Football fans, who normally push the NFL preseason away like a clingy leper, are welcoming the warmup games with open arms after the lockout threatened the entire 2011 season this summer.
Football fever is spreading across North America ever since the players and owners kissed and made up. It seems everyone is thinking about the NFL, be it casual fans, fantasy heads, or the sports betting community, which breathed a huge sigh of relief when the lockout ended last month.
“Human mentality is that once you realize you could lose something, you appreciate it more and you notice it more,” says Tony Williams, sportsbook manager for 5Dimes.com. “The same can be said for relationships and football.
“A lot of guys have a better relationship with the NFL than they do with any girlfriend. The NFL has always been there. For most guys, women come and go throughout their life. But the NFL has always been there.”
Williams admits he’s feeling giddy about the new NFL schedule, but that frenzied interest hasn’t translated into a bigger handle for sportsbooks over the first two days of preseason action.
Some blame the lack of television coverage for the tuneup games while others, like MGM Mirage sportsbook manager Jeff Stoneback, believe the short offseason and abbreviated training camps are keeping bettors from wagering on the unknown.
Stoneback says the ignited interest in the NFL is bringing in record crowds to watch the preseason tilts, but few of those fans are placing bets. Most handicappers are intently studying the preseason schedule, in preparation for the regular season grind.
“I would guess (the handle) would be similar to previous preseasons. Maybe even down a little bit,” says Stoneback. “People are really interested in the preseason this year, but as a fan myself, I don’t really care to watch the games.”
Neither offshore or Las Vegas books expect a larger handle come Week 1 of the regular season, with Vegas spots bracing for a little slower opening week than usual this time around. Stoneback predicts that many of the vacationers that plan their trips to Sin City for Week 1 every September didn’t book a ticket this year with the season up in the air for so long.
As for those NFL bettors who are braving the preseason odds, the most popular team over the Thursday and Friday slates was the Washington Redskins, who downed the Pittsburgh Steelers 16-7 as 2.5-point home favorites Friday. Underdogs have also been at the top of most bettors’ menu, with the books needing four of the five favorites to cover in Thursday's games.