James Murphy of sportsinsider.com talked to TVGrapevine about betting on television shows, such as this season on Project Runway.
Tell me a bit about what you do in the betting world.
I’m the oddsmaker for Sports Insider (www.sportsinsider.com). I come up with all of the odds posted on the site. I also do handicapping and analysis of sports and cover the news from the sports betting industry.
I’ve pretty much done everything possible in sports betting. I’ve done extensive writing, contributed to weekly newsletters, done a nightly radio show in Las Vegas, been a paid sports handicapper, consulted with sports books and been a professional bettor.
What got you interested in betting on things in the entertainment world/TV?
When online betting first started to become popular in the 1990s, sportsbooks were posting odds on popular TV shows like ‘Survivor’ and ‘The Sopranos’. I found them interesting and started to wonder if they were something I could handicap successfully and bet on properly. Turns out that bookmakers didn’t always have a very ‘sharp’ line on these non-sports prop bets. When they do odds in sports they’ve got exhaustive statistical databases to draw from. When they do TV shows or similar events they don’t have those statistical resources.
I started to get a reputation for being very good at handicapping these ‘novelty’ prop bets. I had some friends that worked at various sportsbooks and they asked me to consult on some of the odds they were posting. I’ve been interested in it ever since. As far as my current work with Sports Insider they offered me the opportunity to make odds on everything imaginable and I couldn’t pass it up.
How do you come up with your odds?
Ultimately, it’s all probability and math. This is true for anything—football, horse racing, TV shows, whatever. I try to assess the probability of something happening and then attach a betting line to it. In sports, I use mostly statistical analysis. For a TV show, it’s mostly research combined with a bit of intuition.
On a show like Project Runway, how do you place your bets/odds without knowing about the contestants?
You can find out a lot about the contestants on a show like ‘Project Runway’ just by doing a Google search. They’re all aspiring designers so they’ve invariably done some fashion related work in their hometowns. You can get a good idea of their experience, their aesthetic and to some extent their personalities.
There’s also the ability to understand what reality show producers think makes for ‘good television’. The worst thing to be on a show like ‘Project Runway’ is an unassuming but talented designer that shows up, doesn’t make a fuss and works hard. Talent is definitely one component but reality TV in general always gravitates toward contestants with ‘big personalities’. It’s important to remember that the ‘show’ part of the equation is significantly more important than the ‘reality’ part.
The same general concept applies to any reality show. For a show that doesn’t necessarily involve a talent—something like ‘Survivor’ or ‘Big Brother’–I apply a similar process. I try to get a feel for each contestant’s personality. I then look at contestants that have been successful in the past and try to extrapolate from that. Most shows have a ‘profile’ you can develop on a winning contestant.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
Definitely the research and the necessity of keeping up with so many different topics. In sports betting, you can get all of the information you need aggregated into a few sources. That’s not possible when you’re trying to handicap pro wrestling, reality TV, political races, chess tournaments, etc . Plus unlike sports there’s not a seasonal ebb and flow—there’s something going on all the time.
What is the most exciting part about what you do?
Overall, it’s a blast. It’s always something different and it’s fun to challenge myself to come up with odds on topics that no one else sets odds on. There’s a creative component to it that you just don’t get when you handicap or set odds on sports. Plus I get to work with great people and get media coverage in a wide range of outlets ranging from the Wall Street Journal to Dance.com.
Anything else you can tell us about placing odds/betting?
The most important thing about betting on anything—sports, horses, ‘Project Runway’–is to learn as much as you can about how odds are made and what they represent. Understanding the math behind them is also crucial. Learn to use these tools to find good value betting opportunities and you’ll be successful no matter what sport or TV show you’re betting on.