Sports Spread Betting: How does it work?

Understanding how sports spread betting works is simple once you get the hang of it

sports spread betting

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Sports spread betting is not something you can do at traditional bookmakers like Paddy Power but it is a means of placing wagers on your favourite sports.

Similar to financial spread betting, the aim of a spread bet is to accurately predict the numerical outcome of an event, and either back the spread or bet against it.

Spread betting on sports isn’t the easiest to get used to initially but does get simpler with experience.

Here, then, is a quick breakdown to how spread betting works in action…

What is spread betting?

sports spread betting football

Spread betting is a type of wager when you bet on sports, where you bet on something going on in the event, not the event itself. For example, you might bet on the total number of goals scored in a game between England and Germany, rather than betting on which team will win.

Sportsbooks that offer spread betting set a “spread” for each game. This spread is a prediction of how many times we will witness certain things in a match. This usually focuses on goals but can also include corners, cards, free kicks… anything that can be statistically collated.

As a bettor, you either bet on the spread or against it. You stand the chance of winning big money when spread betting but can also put a lot of cash at risk too.

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How spread betting works

Spread betting works by placing a wager on a numerical outcome in a game. For this example, we’ll use goals in a football match.

The spread setter will predict how many goals are likely to be scored. Say, for example, they estimate an England vs Germany match will yield between 3.3 and 3.6 goals. This is the spread.

Of course, you can’t actually have 3.3 or 3.6 goals, so in reality the spread is between 3 and 4.

If you think there will be 3 goals or fewer, you bet against the spread. This is also known as selling. If you think there will be 4 or more goals, you bet for the spread. This is also known as buying.

Say you opted to sell the spread with a £15 stake and England vs Germany finishes 0-0. You’ll have won the bet!

Calculating spread bet profits

Now, when it comes to your profits, calculating spread bets can be tricky but not impossible. When you sell on the spread, every goal fewer than the pre-game line increases your profit.

In our scenario, you opted to sell a £15 stake at 3.3. Here’s how the formula works:

  • Zero Goals = (3.3 – 0) x 15 = £49.50
  • 1 Goal = (3.3 – 1) x 15 = £34.50
  • 2 Goals = (3.3 – 2) x 15 = £19.50
  • 3 Goals = (3.3 – 3) x 15 = £4.50
  • 4 Goals = (3.3 – 4) x 15 = -£10.50

The game finished 0-0 which is the best result you can get because your profit is maxed out at £49.50. However, can you see what happens when more goals than the spread is scored? You begin to pay back more and more for each goal above the line. 

When you buy on the spread, every goal more than the pre-game line increases your profit, while every goal below it increases what you lose. Say you staked £15 on the spread at 3.6 in this game, here’s how your profit would be calculated:

  • Zero Goals = (0 – 3.6) x 15 = -£54
  • 1 Goal = (1 – 3.6) x 15 = -£39
  • 2 Goals = (2 – 3.6) x 15 = -£24
  • 3 Goals = (3 – 3.6) x 15 = -£9
  • 4 Goals = (4 – 3.6) x 15 = £6
  • 5 Goals = (5 – 3.6) x 15 = £21

As you can see here, you need the game to feature at least four goals to make profit, which makes sense because you backed the spread at 3.6. As it happens, England beat Germany 3-2 and you nail £21 profit. Well done.

Types of spread bets

sports spread betting NFL

Theoretically there’s an unlimited number of spread bets you could create for a sports event. From goals to runs, cards to aces, so long as you can count it you can create a spread for it.

However, here are the most common spreads that sportsbooks dealing with spread betting promote:

  • Dominant teams (football, ice hockey, baseball) – This is when you bet on how heavily a team may beat or lose to another team. In football.
  • Total points (NFL, rugby, cricket) – A great option for high-scoring sports, total points spreads are common in NFL betting where you’re wagering on touchdowns.
  • Total corners (football) – Football bettors can wager on the total number of corners in a game, just like you can in traditional football odds. It’s a simple stat that doesn’t require you to bank on either team doing well.

The risks of spread betting

The big issue with spread betting is risk. Your stake relates to each numerical point away from the spread. Obviously, if you bet £15 on the spread at 2.2 for total goals in a match and 10 are scored then you’re set to win £117 profit. But what if you bet against the spread here? You’d have lost £117.

Spread betting can spiral into big profits and losses if you’re not careful. Many players opt to use block mechanisms that close the bet if the spread gets too big either way, in order to avert risk.

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