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Surprising Sports Could Power Future of Wagering, Survey Says

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In the US, the NFL is the most popular, most watched sports league and football, including college, is the most wagered on sport, but in what may come as a surprise to some, NFL fans aren’t all that interested in betting.

nielsen betting
The sportsbook at Circa Las Vegas could lure fans of surprising sports. A survey indicates the NFL isn’t the only game in town for interested bettors. (Image: Las Vegas Review-Journal)

That’s one takeaway from a recent survey by Nielsen Fan Insights with another being a surprising group of sports could fan the flames of the already rapidly growing domestic sports wagering industry.

The NFL’s mass appeal does not automatically translate into a high percentage of fans interested in sports betting,” said Nielsen. “In fact, across six sports leagues, NFL fans are the least interested in sports betting. So while the sheer volume of NFL fans represents an opportunity, these fans currently aren’t as engaged with sports betting as the prowess of the league might suggest.”

Of the 21 states and Washington, DC where sports betting is currently live and legal, 10 are homes to 13 of the NFL’s 32 franchises and that group doesn’t include Arizona, Louisiana and Maryland which are aiming to have sports wagering operational by the start of the 2021 NFL season.

Interestingly, the Nielsen study runs counter to multiple previous research reports indicating that fans, regardless of sport, are more likely to watch a televised broadcast of a game if they’re financially invested in the outcome.

“An interest in betting on certain sports doesn’t always correlate with which sports bettors are watching,” according to the research firm.

No Need to Watch to Be Interested in Betting

Of the six major team sports in the US — NFL and college football, NBA and NCAA college basketball, Major League Baseball and the NHL (NHL) — hockey has the largest percentage of fans interested in betting at 62 percent. That compares with 14 percent for the NFL and 57 percent for the NBA.

Regardless of viewers’ preferred sports and how they allocate their gambling budgets, it’s becoming increasingly clear that sportsbook operators are spending big on advertising and that’s a boon for local radio and TV networks as well as regional sports networks (RSNs), among others.

“The notable ramp up in online sports gambling ads on TV has elevated the category to rank 11th among 1,200 product categories for spot TV advertising dollars, accounting for 2.1 percent share. In terms of the audience for those ads, just under one-third (32 percent) of the U.S. population already has an interest in sports betting, but a total of 46 percent have at least some interest, highlighting an opportunity for future growth,” adds Nielsen.

That rising interest coupled with increasing state-level legalization is what gaming companies and Wall Street are counting to propel the industry forward. While there’s no shortage of bullish forecasts regarding the long-term future of sports wagering in the US, those estimates hinge largely on folks wanting to bet in the first place and more states coming into the fold.

Currently, California and Texas — the two largest states — don’t allow sports betting — while the issue is up in the air in Florida and online betting still isn’t live in New York.

Plenty of Surprises

In a strategy started by DraftKings and FanDuel during the early days of the daily fantasy sports (DFS) boom, gaming companies are known to pepper NFL and some basketball broadcasts with ads, but they may want to target fans of other sports.

Nielsen asked respondents how interested they’d be – somewhat or very – in betting if it becomes legal in their area. Fifty-two percent of PGA Tour and 45 percent of NASCAR fans said “very interested” whereas an average of just 40 percent of NFL and NBA devotees feel the same way.

The highest percentage of fans saying they’re very interested in betting comes from Major League Soccer (MLS) at 53 percent. Some operators are wise to these trends.

“FanDuel and MGM, for example, have leveraged league-wide deals to provide exposure opportunities with each of the teams in the NBA and MLS, respectively. And the NHL and Betway recently announced a new multi-year partnership making Betway the official sports betting partner of the NHL in the U.S.” according to Nielsen.

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