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What Is Futures Betting In Sports and How Does It Work?

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Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) throws a pass against the Las Vegas Raiders during the second half at Allegiant Stadium.
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Futures betting is one of the cornerstones of sports betting (along with point spread, moneyline, and total points), and the one that gives bettors the most bang for their buck. With futures, bettors are able to place a wager that looks much further ahead than the standard single-event bet, looking weeks, months, or years ahead. Here, we will break down what futures betting consists of and what bettors need to be aware of before they lock in their futures.

How does betting on futures work?

The first question a bettor needs to grasp before getting involved with futures betting is simple: what is betting on futures? A future bet is simply a wager that looks further ahead than a single game. This can mean the outcome of an entire season, or more granular components to the season such as who will win individual awards or which team will finish with the best record at season’s end.

When it comes to futures sports betting, there are two main sources of appeal. The first is that bettors will see their money last longer, as these wagers take much longer to reach an outcome than single-game bets. There is also the potential for much larger payouts on futures bets than single-game wagers, as futures bets require numerous games to go a bettor’s way over the course of an entire season.

Types of futures bets

There are two main types of future bet that bettors should be aware of when they look at the futures betting markets. Those are team futures and player futures, which focus on teams and individuals depending on the market being wagered on. Here, we will look at some examples of each main futures betting type that bettors will see at their preferred sportsbook.

Team Futures

Team futures are by far the most popular form of futures sports betting. This type of future bet pertains to team performance with a focus on the full season. In NFL futures betting or NBA futures betting, bettors will often see team futures surrounding which team will win the championship at the end of the season or who will win each division in the league being bet on.

There are several other forms of team futures betting beyond those pertaining to championships. Bettors can wager on season win totals for each team going into the season, which are presented in the form of over/under bets going into each campaign. In popular leagues like the NFL and NBA, bettors can even wager on which teams will have the highest and lowest win totals at the completion of the regular season.

Player Futures

Those betting on futures can also get involved with player-specific futures bets that focus on individuals rather than team performance. Player futures most often deal with which players will win the individual awards in each sport. In NFL futures betting this means awards such as MVP, Offensive Player of the Year, and Defensive Player of the Year. In the case of NBA future bets, this means awards such as MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, and Sixth Man of the Year.

In addition to player-focused futures surrounding individual awards, most sportsbooks also offer futures betting on which players will finish at the top of various statistical categories in major sports leagues. This can mean anything from which player will lead the NFL in touchdown passes to which player will lead the NBA in scoring.

How to bet NFL futures

Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald (99) celebrates after defeating the Cincinnati Bengals during Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

NFL future bets are the most popular form of futures betting, as the NFL is the most widely wagered on league in the United States. Fortunately for football fans, placing a future bet on the NFL is just as easy to do as placing a single-game football bet, as sportsbooks have made that process very straightforward.

To place a futures bet on the NFL, bettors must navigate to the NFL section of their preferred sportsbook. The futures betting section is typically labeled Futures, or is broken into team and player futures sections, depending on the menu at the sportsbook being used. Once a bettor has navigated to the section featuring NFL futures, placing a bet is as easy as selecting a team or player within a futures market and selecting how much to risk on that bet.

The payout for a futures bet depends on how much a bettor wagers on their future and the odds for their selection. Futures whose odds begin with a plus sign signify the amount a bettor would win if they put $100 on that selection. Meanwhile, odds that begin with a minus sign show the amount a bettor would need to risk to win $100. Bettors do not need to wager on futures in $100 increments, as payouts will be adjusted proportionally based on the amount wagered.

There is, of course, much more to placing a futures bet in the NFL. Bettors should do the research necessary to feel confident in their future bet before locking it in. But once bettors have done their handicapping, placing a futures bet is as simple as finding the market they want to bet on and choosing what to risk on it.

Example of a futures bet

As an example of a future bet, we will look at the most popular form of futures betting: NFL Super Bowl futures. For the purposes of this example, let’s say that a team is at +1500 to win the Super Bowl. When betting on that team, a $100 bet would yield a profit of $1,500 if they did win the championship. If a bettor risked $20 on that team to win the Super Bowl, they would receive a $300 payout if their bet won.

What is theoretical hold?

When it comes to betting on futures, theoretical hold is the number that determines how much value there is in a futures betting market. Theoretical hold represents the percentage of money a sportsbook would keep on futures bets across the entire range of outcomes in a futures market. This percentage is calculated by determining the implied probability of each option in a futures bet, and using those probabilities to generate a hold percentage, as we will show you later in this guide.

The goal for bettors is to bet into markets with the lowest theoretical hold percentages possible. In futures betting, hold percentages tend to be much higher than in single-game markets, as there are so many more options to choose from. To combat that, bettors should be sure to shop around across multiple sportsbooks to find the futures odds with the lowest available hold percentage to maximize value.

How to calculate theoretical hold

Calculating theoretical hold when betting on futures is one of the most important skills a bettor can have when getting involved with futures. It might be more important than having the sports knowledge necessary to pick the winners themselves. This is because futures sports betting is more about finding value than single-game betting, given the larger hold percentages that bookmakers enjoy in futures markets.

To calculate theoretical hold in a futures market, bettors must first find the implied probability for each option on the board. To do this, bettors can plug the betting odds for each futures option into one of two formulas, depending on whether the odds are positive or negative. Those formulas are as follows.

Negative odds:

Betting odds / (Betting odds + 100) * 100 = implied probability

Positive odds:

100 / (Betting odds + 100) * 100 = implied probability

Alternatively, bettors can use one of the many odds converters that are available online to have this work done for them. However, it is beneficial to know how to do this to be a smarter all-around sports bettor.

Once a bettor has calculated the implied probability for each futures betting option, they can add all of those percentages together. Those percentages will add up to over 100%, and the higher over 100% they are, the higher the book’s hold percentage is. Bettors will want to wager on futures markets with the lowest available hold numbers, to maximize their value.

Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0) talks to guard Jaylen Brown (7) in the second half against the New Orleans Pelicans at the Smoothie King Center.
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Finding value in futures betting markets

Futures betting, just like single-game betting, is all about finding value. But the differences in value when placing a future bet can vary in a big way from one book to the next, even on the same player or team. As mentioned above, looking at the hold percentages for each bookmaker is important in determining which book has the best value in futures markets. But there are other ways to derive value from futures markets.

One such way is for bettors to keep a finger on the pulse of what is happening in the leagues they are interested in betting on. Free agency moves, trades, and injuries can all have huge impacts on the likelihood of teams and players to accomplish their goals each season. Being aware of those right away can give bettors a leg up on the books occasionally, which could mean huge value.

Having a great sense of timing is also important when trying to derive value in futures sports betting markets. Odds can change quickly based on the factors mentioned above, but wins and losses can also swing the odds for each team in a hurry. Locking in a bet before a big win can give bettors a more favorable price than they would get after a significant victory, and bettors who are willing to take advantage of those differences in timing can maximize their profits in a big way.

Can I parlay futures bets?

One of the most commonly asked questions from those betting on futures is “can you parlay future bets?” The answer to that question depends on the sportsbook that a bettor is using, as some books do allow futures parlays while others do not. Bettors can get the answer to this question at each bookmaker they use by attempting to put multiple futures into one betslip, at which point the sportsbook will either allow them to place a bet or put a notice on screen that a futures parlay is not possible.

At books that do allow for futures parlays, the upside of that option has an undeniable appeal. With many futures betting options coming in at plus prices, bettors can potentially earn huge payouts if their futures parlay hits. Of course, futures parlays are difficult to win, as bettors need multiple futures predictions to go their way, but the payouts are sometimes worth that extra risk.

Futures betting strategies

When it comes to futures sports betting strategies, the most important thing bettors must do is not over leverage themselves in these markets. While it can be appealing to back multiple teams within the same futures market, doing so opens bettors up to the potential to cut into their profits if they do win one of their selections. Bettors should calculate out their potential winnings for each selection ahead of time and make sure that their picks are worth the risk, knowing that it is possible for all of them to lose.

Another important strategic element to consider when betting on futures is to look for value beyond the favorites in each futures market. While a team may look like the best in their league by a wide margin, upsets happen all the time in sports. When they do happen, bettors will not want to fall victim to them while holding a ticket that did not carry much value to begin with. Instead, bettors should be willing to look further down the board where they think teams have better chances to win than their implied probability suggests.

How Elias Game Plan can help futures bettors

For bettors looking to give themselves the best chance to win futures wagers, Elias Game Plan can help. The app allows bettors to identify strengths and weaknesses for each team that could come into play later in the season, such as home and road splits that could help a team win a title or prevent them from doing so. Knowing those facts can help bettors make smarter futures wagers, or avoid futures bets that may not have such bright futures.