Thilo Kunkel, Ph.D.

BIAS AND SPORT BETTING: WHY YOU CAN’T ALWAYS COUNT ON YOUR FAVORITE TEAM

BY: REBECCA NAGY https://www.fox.temple.edu/ontheverge/

“YOUR FAN IDENTITY MAKES YOU A WORSE GAMBLER,” SAYS THILO KUNKEL, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR AT THE FOX SCHOOL OF BUSINESS AND SCHOOL OF SPORT, TOURISM AND HOSPITALITY MANAGEMENT (STHM). “THE MORE YOU IDENTIFY WITH YOUR FAVORITE TEAM, THE WORSE GAMBLER YOU ARE IF YOU BET ON THAT TEAM.”

Kunkel claims that favoritism impairs the accuracy of sports bets. For superfans everywhere, this may come as a surprise. However, through his research that involved data from a smartphone gambling application, over 500 soccer fans and nearly 54,000 sport-related predictions, Kunkel found that the biggest fans will overestimate the odds of their favorite team winning. 

So, how can you compensate for your identity biases in order to win big?

BLINDED BY BIAS

INDIVIDUALS WITH VERY HIGH LEVELS OF TEAM IDENTIFICATION WERE LESS ACCURATE THAN THE MORE CASUAL FAN.

Across the globe, “the big game” can take on many forms for sports fans. However, thanks to a movement of legalizing sports betting in the U.S., you can easily select a team you expect to win and put money on it.

Most superfans will bet on their favorite team—call it superstition, juju or enduring loyalty. But this unwavering decision impairs your judgment, says Kunkel, because you underestimate the opposing team. 

The study found that over 73% of app users predicted that their favorite team would win, but those teams only won 39% of the time. Kunkel concluded that individuals with very high levels of team identification were less accurate than the more casual fan. “Highly identified fans may believe that they are more likely to make accurate predictions based on their emotional bond with their team and experience of being loyal fans, instead of analyzing sport context knowledge thoroughly,” says Kunkel. 

Together with Yiran Su, PhD ’19, and former student Sangwon Na, Kunkel published the study, called “Do not bet on your favorite team” in the European Sports Management Quarterly Download . The researchers anticipate that the findings will bolster fans’ ability to predict correctly—and help app developers improve the business of sports betting.

As part of Kunkel’s research, he explores his interest in gamification with fantasy sport app developers. From his findings, he shares feedback to help monetize the apps. By adding features that enhance the user experience and help users improve their betting accuracy, Kunkel says developers could drive users to purchase a paid version of the app. For example, he suggests a virtual betting coach, who will guide users to place smarter bets. This type of gamification, he says, will help companies monetize the betting experience. 

HOW TO BET SMARTER

Kunkel recommends these three tips for smarter betting: acknowledge the bias, consider that you may be overestimating your favorite team and do more research. Through his research, Kunkel found that superfans put too much faith in their teams and think, “‘I know everything about the sport, I don’t need to do background reading,’” which clouds fans’ judgment.

Kunkel even admits to favoring his teams from time to time. “I will still bet on my favorite team, but I will make sure I consider the other factors associated with it.” One reliable factor he always considers is the home-team advantage concept. When your favorite team plays at their home court, they are able to maintain their routine. “However, if they travel, there may be factors such as a different time zone, sleeping in a hotel or general lack of sleep that gives the away team the disadvantage.”

While sports betting has yet to be legalized in all 50 states, Kunkel is optimistic about the widespread impact of his research. His study not only affects individuals placing smarter bets, but extends to improving gamified applications, and even sporting teams forming partnerships with fantasy applications.

“We will see the betting industry becoming bigger and bigger within the U.S. And it’s not just the betting aspect, but also the gamified ways of engaging fans beyond the actual game-day experience.”