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How to Bet on Futures

Do you have a knack for spotting sleeper teams before most of the general public catches on to them? Have you had decent success predicting how a season will turn out? Can you sift through the noise and spot overhyped players?

If you’ve answered yes to one or more of those questions, then the sports betting futures market may be for you. Futures bets are wagers you can place on something that has yet to happen, such as the winner of a league championship or an individual player award.

They’re the sports betting equivalent of a long-term play, and the market is quite active. You can get involved at pretty much anytime, and it doesn’t take all that much to get started.

We’re going to show you how. Read on.

What’s a futures bet?

A futures bet is a wager that can be placed on a result yet to be determined at a later date. It’s a popular betting market that offers up a wide range of opportunities for many different sports.

For team-based sports, you can place bets on things such as the winners of the season-ending championships, individual divisions and conferences, which teams will make the playoffs and season win totals for each squad.

Futures are also offered for major individual sports. For example, markets for golf’s major tournaments are quite popular, as are futures for the tennis Grand Slam or NASCAR’s Daytona 500.

The futures market will list odds for all of those who are in contention to win, typically in descending order with favorites up top and longshots on the bottom. When it’s a futures bet that revolves around a season win total, it’s presented in a format just like a totals or Over/Under.

When odds are first released for a futures market, there’s typically a flurry of activity that can lead the odds to shift. Futures bettors comb the market for opportunities from the initial release and throughout the season to spot appealing opportunities.

Since many odds offered are of the positive variety, there’s the chance for some attractive returns from betting on futures. However, it’s important to remember the wagers require a long-range view, so you should only be betting capital you are comfortable having tied up for a while.

In addition to the betting aspect, the futures market also serves as an outstanding research tool. A glance at the odds board in advance of a season or major event can give you some valuable insight into how the market views the ultimate hierarchy of teams and players.

Futures betting examples

If we take a big-picture view of the futures betting market, we can break it down into five major categories. Let’s take a look at an example for each.

Perhaps the most active futures bets revolve around the winners of the various league championships. You’ll find them offered for all of the major sports with odds listed for all teams in contention.

Here’s what the board looks like for the favorites to win the next College Football Playoff National Championship:

  • Clemson +175
  • Ohio State +400
  • Alabama +700
  • Georgia +1000
  • LSU +1600

The odds board will work its way down from favorites to mid-tier selections to longshots. For futures bettors, the ultimate goal is to nail which team will win and to get that bet at the most attractive price possible.

Next, let’s consider a futures market with just a handful of choices, such as which squad will win the NFL’s AFC East next season:

  • Buffalo Bills +120
  • New England Patriots +120
  • New York Jets +750
  • Miami Dolphins +950

For each of the major team sports, you’ll find futures for all of the individual conferences and divisions, as well as on which teams will make the playoffs.

Drilling down even further, you can find futures for how each team will perform in terms of win totals for the upcoming season. Sticking with betting the NFL, let’s see what the oddsmakers have to say about the prospects of the Indianapolis Colts for next season.

  • Over 8.5 -160
  • Under 8.5 +135

As you can see by the odds, the Over 8.5 wins has been the more popular of the two choices. Naturally, futures bettors need to do their due diligence and figure out which of the two outcomes they think is more likely.

For the big team sports, you can also place your wagers on the individual season-ending player awards. Here are the current favorites to win the next college football Heisman Trophy:

  • Justin Fields +175
  • Trevor Lawrence +320
  • Spencer Rattler +1200
  • D’Eriq King +1400
  • Travis Etienne +1600

For all futures markets, those with a good eye for sleeper selections could be in line to make some outstanding profits.

Last but not least, there’s big interest in futures for individual sports, especially for the biggest events on the docket. Here’s what the favorites look like for the next edition of golf’s Masters Tournament:

  • Rory McIlroy +600
  • Jon Rahm +1100
  • Brooks Koepka +1200
  • Tiger Woods +1200
  • Dustin Johnson +1400

Bettors who can spot dark horse contenders others haven’t caught onto will be able to get them at very attractive prices.

Best sports for futures betting

When it comes to futures betting, the more active the market, the better. Thankfully, virtually all of the major sports attract a solid amount of action.

Let’s take a look at the biggest highlights for each market.

NFL futures betting

  • Super Bowl winner
  • Conference and division winners
  • Playoff teams
  • Team win totals
  • Individual player awards
  • NFL Draft

NBA futures betting

  • NBA Finals winner
  • Conference and division winners
  • Playoff teams
  • Team win totals
  • Individual player awards
  • NBA Draft

MLB futures betting

  • World Series winner
  • League and division winners
  • Playoff teams
  • Team win totals
  • Individual player awards

NHL futures betting

  • Stanley Cup winner
  • Conference and division winners
  • Playoff teams
  • Team win totals
  • Individual player awards
  • NHL Draft

College football futures betting

  • National championship winner
  • Conference and division winners
  • Playoff teams
  • Team win totals
  • Individual player awards

College basketball futures betting

  • National championship winner
  • Conference and division winners
  • Teams to make the Final Four
  • Team win totals
  • Individual player awards

Golf futures betting

  • PGA Championship
  • Masters Tournament
  • British Open
  • US Open

Tennis futures betting

  • Australian Open
  • Wimbledon
  • French Open
  • US Open

Futures market odds and movement

As with other forms of sports betting, the odds don’t stay stationary in the futures market. Sportsbooks will release their opening lines, and then the betting public gets its chance to weigh in. If a good amount of action comes in, that can lead to some movement.

Let’s consider a hypothetical example using the Colts‘ season win total. Upon release, they looked something like this:

  • Over 8.5 -110
  • Under 8.5 -110

When the initial numbers are released, oddsmakers will offer the same price on both sides, just like you would see in a spread or total bet.

As with those two markets, more action can come in on one side or the other. When that happens, the odds are likely to move as the books try to level out the action.

  • Over 8.5 -160
  • Under 8.5 +135

For spreads and totals, the movements are generally small and just a few ticks. As you can see in our futures example, the swing is a bit more dramatic. We can interpret this to mean a good amount of money has come in on the Colts for Over 8.5 wins.

Those who are now looking to choose the Under will get a much more attractive price. However, it’s important to remember that plus odds shouldn’t be the lone source of motivation. If you like the Under, then by all means go for it, but don’t shy away from the Over if that’s what you think the result will be.

For another example, let’s consider a futures bet with multiple choices, such as the winner of the NBA Finals. Let’s say that it’s about a month into the season. Here’s what the odds might look like for the three favorites:

  • Milwaukee Bucks +300
  • Los Angeles Lakers +320
  • Los Angeles Clippers +400

As the season moves along, the odds can move based on the action. A few months later, you may see odds that resemble something like this:

  • Milwaukee Bucks +240
  • Los Angeles Lakers +280
  • Los Angeles Clippers +320

When betting on futures, the general idea is to get your selections at the most appealing prices possible. That could be upon the initial release of lines, or it could happen later depending on market action.

For some futures bettors, it’s a ‘set it and forget it’ mentality in which they make their choices upon the initial release and take a long-term view. Other handicappers take a more active approach and continually scour the market for opportunities.

There’s no right or wrong answer on which way to go, as it’s all about the approach that works best for your strategy.

Handicapping futures bets

While there are several different choices for team-based futures, the handicapping approach draws off of similar things. Here are some of the areas you’ll want to dig into before placing your bets:

  • Team performance from the previous season
  • Offseason activity such as any coaching or personnel changes
  • How they stack up with their division, conference and league as a whole
  • Review schedule and look for potential trouble spots
  • Does the arrow seem to be pointing up or down

For the last item on the list, it’s a good idea to go beyond the consensus and draw your conclusions. Teams can improve on paper in the offseason, and those that make lots of moves can easily become the proverbial preseason darlings.

Sometimes they live up to expectations, but other times not. It’s up to you to mull it over and draw out your gut feelings. The same applies to the teams that project to be also-rans.

While many squads deserve to be in that category, others may be sleepers others aren’t catching on to.

Among the things to watch out for on this front are teams that closed on a high note last season without necessarily making the playoffs, or teams showing signs they just may be ready to gel while having continuity on the coaching staff.

For individual sports, the biggest drivers are the major events and tournaments. As you look to handicap these markets, keep these in mind:

  • What the odds board is telling you in terms of favorites, mid-range and longshots
  • Historical results from the event
  • Most recent winners of the event and high finishers
  • Historical performance for the athlete at the event and recent play
  • Ancillary factors such as venue changes or weather concerns

When examining the individual events, it can be helpful to begin by making a list of those you are interested in for each price point. Once you have the field cut down substantially, you’ll be able to better focus your research efforts.

Key takeaways on futures betting

As the legal and regulated sports betting industry continues to grow, interest in futures betting is surging right along with it.

There are many popular markets to choose from for both team and individual sports. For the former, league champions and team win totals are among the bets that get plenty of attention.

On the individual sports, the most attention is given to the biggest events, such as The Masters or the United States Open Tennis Championships.

After the initial release of odds by sportsbooks, there can be some movement based on market action. Some futures bettors aim to get in early and take a long-term view, while others monitor the futures market constantly for appealing opportunities.

Handicapping for team futures requires a different approach than one would take for individual games. As opposed to just trying to figure out what happens the next time teams square off, futures require an assessment of the season as a whole.

Futures betting can be research-intensive, but it also can prove to be quite fruitful and well worth the effort.