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Fading the Public Sports Betting Strategy

Most sports bettors begin their journey by relying heavily on betting favorites. Teams are favored for a reason — whether they have a more talented roster, home field advantage or a favorable matchup, online sportsbooks have determined that the favorite is more likely to win than the underdog.

Favorites are a popular choice among beginners as they win more often and feel like a safer play. Picking an underdog that gets pummeled by a team that was projected to win can feel like a mistake, while picking a favorite that goes on to lose or fail to cover the spread can be written off as bad luck. There is a comfort to being on the side that is “supposed to win,” even when it doesn’t.

But while some bettors enjoy the comfort of being part of the majority, others take a more contrarian approach. They prefer to go against the grain instead of falling in line with the side that the general public is betting on. This is where the strategy of fading the public comes into play.

What does fading the public mean?

Fading the public is just what it sounds like: betting against the team that the public is wagering on.

Historically, sports bettors who wanted to use this strategy would have to make educated guesses as to which side the public was betting on. As mentioned above, the public usually prefers favorites, so a popular favorite receiving enough action to move the line would be a good candidate to fade the public on.

For example, in the NFL say that the Baltimore Ravens open as a five-point home favorite against the Tennessee Titans. Lamar Jackson and the Ravens’ offense have been on a tear in recent weeks as they’ve led the team to four straight wins. As betting action on Baltimore comes in from the betting public, the line shifts during the week from Baltimore -5 to Baltimore -7. A bettor looking to fade the public would bet the opposite side that the public is betting on, taking the Titans as seven-point underdogs.

Due to the popularity of the fade-the-public strategy, many websites now offer built-in analysis of the betting action that each side of a game is receiving. These websites vary in accuracy depending on their sources, but they can at least be used as a reference point to get a sample size for how lopsided the sports betting action is for one side or the other.

Does fading the public work?

There is some merit to the concept of betting against the public. Consider that the vast majority of sports bettors are recreational bettors. They aren’t using in-depth statistics or computer models to make their selections. They are just betting based on what they see, what they read and what they hear.

Sports radio and television shows tend to deal in extremes. Winning streaks and losing streaks are often over-exaggerated. Teams playing well are hyped up as championship contenders while teams playing poorly start drawing rumors about locker-room turmoil or coaches on the hot seat.

So in addition to watching the Los Angeles Lakers reel off 10 straight wins, bettors are also being constantly reminded by the media about how dominant the Lakers are. It makes sense that the majority of the betting action that comes in on Lakers games is going to come from bettors backing Los Angeles. This creates one of two interesting scenarios for bettors looking to fade the public:

  • The line moves heavily against the favorite — The most common occurrence when a team that the betting public loves faces a team that the betting public hates is that sportsbooks will be forced to keep adjusting the betting line as action keeps pouring in on the favorite. For example, if the Alabama Crimson Tide are 24.5-point favorites against the Tennessee Volunteers at the start of the week, they might be 28-point favorites by the time Saturday rolls around. Bettors fading the public with Tennessee +28 are getting an extra 3.5 points of value against the spread compared to the sportsbook’s opening line.
  • The line surprisingly doesn’t move — In some instances, a popular favorite seemingly listed at a price that is too good to be true stays at that price even as the public jumps all over it. For example, say that the Kansas City Chiefs are just a three-point road favorite against the Las Vegas Raiders. Most bettors will jump at the opportunity to get the Chiefs in this matchup at just -3, but they remain at this price right up to Sunday. This type of line is referred to as a “trap line.” It often indicates that either sportsbooks feel strongly about the non-public side or that there are some big-money bettors on the non-public side offsetting the action coming in.

Therefore, when equipped with the knowledge that the betting public heavily favors one side, you will often find yourself in a position to get a better moneyline price or point spread than what the sportsbook originally projected for the game. In the instances that the line doesn’t move, you can find yourself on the same side as the betting sharps instead of the square public. This is what makes fading the public so tempting.

Should you fade the public?

While there is merit to fading the public as a sports betting system, it is far from a perfect strategy. After all, if always betting against the most popular teams was a massively profitable technique week in and week out, the word would quickly get out, and even the public would start betting against its former favorites.

In practice, fading the public means that you are going to be throwing your support behind a bunch of really bad teams and against a bunch of really good teams. Elite teams are public favorites for a reason. They win far more often than they lose. And sometimes sportsbooks can’t keep up with how dominant these teams are regardless of where they set the price.

As an example, the Kansas City Chiefs finished their 2019 championship season on an 8-0 straight-up and against-the-spread run. The Chiefs were favored in all eight of those games and were giving up an average of 7.6 points per game against the spread over that stretch. But they won those eight games by an average of 16.6 points per game, routinely sending the betting public to the window to cash their winning tickets.

Over the long run, fading the betting public is almost certainly a profitable endeavor. Sportsbooks factor public perception into their opening lines and then continue to make adjustments in the days leading up to the game based on the betting action they receive. Being on the opposite side of members of the betting public generally means that you aren’t paying the same premium that they are, and those fractional differences in against-the-spread points or moneyline payouts eventually add up.

But very few bettors have the patience or the bankroll management to make these small edges count. They will instead fade the public with reckless abandon and be just as susceptible to luck and bounces as sports bettors using any other sports betting method.

Using public perception as a tool instead of a full-blown strategy 

With all of this in mind, take public betting action for what it is: more information for your handicapping tool belt. Instead of blindly betting against every team that the public loves and blindly betting on every team that the public hates, factor your knowledge of public perception into your wagering decisions.

Let’s say that you handicap a game between the New York Yankees and the Baltimore Orioles, and you really like the Yankees to win. You check the betting odds and find that the Yankees are a massive -350 (bet $350 to win $100) favorite on the moneyline, and the majority of the betting public is right there with you in expecting New York to win.

Take the time to study the price. You know that the sportsbook knew that the Yankees would get most of the betting action in this game and that it factored the team’s popularity with the betting public into the line. You may also find that the line opened at New York -280 and has since jumped to -350. Do you still want to bet on this line knowing that you are paying a considerable premium for it?

If the answer is yes, then go with the public. If you have done your due diligence and still find value in the line at its current price, bet on it. If the answer is no, consider the alternative. Do the Orioles have value as +310 underdogs? Even if the Yankees will likely win, Baltimore would only need to win this game one in every three times it was played to make this a profitable bet at +310.

Make your decisions on whether to fade the public on a case by case basis. Just understanding the concept and how it affects the lines you see on your betting board every day will go a long way in making you a more well-rounded sports bettor.