It pays to bet against your favourite, new study shows

Watching Sport

Researchers have found a way to increase the odds of feeling happy after a watching a sporting contest – don’t bet on your favourite.

Betting on England to win matches at the 2018 World Cup made supporters no happier when their team won, experts from Warwick Business School and Oxford University found.

However, betting on England did result in a larger drop in happiness when they lost.

In contrast, those who bet on England’s opponents were equally happy when England won and were less likely to feel as unhappy when they lost.

The results suggest it pays to bet against your favourite, at least when it comes to feeling happy.

Punters spent an estimated €136billion betting on the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.

Co-author Lajos Kossuth, from Warwick Business School, said: “Betting on our favourites may not be the optimal strategy in terms of happiness, even when we get the result we wanted.

“We found little evidence of any emotional benefit for England supporters betting on their team, even when England went on to win.

“However, hedging our bets by backing the opposing team does work as a form of ‘emotional insurance’ against the disappointment that results from a defeat.”

The study has been published by the IZA Institute of Labor Economics in the paper, Does it pay to bet on your favourite to win?

Researchers gave England fans £3 each before the team’s matches at last year’s football World Cup. Some were given a free choice whether to back England, their opponents, or keep the money. Others were forced to bet the money for or against an England victory.

Each fan was told to record their anticipated and actual happiness before and after the match.

Despite the results suggesting that fans should be against their team, most fans considered that “disloyal” and refused to do so, researchers found.

Nick Powdthavee, Professor of Behavioural Science at Warwick Business School and co-author of the study, said: “Many fans overestimate how bad they would feel if they bet against their team.

“They would rather stay loyal to their team than betray their social identity by hedging their bets, even if that might save them a lot of heartache in the long term.”