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Submitted by Wayne Allyn Root on Friday, May 1, 2015 at 12:00 AM

Is it possible football owes its popularity to television and gambling?

Baseball was the undisputed national pastime until the 1960s, when televisions popped up in everyone's living rooms and football head-butted its way into the hearts of Americans.

"You could watch your 'investment' run for touchdown or sack the QB," said Wayne Allyn Root, a professional sports handicapper and Las Vegas odds maker. "The synergy of TV and gambling made and makes football."

Las Vegas Race and Sportsbook

Sports betting may be behind some of football's popularity. Here, the Westgate Superbook Race & Sportsbook in Las Vegas.
(AP Photo/John Locher) Associated Press

Sports betting may be behind some of football's popularity. Here, the Westgate Superbook Race and Sportsbook in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher) Associated Press

Academics who've examined the question are a bit more cautious in their assessments, but some do say there is a statistically significant correlation between the two.

Among the evidence: Televised football games attract more betting than nontelevised games. The level of betting before a game airs is a good predictor of subsequent viewership. And the most popular sporting event among gamblers and the most viewed event on television is the Super Bowl.

"Most gamblers watch the games they bet on," said Rodney Paul, a sports economist and professor of sports management at Syracuse University. "If gambling on the game is popular, viewership will be popular."

But what is it about football that attracts gambling? Mr. Paul's research shows that as the football season begins, there is a "massive drop" in bets on baseball. Last year, bettors in Nevada dropped $721 million total on baseball, compared with $1.75 billion on football, according to the state gambling commission.

The difference, Mr. Root said, is the point spread.

"Say the New York Giants are the 3.5-point favorite over the Dallas Cowboys," Mr. Root said. "The Giants have to win by 4 points or more to win the bet. You could take Dallas, and they could lose by three points, and you still win the bet. The favorite has got to win by 4."

The suspense keeps viewers glued to their seats, Mr. Root said.

In addition, gamblers can place over-under bets based on the predicted combined score in the game. If 36 points are expected to be scored, for example, gamblers either bet the score will go over that figure or under it.

Mr. Paul has used over-under scores as a proxy for how popular a game will be on television.

"The more points expected to be in the game, the more people who view from the start," he said. "The more points scored by half time, the more viewership stays with the game."

Meanwhile, betting on baseball simply involves predicting who will win the game.

"Baseball is fun in person," Mr. Root said. "Football is fun on TV, with a bet on the game."

Blog Post is a Wall Street Journal Interview featuring Wayne Root from April 10, 2015