The Bettors’ Cost from Questionable NFL Officiating
Once PASPA was repealed in May 2018, a new layer of complexity was added to the sports world. Fans could be monetarily and emotionally invested in any given team. With this liberty comes increased scrutiny of officiating from the public. The rise of video reviews and challenges has helped ensure that pivotal calls are called correctly, but there are occasionally judgment calls that can’t be overturned. Whenever one of these judgment calls is made, it can end up costing bettors.
The NFL is the king of the sports world in America, averaging no less than 15 million in viewership during the regular season. This amount of popularity coincides with plenty of bettors wanting to get in on the action. The American Gaming Association estimates that over $250 billion has been bet with American sportsbooks since 2018. Needless to say, a lot of players have skin in the game.
When people start wagering on the outcome of sporting events, calls of foul play are soon to follow. Many fans have called the NFL “scripted,” a sentiment that the NFL has chosen to lean into, as they released their “script reading” video leading up to the 2023-2024 season.
Obviously, a professional sports league isn’t “scripted.” However, there are questionable calls that occur on a weekly basis that affect the bettor’s portfolio. We had a few of these instances in Week 7. Let’s start in Indianapolis.
NFL Week 7: Cleveland Browns @ Indianapolis Colts
The Browns have the ball on Indianapolis’ 13 yard line, 3rd and 4. Indianapolis is able to strip-sack P.J. Walker and recover the football. However, a questionable illegal contact call was made in the end zone against the Colts, which negated the turnover, and gave Cleveland a new set of downs on the IND 8. From here, another questionable call goes against the Colts. A defensive pass interference was called on a pass that could have been ruled uncatchable, moving the Browns up again to the IND 1, setting up Cleveland to score and eventually win the game, 39-38.
Colts fans were irate, but how did this affect the bettors? This call had no effect on the spread since Cleveland closed as a 3.5-point favorite, but moneyline bets went from winners to losers (and vice versa) with two throws of the penalty flag.
There were 2,157 Colts moneyline bets tracked on the Action app. These bettors all saw their tickets go down the drain within a span of minutes. I bet the 6,467 Browns moneyline bettors were thrilled though! There was a total of over $200,000 worth of bets tracked on the Action app for this game, and these flags had different implications for these bettors.
NFL Week 8: Jacksonville Jaguars @ Pittsburgh Steelers
Another instance was in Week 8. The Steelers were about to kick a field goal to end the half. Boswell’s kick goes up, and it’s good! Until Pittsburgh gets flagged for offensive offsides, they get pushed back 5 yards and then miss the ensuing field goal. This particular instance did not have an immediate impact on the full game spread, but there were plenty of bettors upset at the time. There were a total of 24.6k bets logged on the Action app for this game, and 13.5k of the picks were backing the Steelers. These bets totaled over $100,000 tracked on the Action app in favor of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
NFL Week 7: Pittsburgh Steelers @ Los Angeles Rams
There is one more instance where officiating swayed the score. The ruling in question is actually concerning the spot of the football in a Week 7 game between the Los Angeles Rams and the Pittsburgh Steelers. This time, the call went in the Steelers' favor. With just minutes left on the clock, the Steelers were faced with a 4th and 1. If Pittsburgh is able to get the first down here, the game gets put on ice and the Steelers lock in the win. Pittsburgh attempts the brotherly shove, and the officiating crew brings out the chain gang. It is revealed that Pittsburgh got the first down and they are able to kneel for the rest of the game. However, the call in question concerns the spot of the ball. Many Rams felt that the spot was incorrectly positioned in the Steelers' favor.
This call took away the Rams’ chance of coming back and tying the game or possibly even winning since it sealed the win for the Steelers. The Rams were a 3.5-point favorite, and there were nearly double the amount of bettors backing the Rams as the Steelers on the Action app. $190,000 worth of bets were on the Rams to either win outright or cover, while less than $70,000 worth of bets were on the Steelers. Would the Rams have made a comeback if the call was reversed? We will never know.
Sports Betting, Social Media, and Officiating
This current era of sports betting has heightened the critique of officials across the sport, and then some. Bettors tracked over $500,000 worth of bets in our Action Network App between these three games that all had questionable calls. This is a unique perspective that dominates social media, and it is not going anywhere anytime soon!