Did Bettors Like the New All-Star Game Format?

I am writing this column, as the game is in progress, so post-game reactions will not enter into my thinking. What I can tell you is how the new format has affected betting, and that is the main topic for today’s article.

Anyone who watched the All-Star Game last year can understand why baseball had to make some changes. It had become a meaningless game already and when the game was suddenly called because neither team had any pitchers left and thus ended in a 7-7 tie, the mid-summer tradition had hit an all-time low.

In a funny side-story, we had run a contest that had four lucky winners getting a $1000 match-play bet each on the moneyline of that game. When it ended in a tie, those bets were all settled as a Push and because match-play bets only let players keep the winnings, there were none. We decided to settle those bets as wins and have stopped offering match-play bonuses!

Anyways, the MLB marketing machine spent a large portion of the last 12 months trying to come up with some way to make the All-Star Game more interesting for fans. It was decided that the game needed to be made more important for the players so that there would be more reason for them to try and win and so the decision to award home field advantage for the World Series to the team that wins the All-Star Game was made. (1-0 now for the AL as Delgado gets an RBI. Hey, now that this game ‘matters’, will these stats count for these players’ season totals?).

We could debate for hours the merits of this decision, but I haven’t seen any sports writers talk about the merits of even making the decision. Who cares if the game is interesting or not? I cannot imagine that TV revenues for this one game are so potentially lucrative that baseball is bucking tradition for a few extra dollars. The NBA and NHL All-Star Games and NFL Pro Bowl have no competitive value and are in fact generally only showcases for offensive skills as the physical contact that is needed for effective defense is rarely displayed to anywhere near the same degree it is during the regular season or playoffs. Yet, nobody seems to be worried about those games.

My theory is that unlike the other sports, baseball’s All-Star Game can be even better then the regular season games because most of the game play is based on the skills of one player at a time. The team aspects (defensive positioning, where to be when the ball is in play, etc.) are so standard that any player can step into his regular position and be as effective as he would on his regular team. Thus it is the one All-Star Game among the 4 major sports that can be used as a vehicle to promote the game. (Now 5-1 as the NL has put up 5 in the top of the 5th).

In addition, the MLB All-Star Game has a virtual monopoly on the sports world at this time of year. Yes there were a couple of soccer games as the Gold Cup continues, a CFL game and a trio of WNBA games on the board, but does that really count as competition when compared to what the other major sports have to deal with? The NFL and NHL games were the same day this year and had to compete with a regular slate of NBA and College baskets. The NBA All-Star Game was the following weekend and had to compete with College hoops and NHL. (5-3 now after 6 as the AL chips away).

For the record, speaking on behalf of a sportsbook, I am happy to see this new wrinkle added as it certainly generated lots of press. Press creates hype, hype makes people watch and when people watch, they like to bet. The only thing I don’t like is having fans vote for the starting players. That was a previous attempt to win over fans that hasn’t worked so scrap it! Think about it.if I am a Yankees fan why would I ever vote in the best players to start for the NL? I would have a desire to see the AL win so I would be very careful in choosing my AL starters but would not care at all who starts for the NL. In fact, I would probably have some fun voting for players that I definitely didn’t think should start! Enough background and no more of my rants, lets talk about what bettors actually did. (6-3 as the NL got one back in the top of the 7th).

I expected a significant increase in handle over last year, but the results tonight have exceeded my expectations. Total action (on straight wagers) was up over 165% over the handle on the game last year. Runlines were bet 191% more (nearly triple!), moneylines 175% more and totals 143% more. Granted, not all of that growth was just because of the All-Star Game hype as baseball has been up about 95% over last year for us in general, but still that leaves 70% growth that can be attributed to hype. To put this in perspective, we booked more on this game than we did on the final Monday Night Football game of last NFL season! I didn’t think I would see that although you may recall that last MNF game was hampered because the 49ers had nothing to play for.

Action has been pretty typical with betting on the Favorite (the NL, opened at -109 and moved up steadily from there) and the Over (opened at 9.5o20 and crept up from there) so bettors are probably pretty happy with the current 6-5 score (the AL scored 1 in the bottom of the 7th and 1 more here in the 8th).

In addition proposition betting (prop betting for short) has been very strong. First player to hit a Home Run, most hits, most strikeouts, etc are always popular for TV games as they give bettors something to root for even if the game is out of reach. (This is actually a good game; the AL has just hit a 2-run Home Run to pull ahead. That makes 5 Home Runs, over a dozen strikeouts [editor’s note: total was 18 Ks], and 2 lead changes – good stuff!) If the AL holds on to win and an American League team wins the World Series, will Hank Blalock of the Texas Rangers get a ring for hitting the game-winning Home Run?

I am guessing the debate over the new format will live on well into October and beyond. (2-outs now in the top of the 9th.and that will do it. AL wins 7-6). Looks like the House came out ahead with wins on the moneyline and runline but bettors were right about the total. One last question – now that the home team AL has won and earned home field advantage for the World Series (in a year that was scheduled for the NL to host I might add) how do we decide whom gets home field advantage for the All-Star Game!?

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Good luck with your wagers!

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Rob Gillespie is President of Bodog Sportsbook & Casino