value was the 2019 World Series champion Washington Nationals and their up-and-down road to the title. 

The Nationals opened at +1,600 to win the World Series and struggled in the first two months of the schedule to fall to +5,000, despite one of the best pitching staffs in the majors. However, Washington started righting the ship up in June and July (+3,000 entering August) and rode that to a 36-18 record in the final two months of the season, entering the postseason at +1,600 – the seventh overall favorite of the 10 playoff teams. 

• Momentum can be a huge factor in the postseason and teams playing at their peak when the playoffs begin can offer solid returns when betting futures. Even if that team doesn’t sit among the top seeds in the postseason tournament, a recent winning streak can lead to early upsets and a promising payout if that momentum can carry a team all the way to a championship. NHL futures have been especially ripe with this type of value, as team’s get hot late in the year and parlay that into a deep postseason run. 

• As mentioned, different sportsbooks will offer the same futures markets but the odds often vary from operator to operator. If you have the option to bet at multiple books, shop around for which one is giving the best return on the futures odds you want to bet. Most favorites will be priced similarly, but there's often large disparencies in those options further down the odds board, due to unique handle and betting trends for each book.

• Hedging futures bets is one of the more popular strategies as the contenders list starts to shrink during the course of the regular season and postseason. If you were able to bet on a team with larger odds to win the championship and then that team played its way up the futures board into one of the favorites, you may have an opportunity to lock in a profit by betting on the other side.

For example, you placed a $100 bet on TEAM D at +750 to win the championship before the season (a potential profit of $750) and to the surprise of everyone, the underdog was extremely successful and played its way into the final. Now, TEAM D is set as a -150 favorite to win while its opponent is priced at +125. A $100 wager at +125 would not only cover the $100 originally wagered on TEAM D but would profit an additional $25, if TEAM D failed to win. 

Another popular formula for hedging is to wager half of your potential payout of the original bet – in this case, $375 bet at +125, which would payout $468.75. If TEAM D does win, you collect the $750 from that first bet minus $375 for the hedge bet, for a final win of $375. If TEAM D loses, you win $468.75 minus the $100 on the original bet, for a final win of $368.75.

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