The Super Bowl is one of the most high profile betting events of the year. The main event in the NFL season provides a huge variety of weird and wonderful betting propositions. Super Bowl coin toss betting may be entirely random, but it has become one of the most popular, and yet misunderstood, Super Bowl bets.
The coin toss is one of the most famous Super Bowl prop bets and has assumed such importance that a specially minted coin is used, with both teams appearing on the Tails side and the venue and year on the Heads side. It is often suggested that because the coin used is made for the specific occasion, there is a chance that Super Bowl coin toss betting might be biased. This is fun for conspiracy theorists, but is of course nonsense - hence why the Super Bowl coin toss odds are always the same and always equal.
The implied cost of placing a bet set by the bookmaker. Bookmakers inflate the perceived likelihood of an event - as represented in their odds - suggesting it is more likely than underlying probability.
Super Bowl coin toss odds
Who flips and when?
The Super Bowl coin toss has become so significant that since 1978, a nominated celebrity has flipped it. This has added to the spectacle of the coin toss, but it doesn’t always go smoothly. In 2012 Curtis Martin, an inductee to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, was set to flip the coin but ended up as a spectator to referee John Parry who mistakenly took the honours. The Super Bowl coin toss takes place approximately three minutes before the start of the game.
Who calls & who chooses?
The AFC is designated as the home team for every even-numbered Super Bowl, so in 2018 – Super Bowl 52 – the AFC champions (New England Patriots) will be the home side. This designation allows the Patriots to choose which colour jerseys to wear - this year they have chosen their white away uniform (12 of the last 13 Super Bowl winners have worn white).
Because the Patriots get to chose the uniorm, the NFC champions (Philadelphia Eagles), get to call the coin - something that won't actually affect the Super Bowl coin toss.
What does it mean?
After the visitors choose heads or tails, the referee confirms the call mid-toss. This ensures that there is no mistaking what was said – a rule change resulting from the 1998 Thanksgiving Day Game between the Pittsburg Steelers and the Detroit Lions.
Many bettors fail to see that the coin has no memory – each flip is totally independent
On that occasion, Referee Phil Luckett heard Steelers running back Jerome Bettis call heads, while Bettis swears he said tails. When the coin landed tails side-up, Luckett awarded possession to the Lions, who went on to win the game – something that changed the coin toss rules forever.
The team that wins the Super Bowl coin toss then has the option of choosing to receive the ball, or to select which side they wish to start in the big game.
What to do next?
Given that ends provides little or no advantage, the standard choice is to receive. Only four times in 51 Super Bowls has a team chosen to kick rather than receive. The standard logic is that starting the game on an offensive drive is preferable, with the chance of an early confidence boosting score.
An especially defensive team could kick, feeling confident enough to shut the opponent’s early drive out, and start the second half with the ball.
Is winning the flip significant?
In 51 Super Bowls the winner of the coin toss has gone on to lift the Vince Lombardi Trophy 24 times (47%) losing 27 times (53%). So when it comes down to it, there seems to be little significance to the game outcome.
The magical NFC streak
There is nothing wrong with indulging with fun bets like Super Bowl coin toss betting, so long as you are clear that it is entirely random, and provides poor value, and that you keep these principles in mind if you intend to bet for profit.
One of the reasons that the Super Bowl coin toss has captured bettors’ imagination is that from 1998-2011 the NFC recorded 14 consecutive wins – that’s 2 to the power of 14, or decimal odds of 16,001.00 This, along with the NFC's 68.63% win rate in the Super Bowl coin toss (35/51), gave rise to a familiar misconception about random events such as a coin toss.
Many bettors fail to see that as the coin has no memory – each flip is totally independent – such a streak isn’t statistically significant, and this is explained by the law of large numbers. This is discussed in a separate article regarding the Gambler’s Fallacy. This has given rise to the aforementioned speculation of the coins being biased, due to the fact that they are especially made for the occasion.
Fun, but understand value
Putting the fun element to one side, on its own, the Super Bowl coin toss is a bad bet. The odds are 50/50 and therefore should be priced at 2.0/2.0 on both sides, with zero edge or margin. However, you won’t find any bookmaker offering this, and this provides a great and simple illustration of how bookmakers work, and how to work out how much your bookmaker is charging you.
In 51 Super Bowls the winner of the coin toss has gone on to lift the Vince Lombardi Trophy 24 times (47%) losing 27 times (53%)
Pinnacle prices the Super Bowl coin toss at 1.970/1.970*, which is a margin of just over 1% – as low as you’ll find online (this low-margin policy also applies to regular markets). So, although you can bet with your friend on the result of the coin-toss, when you bet with a bookmaker an edge is a given, which means you should always look for the smallest margin.
Many other bookmakers are offering this bet at 1.871/1.871 which is a 7% margin. If you want to maximise your return your choice of bookmaker should be obvious, and even though this is just a fun bet, the principle is the same whatever you are betting on, you want the best value - use Pinnacle's margin calculator to work out how much margin is being applied to your bet.