Is the NFL Rigged? – The Harsh Realities of Football

Ever since sports betting became legal across the United States, more and more people have been complaining that sports, especially the NFL, is rigged.

While that theory may make sense to a lot of people, the simple fact of the matter is that more and more people have access to sports betting, especially those who are men under the age of 35.

Those who simply enjoyed the game are now attempting to figure out why they aren’t winning money betting on the game they know and love when the reality is that they probably aren’t good enough to beat Las Vegas in the long run.

In fact, very few people are able to beat the house, which made 5.1% on every sports bet on average in Vegas in 2022.

If sports were rigged in any way, that percentage would be much, much higher and become more apparent throughout the years, especially when we are talking about highly-visible games like the playoffs.

We’re going to lay out the facts and explain to you why thinking the NFL is rigged is just silly and why people are beginning to think that way. We’ll use accurate data and talk about all your favorite conspiracy theories.

metlife stadium
Image: New York Jets

What are the Conspiracy Theories?

Let us go over some of the most popular conspiracy theories about why the NFL is rigged and explain why they’re not true.

1. They’re Paying the Referees

The NFL referees are getting paid a lot of money for a job they’ve worked their entire life to achieve.

The public shame and humiliation of being the next Tim Donaghy would just be too much to bear and the risk is simply not worth it.

The last estimates have the average referee pocketing $205,000 a year with some top officials earning upwards of $250,000 annually.

On top of that, getting to officiate the big game will net a referee an additional $30,000 to $50,000 according to most estimates.

nfl officials
Image: NFL Football Operations

Because of past incidents where officials have been approached by questionable people to change a score or a stat line, Ex-NFL VP of officiating Dean Blandino has revealed that the NFL is constantly checking the financial records of NFL referees and those close to them.

They are also monitoring close calls and whether or not they have an impact on various betting lines. The NFL knows whether there has been a massive bet placed on an unusual outcome and pay close attention.

There are so many safeguards in place to protect their $163B product that there’s no way they’re going to let anything fly.

Sure, in theory, there could be instances of making a close, controversial ruling go one way or another, but it’s really hard to change the outcome of a game from a referee’s vantage point.

How are you going to get in the way of one team who’s clearly better than another? It’s ridiculous to even think about.

2. They’re Paying the Players

From this perspective, it makes even worse sense.

Quarterbacks are the engines who run the show and they essentially make or break a team’s performance.

Quarterbacks are also the highest-paid athletes on the field, with salaries ranging from $795,000 all the way up to Joe Burrow’s $55M annual figure.

Even if you want to look at the average quarterback, they’re still pocketing about $7M annually, which is still crazy money.

These players work insanely hard to get to their position and a quarterback’s job in the NFL is as competitive as they come.

Nobody is going to throw a game and make themselves worth less in the long-run because they want to make some pocket change in the short-term.

It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever to take such a risk.

If you’re thinking about the kickers, you should know how cutthroat their jobs are.

One missed kick in a huge situation could spell the end of a kicker’s career if they aren’t already established as one of the league’s best.

Any kicker who misses a handful of kicks over the course of a season, regardless of how consistent they’ve been over the years, is immediately on the hot seat.

There are only 32 kicker jobs and nobody’s paying a kicker millions of dollars on the side to throw a game.

Nobody is.

It just doesn’t happen and the market isn’t there.

3. They Want to Boost the Ratings

People have always watched the NFL and will continue to watch the NFL.

They literally own a day of the week in the United States and they’ve got a pretty nice hold on Monday and Thursday nights as well.

It’s not like they don’t have a million ways to promote the game and that organic promotion doesn’t need the help of a couple calls here and there.

The numbers aren’t even up across the board, which can kill that notion automatically.

While ESPN has reported a 7% increase in NFL viewership during the 2023 season, Fox viewership was down 2% for the season. CBS was up 5%, and NBC’s Sunday Night Football enjoyed an 8% in viewership.

New football packages like Amazon Prime, in their second season, enjoyed a healthy boost for Thursday Night Football games to the tune of 24%, although we can all agree that the 2022 TNF slate was really bad.

Monday Night Football expanded their coverage beyond ESPN to ESPN2 and ABC, which was a big reason why they grew by 29% year-to-year.

But all of these numbers still fall short of their all-time highs.

If games were really fixed, viewership would be through the roof and continuing to increase every single year.

It’s just not happening.

nfl
Image: Erin Costa/Flickr

Why the Math Doesn’t Make Sense

Still not convinced? Let us explain the math.

NFL’s Value vs Vegas Sportsbook Winnings

You can harp all you want about how the NFL is rigged but if you’re a true believer, one of your first points is probably because of Las Vegas and sports betting.

We can immediately shut down that theory just from a pure mathematical standpoint.

While it’s difficult to put a value of the NFL as a whole, in early 2023, Forbes valued the 32 NFL teams at $163B combined.

The Dallas Cowboys are the most valuable team in football with Jerry World being worth approximately $9B. The Washington Commanders recently sold for $6.05B.

If you want to look past the actual team values, let’s look at the TV media rights deal.

On March 18, 2021, the NFL signed a contract negotiation package worth $110B over 11 years.

This is $10B per year, which if you divide $10B by 285 (272 regular season games plus 13 playoff games), you’ll come up with an incredible figure of over $35M per game.

NFL owns television, plain and simple, hosting 82 of the top-100 watched programs in 2022.

They already have an insanely profitable business that’s bigger than any amount of sports betting could produce.

most watched us tv broadcasts
Image: Twitter/LevAkabas

With all that incredible value, you would think that if there’s a significant amount of money to be made, the NFL and the Las Vegas sportsbooks could work together to both make insane profits right?

Well, not necessarily.

While Vegas has won money in 30 of the last 32 Super Bowls, their total winnings come out to be about 8%.

While that sounds like a lot, these bets fail to compare to the actual value of the NFL itself.

In the latest Super Bowl, the Nevada Gaming Control Board reported that $185.6M was wagered across its 182 sportsbooks, which won Vegas a little less than $7M.

The NFL and Las Vegas aren’t rigging the Super Bowl for $7M.

If you want to compare overall Las Vegas sports betting revenue to slots and table games, you’re not going to come anywhere close either.

According to a Forbes report, in 2022, Las Vegas brought in $446.7M in revenue from sports betting on $8.7B in wagers across all sports.

Meanwhile, slots brought in $10B (22.4x sports betting revenue), blackjack brought in $1.29B (2.9x sports betting revenue), and baccarat earned Vegas $1.18B (2.6x sports betting revenue).

Sportsbook revenue is just about on par with smaller casino games like roulette ($456M) and craps ($447.2M).

They simply have much bigger fish to fry. The NFL is not rigged.

Players and Personnel

There are just way too many people in the NFL to keep a scripted version of the league secret.

It’s simply impossible for everyone to keep a secret, even if it was down to just coaches and quarterbacks.

Looking just at players alone, you’re talking about 1,696 players on an active 53-man NFL roster and another 512 practice squad players for a grand total of 2,208 players.

This doesn’t include additional players coming in over the course of a season from free agency and other means.

From a coaching perspective, most teams have about 12 coaches that specialize in a certain area.

That’s another 384 people in the house, not including owners, presidents, vice presidents, and other personnel that are high-ranking officials for an NFL team.

Even if you think only a select few need to know these secrets and can change the outcome of a game themselves, there would eventually be whistleblowers in large numbers.

There aren’t and there never will be.

So, No – the NFL isn’t Rigged

If you think the NFL is rigged, you’re probably not winning your sports bets, your fantasy league, or your favorite team is still losing.

Nothing has changed over the years except an increase in day-to-day following because of things like social media and because many sports talk shows have become sensationalized.

The game is still thrilling, athletes are getting better, and games are becoming even closer as a result.

This excitement, uncertainty, and the drama from the closest of calls deciding a game one way or another has always been what the NFL is all about.

Is the NFL rigged? Of course not.

Blaise Bourgeois
Poker and Gambling Expert

Blaise is an Expert Gambling Writer and a professional poker player in Brazil. He has played and traveled throughout Latin America for the last four-and-a-half years and recently won his first WSOP Circuit ring! He received his Master's in Sport Management and Sports Analytics from St. John's University. Blaise also holds a Mathematics and Computer Science degree from SUNY Purchase, where he still holds the school's Men's Soccer record for goals in a season. Blaise has worked for Catena Media, OddsSeeker, WSOP, PokerNews, and Poker.Org in various capacities. He has a passion for extensive research and aims to provide accurate…