Freedman: How I Think About Closing Line Value in Sports Betting

Freedman: How I Think About Closing Line Value in Sports Betting article feature image

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  • Closing line value is an important way for sports bettors to measure performance.
  • Matthew Freedman breaks down his thoughts on closing line value and how he accounts for it as a sports bettor and analyst.

We have a couple of pieces at The Action Network on the importance of closing line value (CLV). If you want to be a winning sports bettor over the long term, it's important, for instance, to bet at +110 a line that eventually closes at -110.

Because markets generally become more efficient as they mature, you can use closing lines to evaluate your process.

  • Did you bet at +3.5 a line that closed at +2.5?
  • Did you bet over 47.5 a line that closed at 50.0?
  • Did you bet -110 on a line that closed at -150?

If so, you're beating the market, and that tends to translate into sports-betting success.

As bizarre as this sounds, if you win a bet but have negative CLV, it probably wasn't a good bet. It's almost never a good sign when the market moves against you. Contrarily, if you lose a bet but have positive value on the closing line, you likely made a sharp play.

But what if you write for a sports media company, break down your plays in articles, post them in the best sports app in the universe and then get CLV? (And when I say "you," I'm talking about myself.)

What does it mean when I, Matthew Freedman, get closing line value?

This is the 181st installment of "The Labyrinthian" series. Consult the introductory piece to the series for further explanation.

Freedman: Sports Bettor vs. Sports Analyst

As a sports bettor, I need to think about the impact my job as a sports analyst and writer has on how I evaluate my wagering performance.

As I write this (June 3, 4 p.m. ET), I am undeniably hot.

  1. Literally. My air conditioner is broken. It's scheduled to be fixed in a couple of days.
  2. Physically. I've lost 10 pounds over the past 10 days. I call it the "My wife is out of town, so there's no one to make food for me, so I forget to eat and I'm sitting in a hot house sweating out all my water weight" diet. Daddy's getting his beach body back, baby.
  3. Financially. On postseason NHL player props, I am crushing. I'm currently 80-37-6 (+36.01) for the playoffs and 18-7-4 (+9.12) on the Stanley Cup Finals in particular.

On my NHL player props, I've been getting CLV like no one's business — but what does that mean?

A couple of days ago, I got this message from fellow Action Network analyst Bryan Mears.

Think you’re moving NHL props markets
Tried to get in 45 min before game, and all of yours had moved

Am I actually moving markets?

How should I evaluate the CLV that I get?

Freedman: Am I Actually Sharp?

I'm very open about the fact that before 2018 I didn't regularly bet or research sports outside of football. I was basically a fantasy football editor and writer.

But last year I took it upon myself to learn about sports betting and sports outside of football in a hands-on, skin-in-the-game fashion. And I had success, especially with prop betting. (Sadly, I was successful enough to see my limits severely cut at most of my books.)

With this experience, I decided to focus on prop bets in content this year, and although it feels weird to think of myself as a sharp bettor, I'm pleased with my 2019 record to date: 865-635-48, +140.02 units.

  • NFL: 21-13-0, +11.72 Units
  • NBA: 411-310-7, +46.39 Units
  • NHL: 146-117-13, +28.44 Units
  • MLB: 54-57-14, -9.07 Units
  • Golf: 12-15-2, -0.70 Units
  • NASCAR: 12-18-0, -5.42 Units
  • NCAAB: 125-70-12, +38.82 Units
  • NCAAF: 0-1-0, -1.00 Units
  • Exotic: 79-34-0, +28.50 Units
  • Horse Racing: 4-0-0, +2.19 Units

Early in 2019, I wasn't sharp on hockey, but since I started making my own projections for the playoffs, I've been very successful.

And at least one book has noticed.

For at least the past couple of Stanley Cup Finals games, one book has shifted lines five cents in my direction about a minute after I have entered my bets.

Maybe they were simply adjusting in response to the money I invested. But to be honest, I didn't have that much action down — because this book has already reduced my limits.

Seriously: This book will remain nameless, but when I was destroying March Madness player props, the oddsmakers took my NCAA limits down to one dollar.

That's right: $1.

Just so they could continue to say publicly that they've never banned anyone.

So I'm not betting a lot on NHL player props — but I'm winning. When the book moves the line after I bet a hockey prop, it's not reacting to my money. It's reacting to me.

Which means that I'm stuck in a CLV feedback loop.

When I bet a hockey prop, the book moves the line because it thinks I'm sharp because I've recently won just over 65.0% of my hockey bets.

And then in turn I get CLV, because the book thinks I'm sharp.

But that CLV feels arbitrary and maybe unrepresentative of real CLV.

Just because I've been profitable in the past doesn't mean that I will be in the future: I fully admit that I'm still learning about sports betting and non-football sports.

So even though some books are now treating me as if I'm sharp, I'm very resistant to that notion.

And as for the CLV they give me in reaction to my action, I probably need to discount it.

Freedman: Are You Betting the Plays I Write About?

In addition to the CLV the books push in my direction, there's the CLV I get because people are betting the props I write about.

Does it make sense for people to tail me?

For player props, probably. We have great tools at FantasyLabs.

I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about and researching player performance.

And I've done well with player props over thousands of bets.

And in my articles, I always highlight the point at which I think a prop ceases to offer value, so it's not as if I'm blindly encouraging people to bet on a line regardless of where it moves.

I'm always cognizant of and trying to highlight value.

Plus, I encourage people to do their own research — that's how you learn — but I think it makes sense for subscribers of The Action Network to tail me on player props if they're satisfied with my process and analysis.

But when it comes to the CLV that I get because people who follow me bet into the lines I've already hit, I need to be cautious. Even if the bettors tailing me have done their research and are on the sharp side of the props, the CLV I get from them is at least partially artificial.

What Does Closing Line Value Mean?

So for someone like me — someone who gets CLV thrown his way from sportsbooks and followers — what does CLV really mean?

I don't want to say it's useless. I probably still capture some natural CLV simply by having my projections ready to go, focusing on value and betting on props as quickly as I can once they are posted. CLV still means something.

But it should probably be secondary to my overall process.

As 2019 progresses, how will I know if I'm doing well as a sports bettor?

I'll know I'm doing well if I consistently have my projections ready to go before lines are posted, that way I can bet proactively instead of reactively.

I'll know I'm doing well if I regularly bet on lines shortly after they are released. Even if some of my CLV is artificial, at least I will still be doing what sharp CLV-minded bettors do: Hit soft openers.

I'll know I'm doing well if I'm able to anticipate the numbers where lines will open. If I understand the market, I'll have a better chance of beating it.

And, maybe, I'll know I'm doing well if people are still betting what I bet — because if I'm not winning, they're not likely to tail me. 

Of course, if people are tailing me, that will result in excess CLV.

So I guess CLV might have more significance for me than I've realized.

Matthew Freedman is the Editor-in-Chief of FantasyLabs. He has a dog and sometimes a British accent. In Cedar Rapids, Iowa, he’s known only as The Labyrinthian.

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