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How Sports Betting is Changing the Face of Sports

According to a new survey, the growth of legal sports betting is actually growing the fan base, and bringing new demographics to the betting pool. Bettors are now male and female, older and younger, and more racially diverse.

How Sports Betting is Changing the Face of Sports

The 2018 Supreme Court decision lifting the federal ban on sports betting brought a sea change to an industry once confined mostly to Nevada. Today, half of U.S. states have legalized sports betting, and more are waiting in the wings. The new industry is turning out to be a huge boon for major league sports.

The first annual Pickswise.com Sports Bettor Survey polled 1,500 sports bettors in states that have officially introduced the wagers. It shows that the legalization of sports betting alone is increasing the interest in sports.

Fans who bet watch more sports, and are more likely to seek other sources of sports-related entertainment. Half of those surveyed said they watch more NFL and NBA coverage because they can now gamble on the results. And even casual viewers will note the nearly ubiquitous ads for sportsbooks, featuring celebrities like Jamie Foxx, Charles Barkley, Ben Affleck and Shaquille O’Neal.

Sports betting is suddenly very in your face.

The survey also found that 70 percent of participants bet at least weekly, and one-quarter bet daily. Sixty-one percent place at least three bets per week, and almost 25 percent make five bets or more per week. Nearly three-quarters said they have multiple sportsbook accounts, and 97 percent are interested in seeing research and analysis before they place their bets. But a full 80 percent look for and trust sports content that’s not affiliated with a sportsbook.

Younger, More Diverse

The new sports betting demographic differs from the group traditionally associated with sports betting. It’s younger. It’s more diverse—with people of color representing one-third of those who began wagering in the past year—compared to about 25 percent who have been betting long-term. Three in 10 new bettors are women, compared to 23 percent of long-term bettors.

Dan Pozner, vice president of content for Spotlight Sports Group, which commissioned the survey, confirmed what the report indicates: that more fans are watching more sports because of more legal betting options.

“As legalized sports wagering expands across the U.S., we wanted to find out about the legal U.S. sports bettor—who they are, how they behave and what motivates them,” he said. “One of the main findings suggests that legalized sports betting creates more engagement around sports, which includes watching but also other aspects like research, analysis, and consuming related pre- and post-game news. Nearly three-quarters of U.S. legal sports bettors said they’re more likely to stream or watch a game they placed a bet on. Additionally, 81 percent said they conduct research before betting, and one-third said they’re more likely to watch additional sports news.

“Sports bettors generally love watching sports,” he said, “but the betting aspect adds another layer of rooting interest and investment.”

A Win for the Leagues

Why do the NBA and NFL benefit more from this engagement, and where do other sports rank, like Major League Baseball, NHL, soccer, and college sports?

“Some of this has to do with the fact that football and basketball are by far bettors’ favorite sports to watch,” said Pozner. Football is tops with 32 percent of U.S. legal sports bettors, followed by basketball at 21 percent. Baseball (10 percent) and soccer (9 percent) are somewhat farther behind.

“Unsurprisingly, football and basketball are also the favorite sports to bet on,” Pozner said. “What’s notable, though, is that most U.S. legal sports bettors (86 percent) are multi-sports bettors, playing an average of four sports. So legal sports betting attracts bettors to a variety of sports, not just their favorites to watch.”

After football and basketball, U.S. sports bettors like baseball (42 percent), boxing (35 percent) and soccer (32 percent), followed by horse racing (29 percent), hockey (23 percent), mixed martial arts (22 percent), auto racing (20 percent), tennis (20 percent), esports (19 percent) and golf (18 percent).

Those who bet daily tend to open more accounts than less active bettors, with nearly half (42 percent) having five or more accounts. They “tend to skew younger, are more likely to odds-shop, and are more open to international books,” said Pozner. “The survey revealed trust and ease of use, especially for financial transactions, are the most important factors in choosing a preferred sportsbook.”

But most U.S. bettors prefer domestic providers, like DraftKings (57 percent) and FanDuel (50 percent), followed by BetMGM (23 percent), Bet 365 (19 percent) and Fox Bet (18 percent).

What Bettors Want

U.S. sports bettors said they choose a sportsbook “based on ease and speed of financial transactions and trustworthiness,” said Pozner. “Getting the best odds also plays a role in book selection, but it’s not paramount— just three in 10 bettors (31 percent)—mostly multi-account, high-dollar bettors—say they’ll shop around for the best odds before placing a bet. Otherwise, U.S. legal sports bettors don’t seem to be signing up for new accounts just for better odds.” And most bettors, once they have a preferred sportsbook, stick with it instead of odds-shopping.

It’s been argued that in their rush for market share, sportsbooks overdo the advertising; some fans resist being chased by ads for sportsbooks—even ones that include bonuses, promos and other perks.

“There’s definitely such a thing as too much advertising for one category, like sports betting and casino brands,” said Pozner. “During the DFS (daily fantasy sports) boom in 2015, it reached a point where you almost couldn’t watch a sporting event without feeling inundated by FanDuel and DraftKings ads. Fortunately, many leagues and media companies seem to have learned from that, and now usually set limits on frequency. It can still feel like a lot at times, but it’s at least a step in the right direction. Avoiding that sort of overload is top-of-mind for the large majority stakeholders.”

And yes, the pool of players is growing, beyond white-male-affluent to include more women, minorities and younger people. “Furthermore, the survey revealed that each demographic has their own unique way of playing compared to the typical sports bettor,” Pozner said. “Women aren’t into sports betting for the money alone. Female bettors tend to lean into betting based on the involvement of their favorite team or player, compared to men, whose No. 1 motivation is to win money.”

Bettors don’t always trust their sportsbook to give them the best data, Pozner added. “As legal sports betting continues to expand in the U.S., the appetite and demand for insights, analysis and independent content to inform their picks is growing. When asked whether they’re interested in consuming content that could help inform their bet, an overwhelming 97 percent of U.S. legal sports bettors said they were either ‘somewhat,’ ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ interested—with 80 percent saying they trust content from outlets that are not directly affiliated with a sportsbook.”

Analysis, Influence or Gut?

Forty percent of bettors surveyed subscribe to sites that provide premium betting content. “And for those that don’t have a subscription, it isn’t necessarily due to a lack of interest, but primarily cost, which aligns with a growing demand for free expert insights,” said Pozner. “ESPN+ holds the top spot among those who subscribe to premium content, with 42 percent saying they favor ESPN+ for insights and analysis.”

But often, many bettors still rely on their “gut” to inform their wagers. “While there’s a high interest for and consumption of insights from expert opinion/analysis and top betting resources, the U.S. legal sports bettor at the end of the day will trust their own research and intuition above all else,” said Pozner. Eighty-one percent of bettors conduct research before betting, with nearly three-quarters of bettors spending at least an hour on research each week and 30 percent spending more than two hours on research.

Not surprisingly, the survey showed that bettors who bet more and place higher bets conducted the most research; more educated bettors also were more apt to do their research. “They were more interested in insights, more likely to bet based on expert opinion, and more likely to subscribe to premium content,” said Pozner. “Interestingly, the survey also revealed that U.S. legal sports bettors prefer engaging with social media and video content compared to audio, written articles and newsletters.”

Which brings up the question of how much influence “brand ambassadors,” like athletes and actors, have on sportsbook choice. “The amount of influence depends on the ambassador and their connection to the brand they’re promoting and its audience,” Pozner said. “Using high-profile, easily recognizable talent can obviously help drive brand awareness and establish credibility. But even brand ambassadors who may not have the widespread name recognition can still hold immense influence by being relevant and resonating the brand’s specific attributes or products and displaying passion for the company.”

Everybody into the Betting Pool

As the industry continues to expand, customer acquisition “may be the most critical metric for both emerging and established sportsbooks,” Pozner said. Affiliate marketing, in which content-rich sports betting sites drive signups, gives providers an opportunity to “tap into existing sports audiences, such as general sports fans or fantasy players, and introduce them to sports betting, or turn existing bettors onto new products and ways of betting.”

An estimated 45 million Americans will legally bet on professional football this season, up more than a third from last year, and fans in 30 states could be ready to legally wager on Super Bowl LVI next February. Expect the stands—in stadium bleachers, at sportsbooks, and in cyberspace—to include bettors of many ages, many colors, and all genders.

Legal sports betting is “more popular than ever among Americans,” said Bill Miller, president and CEO of the American Gaming Association, in a September statement. More and more, fans old and new are getting the message that legal sportsbooks let them “wager safely … in their home states, rather than with the predatory illegal market.”

Articles by Author: David Ross

David D. Ross edits the Escondido Times-Advocate and Valley Roadrunner newspapers. A freelance journalist for over 40 years, Ross is knowledgeable about San Diego's backcountry and has written on tourism in Julian, Palomar Mountain, San Diego Safari Park—and the area’s casinos. He has a master’s degree in military history from Norwich University.