Some sports have key figures that represent likely ways for one side or another to accumulate points. Football is the most bet on sport in the United States and the sport where key figures are most relevant. When oddsmakers attempt to set a spread (or line) that is going to get equal betting action on both side, they are going to set lines around those key figures.
In football, for example, you can score a field goal for three points and a touchdown for seven points. Thus, in football betting we will see many spreads where a team is a favorite by 3, 7, 10, and 14 points (one field goal, one touch down, a touchdown plus a field goal, and two touchdowns).
Experts disagree about basketball’s key figures, but many say they are 1, 3, 5, and 7. Data nerds determine (and argue about!) basketball’s key figures by assessing the most common point gaps at the end of the game. They also consider the prevalence of three-point shots and fouls at near the end of a close basketball game
It’s not common to use key figure in sports other than football and basketball. There absolutely are resources to analyze possible key figures in baseball, hockey, and soccer. However, because they are such low scoring sports, it’s not helpful for most bettors to think about key figures in those sports.
Moving Off of a Key Figure
Shifting the spread or moving the line is both art and science. Most often, the bookmaker starts the line within a point or two of where they needed to be to get equal action. They move the spread for a particular game only a half point at a time typically; for example, from Team Blue -3 to Team Blue -3.5.
It’s a notable event in sports when oddsmakers move the line off of a key figure. We might think of that type of action as an option of last resort. If they take a football spread from 3 to 3.5, we can interpret that oddsmakers are very uncomfortable with the current betting action and they are taking a dramatic step to balance out the betting action. Experts in the sports betting world pay close attention to the key figures and how the line moves around those figures.
The value of half points is sport specific. In some sports, such as basketball, a team may score three points quickly and easily so half points are not critical. In football, however, scoring a field goal (three points) or a touchdown (seven points) is a feat!
When the line in our example moves from Team Blue -3 to Team Blue -3.5 the bet changes substantially. In the first bet, you are saying that Team Blue will win by more than one field goal. In the second bet, you are saying that Team Blue will win by more than two field goals or a touchdown. That small-seeming half point implies a much larger victory for Team Blue and is, therefore, a much larger bet.