When everyone thinks the same way about a game, we call that a bandwagon. Jump on board, we’re all going to win. In the real world, things are seldom that simple. ‘We all got it right’ seems like a sentiment we should easily avoid. But sometimes we can get swept up by the crowd, and if you’re a bettor, that can do a lot to empty your wallet. .

Bandwagon teams don’t always pay off. (image: nchscournat.com)

Bandwagon Effect by Any Other Name

The Bandwagon Effect is the tendency to do or believe something because many other people do or believe the same thing. We like to be liked and going along with everyone else is a good way to be liked. Also a good way to lose money.

Groupthink feeds the Bandwagon Effect. Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome. Such collective thinking can be very powerful, driving people to make decisions they would never make alone.

Herd Behavior happens to cattle, wildebeests and humans. It is the behavior of individuals in a group acting collectively without centralized direction. A bandwagon with no driver. We tend to think only of animals moving in herds but consider riots, religious gatherings, mobs, and everyday mass opinion-formation. After all, we are simply unusually smart animals but still subject to the pull of the crowd.
flocking behavior
Flocking is a mesmerizing form of herd behavior. (image: NatGeo)

Recent Bandwagon Teams

Here are some recent examples of the Bandwagon Effect.

NHL: Didn’t we all know the Boston Bruins would crush the St. Louis Blues in the Stanley Cup finals. The Blues had been in the league 52 years and never won the Cup. They hadn’t been to the finals in 49 years. The Bruins were simply the better team. Blues 4 Bruins 3

NBA: The Golden State Warriors were a much better team than the Toronto Raptors (if they could stay healthy). The wheels fell off that wagon.

NFL: The Los Angeles Rams are too high scoring. Tom Brady is too old. The New England Patriots reign is over. Final Superbowl score: Patriots 13 Rams 3

The U.S. Women are that good, the World Cup is theirs again. Well, we never said the crowd was always wrong.

U.S. Election 2016: Trump vs. Hillary. That was one big bandwagon going off that election night cliff.

How to Avoid Costly Bandwagons

Here are two suggestions to avoid getting your bankroll trampled in a bandwagon stampede.

First, before you read an analysis. Before you listen to a sports talk show. Sometimes even before you look at the odds. Make your pick. Don’t place a wager just make your own independent decision. Write it down. Now go ahead and collect all the data, opinions and recommendations you can swallow. Then look back at your pick.

Second tip, keep track of your decision-making. If your bet changed, note what and why you make the switch. Write it down. Learn from your mistakes and take note of when your instincts were better than all the pundits and touts.

Here’s a recent example:

Super Bowl 2019

pick on Monday: Rams

bet on Saturday: Patriots

why: Belicheck & Brady


It is much easier to avoid jumping on a losing bandwagon if you begin with a plan. Know your own thinking, your own tendencies, before you look to others. When that wagon goes rolling by, sometimes you should get on. But don’t make your decision based on the others already on for the ride. Don’t join the crowd unless you are sure they are a winning crowd.

Tim Lavalli holds a Ph.D. in psychology and has focused his work on the mental aspects of competitive games. He co-authored Check-Raising the Devil, the autobiography of poker pro Mike Matusow. You can follow him on Twitter @timlavalli.