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Do People Bet on Popular Teams Even When They Suck?

Scott Morris | July 16, 2021

There are plenty of bettors that place wagers because it’s fun, but the majority of bettors would rather win bets than lose. That means they have to find winners and oftentimes picking betting winners is unrelated to a team’s success on the field or court.

That brings us to our question. Does a popular team – say the Dallas Cowboys – still get a lot of betting action even when they aren’t very good? Take the 2020 NFL season as an example. The Cowboys lost starting QB Dak Prescott in Week 5 and their season essentially tanked as they finished 6-10 and out of the playoff race. So, did bettors shy away from the Cowboys?

Not America’s Team?

If you think the team receiving the most bets in Texas in 2020 was the Dallas Cowboys, you’d be wrong. In fact, the most-bet team in Texas in 2020 wasn’t even from Texas. It was the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers, of course, are the most popular NBA team to bet on. In a total of 12 different states, the Lakers were the team that received the most action.

Last season, the most popular NFL team to bet on was the Kansas City Chiefs. That’s not surprising as they had won the Super Bowl the year before and have arguably the most entertaining offense in the NFL. Right behind Kansas City was New England, even without Tom Brady. Dallas was nowhere near the Top 5.

For bettors that like to win, the team to bet on during the 2020 NFL regular season was the Miami Dolphins. At one point in the season, the Miami Dolphins were 11-3 ATS in 2020. A $100 bettor would have been up over $700 through the first 14 weeks of the season betting on Miami. The Dolphins would go on to finish 10-6 SU for the season and miss the playoffs. 

Not only did Dallas finish 6-10 SU last season, they were also not very good to bettors. The Cowboys went 5-11 ATS in 2020. Do popular teams still receive a lot of betting action when they aren’t good? Well, the Cowboys sure didn’t in 2020. That might continue in 2021. Dallas plays the NFL opener on Sept. 9 against defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay. The Bucs are 6.5-point favorites and 70 percent of the money already wagered is on Tampa Bay.

Popularity Contest

It’s not just football where bettors tend to prefer winners. The Lakers, Bucks, and 76ers were the most popular bets in 2020 NBA action. L.A. went on to win the NBA title that season and the Bucks had the league’s best regular season record. Does that mean bettors shy away from teams that suck?

Not necessarily. The New York Yankees haven’t been to a World Series in over a decade, yet they are still the most popular bet when it comes to MLB teams. The Yankees finished second in the AL East last season and currently in 2021 are fourth but still command some serious betting action. The Astros, Dodgers, Nationals, and Phillies were in the Top 5 for 2020. Washington finished in last place in the NL East at 26-34. 


Despite the Nationals not being very good, they were still among the Top 5 most-bet teams in 2020. That may have had something to do with the fact that they had the fourth-highest Over percentage (56.1) in MLB. 

The NHL was similar in that the top four most bet teams in 2020 – Boston, Washington, Tampa Bay, and Pittsburgh – all had winning records and finished in the top three in their division. The Bruins led all NHL teams with 44 wins and 100 points in the coronavirus-shortened 2020 regular season while the Lightning went on to win the Stanley Cup. Tampa Bay is still one of the more popular NHL bets and won their second consecutive Stanley Cup earlier this summer.

Bottom Line

To answer the question, “Do popular teams receive a lot of betting action even they such?” the answer is simply yes and no. It really depends upon the team. The Lakers are so popular around the U.S. that they took in a good amount of action even before LeBron James showed up

In 2011, the Cowboys were among the top two or three teams in the NFL that received the most betting action. That, of course, has changed since Dallas has not been able to consistently win and play for Super Bowls. Some popular teams will always command betting action. Others simply will not.


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