NFL Week 16 Betting Activity Slumps, Says Morgan Stanley

Posted on: December 29, 2021, 10:00h. 

Last updated on: December 29, 2021, 10:12h.

Week 16 NFL betting activity declined significantly relative to the prior four weeks, catching sportsbook operators and some market observers by surprise.

NFL Week 16
Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen in Week 16 action. NFL betting activity declined last week. (Image: USA Today)

GeoComply sports betting data aggregated by Morgan Stanley indicates year-over-year growth in NFL handle was just 58 percent. Growth is good, but the Week 16 figure compares with upticks of 100 percent, 107 percent, 96 percent, and 80 percent, respectively, in Weeks 12 through 15.

December total games played in major US leagues has been scheduled to rise 119 percent year-over-year, and more games should continue to support strong weekly volume growth through January, barring omicron-driven cancellations,” says Morgan Stanley analyst Thomas Allen in a note to clients.

News of the Week 16 lethargy comes as shares of sportsbook operators are limping into year-end after being drubbed over the course of this NFL season.

Excuses Galore

There’s no shortage of excuses and theories regarding why NFL betting activity retreated last week, including Christmas falling on a Saturday.

Some market observers and wagering experts are speculating that bettors took a step back from the NFL because the coronavirus is forcing a slew of players, including starters and, in some cases, Pro Bowl-level players, to miss games. Players missing games — in some cases on short notice — is seen as a deterrent to sharp and recreational bettors alike. Professional bettors look to avoid the heightened variance that comes with more second-string players participating in a game, while ordinary bettors might be inclined to avoid games lacking star power.

Potentially compounding those woes for some operators, particularly DraftKings and FanDuel, are rumors that marquee NFL players missing games because of contracting COVID-19, or because of the league’s health and safety protocols, is leading to declining participation in daily fantasy sports (DFS).

Situation Could Linger

In a standard operating environment, the fourth quarter should be a period of heightened activity for sportsbook operators, as the NFL playoff race tightens and the NBA and college basketball seasons in full swing.

However, nearly two years into the coronavirus pandemic, the current state of affairs for leagues and sportsbook operators is anything but normal. Some of the early season betting enthusiasm is clearly gone, thanks in large part to COVID-19.

On Monday, 96 NFL players tested positive for the virus, and 106 were added to the league’s reserve/COVID-19 list – both records.

Further frustrating sportsbooks and bettors, the NHL has suffered through postponed games. College basketball games are also frequently canceled or postponed, NBA stars are missing games because of that league’s protocols and, thus far, four college bowl games were canceled because of the pandemic.

All of that is relevant to sportsbook operators, because football and basketball are the two most wagered-on sports in the US.