The oddsmaker and sports have gone hand in hand for over a century. The odds for a prize fighter to retain his title against an up and coming, spirited nobody. The chance or percentage of chance for a major college basketball powerhouse to win the NCAA tournament. The statistical probability for a baseball team to make the playoffs, who is yet to play a game in a particular season. Some person or computer or group is telling you, the fan, that your team has a 43% chance of making the playoffs or winning a game or securing a first round bye in a round robin tournament. It makes for great conversation, great for betting on sports, great for the media, great for marketing campaigns.
In recent years, the oddsmakers have begun to infiltrate professional sports broadcasts of live games, tournaments, and events. With the St. Louis Cardinals down 5-1 in the 5th inning against the NY Mets, the banner at the bottom of the telecast reads “There is an 11% chance the Cardinals will win this game.” Or, during a golf tournament, Tiger Woods sizes up a 72 foot putt on the 17th hole and there is an insert on the bottom right of your TV screen that reads “Probability – 8%, based on current conditions.” How about during a sports broadcast with a panel of former Major League ball players, managers, and executives that are discussing the fact that the Boston Red Sox have a 33% chance of winning the American League East, albeit in December nearly 3 months before the season starts?If I were to take examples simply from New England sports over the past 3 decades, I could write 100 articles or more about teams beating the odds. Teams that had no shot, the statistics against them, the odds clearly not in their favor who overcame adversity to win despite what others thought. Improbable wins in the last minute, even seconds, of a game. Teams that created the type of outgoing, enthusiastic, loyal fan bases that New England sports is known for. What if those fans listened to the statistics and shut their TV’s off during a game because some stat read “New England has a 3% chance of winning the Super Bowl.”
Are you kidding me? That’s not what real fans do!!! They watch in agony, waiting for a fumble or an error or a lucky bounce or a missed shot by the opponent or an interception. They watch in the stands, holding hands with the person next to them, whether they know them or not. They watch with a heightened sense of anticipation that someway, somehow their team, their beloved home team will find a way, a miracle, anything to get a score, get an out, get a save to turn the tides of the game. Real fans don’t care about 3% or 23% or 80% or any percent!!! They watch and cheer and scream and yell and encourage their team to victory. And yes, in defeat.
And what are the oddsmakers of the world thinking by including these ridiculous statistics during live telecasts of these games? Would you like us, the fans, to shut our TV’s off, pack up our things and leave the stadium, leave the golf tournament’s most exciting holes, just because our team, our favorite player, our heroes have a less than 50% chance of success. Do you think advertisers would approve of your methods if 95% of the viewing audience of a Super Bowl decided to check out at halftime because the statistician posted a banner that read “New England has a 3% chance of winning this game, not much more to see in the second half for you Pats fans, I’m afraid.” How would the food vendors feel at a packed stadium if they announced, over the loudspeaker, in the 5th inning of a Tuesday night game between the Cardinals and the Mets “Hey everybody, the Cardinals have an 11% chance of winning, have a nice night everyone, this one is just about over.” Or, the sponsors of a major golf tournament, whose marquis player is lining up a historic 72 foot putt, and then watches fans leave the 17th hole because the leader board graphics department posts “Based on conditions, Tiger will most likely miss this putt so you want to get over to the 18th hole, as limited space is available.”
I don’t mind the odds or oddsmakers in their traditional roles. This team is a 5-1 to win this league or this fighter is a 10-1 against the champion or this university is a 2-1 favorite or this horse is a 20-1 long shot. Odds, betting, and sports have a long and rich history. You need odds to determine how much money you can make on a particular bet. I get all that.
What bothers me as a fan is this new wave of statistics during games, tournaments, matches, events that is simply unnecessary. They don’t play the game on paper, the players don’t win golf tournaments based on the statistical odds of one winning or not, teams win championships on the field. For every statistic I see about 11% chance of winning or 8% chance of making this putt, there are hundreds of examples of players, teams, and colleges who bested those percentages. And that is what being a fan is all about. Watching in horror as your team was just intercepted on the 1 yard line, when your team had a 99% chance of winning the game. A reliever with a 95% strikeout ratio to right handed batters that gives up a grand slam in extra innings. A golfer makes a 72 foot putt with little or no percent chance, based on current conditions. It is why the real fan watches. We want to believe, we want to witness something incredible.
If you listen to the odds, the percentages, the statistics, are you really a true fan? If you leave, if you turn your TV off, if you switch channels on your radio, are you going to buy into the statistics and call yourself a real sports fan? My opinion is NO!!!
P.S. Did you beat the odds and finish this article? Let me know your thoughts.