Football betting lines – how to read them correctly

Have you ever come across the term ‘football betting lines’? Are you wondering how to read football betting lines right now? Assuming the answer is yes to at least one of these questions, your knowledge will be significantly enhanced on what is often a confusing subject right here. Of course, this relates directly to football betting with online bookmakers, as these are the platforms on which you typically find football betting lines. However, the explanation I'm about to provide also relates to football betting lines in physical sportsbooks as well. So, either way, this breakdown of how to read football betting lines should give you something beneficial.

How to read football betting lines

As you have probably gathered, the angle here will be about correctly reading these lines. After all, football betting lines are more complex than just standard betting markets. They have a few intricate details that you must understand and familiarize yourself with if you are to maximize the potential of exploring these markets. 

So – ready to expand your knowledge on this subject? Let’s get started.

How to read football betting lines – the presentation of such markets 

First and foremost, I should probably clarify what a football betting line actually is. So, to get straight to it, a football betting line is typically a fixed number the betting site uses to handicap an individual event – or use it as a marker for a specific market. With that said, handicap options are more commonly referred to in conjunction with football betting lines. 

Anyway, as I'm sure you know, in football, as is the case in any sport, there is always one team who is favored to win by the bookmakers. This is where you get the disparity in odds concerning the 1 vs 2 market. However, if one team is heavily favored over another, many punters choose not to bet on the 1×2 outcomes as the possible return just isn’t worth it.

Instead, they explore the handicap market, which brings us to football betting lines and how they are presented. Let's say that Manchester City is playing a team from League One in a cup game. It goes without saying that Manchester City would be heavily favored to beat their League One opponents. So in the handicap markets, a betting site might give Manchester City a -2.5 handicap, meaning they must win by 3 or more goals for this bet to win. Note that the ‘-’ part indicates the favorite.

In contrast, the League One team may be given a +2.5 handicap, meaning if they lose by two or fewer goals, or win, this market would be the winner instead. Once again, the ‘+’ symbol is important, as this highlights the underdog.

Football betting lines how to read – the different elements to understand

Following the brief overview above, I hope you now have a reasonable idea of how to read football betting lines from an overall perspective. Yet the handicap example in the previous section simply describes the most typical application of football betting lines. It doesn't, however, cover a few other important elements, which I would like to dive into now to ensure that we have all bases covered.

The presentation of the odds

If you are experienced with football betting, you probably know that there are various ways in which the odds can be shown. But if you are relatively new to football betting, or maybe you tend to stick with one type of odds presentation, the way in which the odds are shown might stump you. So on that note, let me give you the three main options seen at online betting sites:

  • Decimal – 3.00
  • Fractional – 2/1
  • American – +200

The three options shown here all display the same ‘implied probability’ of 33.30%. Yet as you can see, each of the odds is stated in a different manner. Now, most betting sites will allow you to change how the odds are displayed. But if not, it’s important to get to grips with each of these presentations. 

The market the line applies to

I've used a handicap example above, but this isn't the only form of football betting line you will find with online bookmakers. Of course, the handicap applied to the overall match outcome is important, yet this is one of the more basic options out there. And if you start to dive deeper into the listed markets at any of the top betting sites, you'll find a range of other options on the table. 

For example, you might find a ‘line’ that relates to the total goals scored, number of cards, goals scored in each half, number of corners, and more. Each of these markets uses a fixed line/number to provide a betting market. Yet, while they are all a little different, they are usually self-explanatory.

The possible return on your bet

Last but not least, you have to understand the possible return on your bet. This is critical regarding how to read football betting lines, and it should be one of the most important things you assess before pulling the trigger. So finally, using the previous examples, let me show you what the outcome would be if you wagered £10 on the market in question:

  • £10 stake x 3.00 odds – £30 return

Of course, the same calculation can be performed no matter how the odds are displayed. Yet remember, you need to subtract the initial stake from the overall return to determine the ‘profit’ from the wager. So in this instance, the profit would be £20.

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Gavin Davison

Gavin is a full-time copywriter based in the UK and has developed in-depth knowledge of the igaming world by working in the betting industry for over five years. During this time, he has written thousands of articles covering various topics, including bookmaker reviews, ‘how to’ guides, bonus comparisons and much more.