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Analyzing Public Perception

   by Bryan Leonard - 02/13/2006

Public perception might be the least talked about aspect of linemaking, but it is essential to understand this piece of the puzzle. Oddsmakers make betting numbers based on stats, situations and what they think the public is thinking about a game. We just saw a Super Bowl where the No. 6 seeded team (Pittsburgh) was a 4-point favorite over the No. 1 seed of the NFC (Seattle). If you just looked at stats, the two teams were relatively equal, with strong run defenses, balanced offense, above-average quarterbacks and good coaching staffs.

The Seahawks hadn't done anything in the playoffs to make people think they were overrated, winning by double digits over the Redskins and Panthers. However, public perception played a role in making the Steelers the favorite. Going beyond stats, the Steelers had just won three playoff games on the road against the No. 1, 2 and 3 seeds, winning them all convincingly. And the general public sees that the AFC is better when it comes to the top teams than the NFC. Oddsmakers knew they couldn't make the game a pick 'em or Pittsburgh 2 because the average bettor would come in on the Steelers. The purpose of bookmaking is not to be concerned with who wins the game, but that you get relatively equal amounts of money on both sides, pay off the winners after the game, and keep the 10% juice.

While football season is behind us, public perception is still in high gear in sports on the worlds of college and pro basketball. Quick: Who do you think the general public thinks is going to meet in the NBA Finals? The Spurs and Pistons. They met last season, have combined to win the last three titles and are rolling along with great teams this season.

Let's also remember that the general public can be wrong. Two years ago the star-studded Lakers were perceived as a huge favorite against the Pistons in the NBA Finals. They went from a 5-to-1 favorite to an 8-to-1 favorite as the series opened. Public money poured in on LA. The talented and team-oriented Pistons won the series in 5 games while Kobe sulked and Shaq pointed fingers and clanked free throws.

I bring this up because while the Spurs and Pistons are expected to meet in the Finals as far as the general betting public is concerned, few seem to be paying much attention to the red-hot Dallas Mavericks. Why? Past playoff flameouts, for one thing. Their current reputation, like the NFL Colts, is as a team that always wins during the regular season, then gets upset in the postseason. But they are playing great ball, particularly on the defensive end for coach Avery Johnson.

On Thursday I released a big play on the TNT match-up between the Heat and Mavericks. In my analysis of the game I wrote, 'Public perception is all over the number in this game. It's widely regarded that the home court value in the NBA is worth roughly 3 1/2 points, and this season the number is slightly less at 3.36. Therefore the linesmaker is basically saying that on a neutral court these two teams are equal. Well despite what the linesmaker wants you to think, reality says nothing could be further from the truth. Miami has two great players, terrific for the NBA image, but the other cast of characters do not have the talent to make this one of the elite teams. Miami is just 13-13 away from home. By comparison Dallas is 19-6 on the road. Good teams win consistently at home, great teams do it on the road. Dallas is 4-1 straight up and against the spread in this series. The last three games they have shot 50%, 48.9% and 51.9% from the field. Shaq is forced to play further out on the court than normal because the Maverick big men are such good outside shooters. This in turn opens up the inside for penetrating guards. I expect the host (Dallas) to win by a large margin.'

As you can see, I was interested in not only the individual match-up of the Mavericks shooting big-men and quick guards taking advantage of Shaq, but also a soft betting number which was based on a public perception that Miami is an elite team. In short, the general public thinks of Miami as one of the top three teams in the NBA, and the Mavericks somewhere below.

The public can think whatever they want, but I'm only interested in winning wagering opportunities. My clients and I enjoyed a profitable national TV laugher as Dallas routed the Heat 112-76. There's nothing more satisfying than identifying a one-sided laugher beforehand, and then laughing again, all the way to the bank!

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