Legal Sports Betting Seen as Driving Force For Live Television Viewership

Posted on: July 6, 2019, 03:00h. 

Last updated on: July 6, 2019, 12:20h.

Bettors with skin in games are more likely to watch those contests on television, indicating increased legalization of sports betting across the US could drive higher ratings for networks broadcasting major sporting events.

The sportsbook at the Mirage Las Vegas. Data indicate bettors watch more sports on TV. (Image: Getty Images)

A study conducted by entertainment publication Variety in partnership with data research firm Proedge shows that legal sports wagering stokes viewership of games on television and that when betting is involved, viewers are likely to choose athletic contests over other TV offerings.

The survey was conducted in May and polled 175 active gamblers living in states where sports wagering is legal, 175 “interested” bettors residing in legal states and 152 punters described as “active” or “interested” in states where sports betting is not yet legal.

Delaware, Mississippi, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and West Virginia were the states defined as “legal” for the study’s purposes. Indiana and Montana were not included in the Variety study because those states enacted sports betting legislation just weeks before the survey commenced. Arkansas recently became the ninth state to officially offer sports gambling.

The NFL, NBA, NCAA and MLB are the sports organizations best positioned to benefit from additional viewers resulting from gambling, with around 9 in 10 active or interested in gambling saying they’d be interested in betting on a football game,” reports Variety.

In 2018, the most wagered on US sporting events in terms of total handles were Super Bowl 52, the NCAA Tournament’s Final Four, the Kentucky Derby, and the NFL’s slate of Thanksgiving Day games.

Betting On Big Games

The Variety/Proedge study discovered that bettors have heavy interest in marquee contests, such as the Super Bowl, the NBA Finals and the World Series. Next up are tournaments, such as the NCAA basketball tournament, also known as March Madness, or the World Cup. Last year, the World Cup was one of the most bet competitions around the world, including the US, but the event is held every four years, not annually like March Madness.

Through legitimate and illegal means, the NFL is the most wagered on sport in the US. Underscoring the potential links between gamblers’ wagering and viewership habits, data indicate professional football was also the most watched sport in the US last year.

In January, AdAge ran a piece entitled “Network TV Can’t Survive Without The NFL.” In 2018, 89 of the 100 most-viewed TV broadcasts were sporting events. Of those 100, 61 were professional football games, and of the top 50, 34 were NFL contests.

Fertile Territory

Data indicate the NCAA Tournament is poised to benefit from increased legalization of sports wagering, whether the NCAA likes it or not. Seven of 10 basketball fans would consider betting on a tournament compared to 60 percent and 50 percent, respectively, of baseball and football bettors, according to Variety.

That is big news for the NCAA, an organization that has not warmed to legitimate betting the way some professional leagues have. In 2018, corporate sponsorships, ticket sales, advertising revenue and fees paid by networks to air March Madness games sent $1 billion to the NCAA’s coffers. By some estimates, the NCAA Tournament accounts for 90 percent of the governing body’s annual revenue.

While the organization may not be enthusiastic about the proliferation of legal wagering on its contests, it did retract a ban on holding championship games in states where sports betting is legal.