“Steam Moves” and “First-to-Move” Features

One of SportsInsights.com’s goals is to be a leader in sports information services.  Our members find our sports marketplace information such as public betting percentages and line movement information helpful to their sports handicapping.  During the Spring of 2006, SportsInsights.com rolled out some additional features for our Premium Pro members that should prove to be handy to sports investors.  In this article, we will focus on two of these features, that are inter-related:  Steam Moves and “First to Move.”  The information on this site is for entertainment and educational purposes only. Use of this information in violation of any federal, state, or local laws is prohibited.


Steam has been a topic of conversation in the sports marketplace for some time.  Steam Moves have been described as large amounts of money that move sports betting lines at the various sports books.  Years ago, when the lines were not as sharp and perhaps the “market was less efficient,” alert cappers would look out for steam moves and hop on the bandwagon.  Today, the sports markets are more efficient and the general public seems to play a larger role in the sports betting marketplace.

SportsInsights.com decided to look into large moves and created the Steam Moves feature.  The Steam Move feature started collecting data in April 2006.  SportsInsights.com now has data for most of the MLB season — and the early portion of College and Pro Football seasons.  Although the data set is rather limited, we are starting to get a clearer understanding of the significance of Steam line moves.  We are seeing that Steam Moves should not necessarily be followed.  If anything can be concluded, it is that markets sometimes over-react.  So far, there seems to be a slight bias towards betting against large line moves.  This makes sense as a contrarian and value play.

Please note that our data sample is by no means conclusive — but data is being gathered every day.  Table 1 shows a summary of Early Steam Move results by sport, where available.

Table 1: Results for Steam Moves (2006 Season, through 9/24/06) – All Sportsbooks

Sport Bet with Line Move Bet Against Line Move
MLB 52% (+9 units) 48% (-0.5 units)
NFL 46% (several weeks) 54% (several weeks)
NCAAF 46% (several weeks) 54% (several weeks)

First to Move

“First to Move” feature is related to Steam Moves.  In effect, “First to Move” breaks down Steam Moves according to which sportsbook moves first.  This feature is designed to help our Members determine if certain books are “better” indicators in terms of Steam Moves.  Should you follow Steam Moves at Sportsbook A?  Fade their Steam Moves?  Our Premium Pro members have this information at their fingertips.

Sportsbooks are all in the business to make money.  However, sportsbooks differ in the ways they try to maximize business and profits.  Some sportsbooks “set the market.”  Other books “follow the market.”  Sportsbooks have different clientele and have different needs at different times.  SportsInsights.com’s “First to Move” feature tries to cut through the “noise” and can help you determine which sportsbooks might yield useful information.

Here are some tidbits:

  • CRIS is consistently one of the first books to move, as might be expected. CRIS has a reputation for being an industry leader at setting lines and for having larger, professional, sports bettors as clients.
  • Each sportsbook has a different client base (interested in different sports, might lean more to dogs/favorites/etc.) and thus have a different “personality.”
  • First-mover results are coming in every day. Over time, our Members can use the information to help them lean towards a play or fade a line move.

Other Points to Note

  • Our research has shown that sportsbooks’ lines are very sharp.  It’s tough to beat both opening lines and closing lines.  Early results hint that just like the financial markets, the sports marketplace might see over-reactions.
  • Due to the nature of the features, the “Steam Moves” feature has a much larger dataset than “First to Move.”  The Steam Move feature tells us about line movement in each sport, while First-to-Move tells us about the behavior and personality of each sportsbook.
  • Note that the Steam Moves and First to Move features are merely “triggers” and “alerts.”  If you decide to use the information to place a bet, you should still shop around for the best line.

Thoughts on How to Use “Steam Move” and “First to Move” Features

It makes sense to use both features together:

  • The Steam Move feature will alert you to a large line move and will indicate whether it pays to “Bet Against” or “Bet With” Steam Moves in a given sport.
  • Then, use the “First to Move” feature to hone in on specific plays by books that are particularly good to Bet Against — or to Bet With.

Over time, you may have ideas that will help identify which Steam Moves are based on Sharper players in the sports marketplace.  It makes sense to use these tools in combination with your other capping methods and systems to maximize your sports investment returns.

We do not guarantee that the trends and biases we’ve found will continue to exist. It is impossible to predict the future. Any serious academic research in the field of “market efficiencies” recognizes that inefficiencies may disappear over time. Once inefficiencies are discovered, it is only a matter of time before the market corrects itself.