Sportsbook Operators Thrilled for NBA’s Return After Tumultuous Season of COVID, Social Justice

Posted on: November 10, 2020, 03:45h. 

Last updated on: November 10, 2020, 04:39h.

The NBA on Monday said it’s planning to tip off its 75th season on Dec. 22, about two months later than usual. The announcement of a 72-game season was cheered by sportsbooks, which have been leaning on football with the start of the NBA, NHL and college basketball seasons delayed.

NBA Black Lives Matter
Players on the Sacramento Kings and San Antonio Spurs kneel for the national anthem before their NBA game on July 31 in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. TV ratings for the NBA playoffs plummeted, perhaps in part because of social-justice messaging. (Image: Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports)

“At this point, we are dying for more content during the week, so the NBA starting would be very welcome,” said Ed Salmons, the vice president of risk management and oddsmaking at Westgate SuperBook, to

The Los Angeles Lakers, who beat the Miami Heat for the COVID-delayed championship on Oct. 12, are 7/2 favorites to win the 2020-21 championship at SuperBook.

Betting Better Than Ratings

The pandemic meant a four-and-a-half month break in the action last season. When the NBA returned on July 30 in a “bubble” in Orlando, Fla., NFL training camps were gearing up. When the conference finals started, the football season was under way.

Between the loss of momentum, competition from football, the controversial social-justice messaging, and a relatively one-sided championship series, TV ratings plunged. For the NBA Finals, ratings were down 51 percent from last year.

We actually did not see a big plummet or drop-off like the TV ratings,” said Patrick Eichner, the director of communications for PointsBet, to “Betting interest was very strong and the NBA was still a huge driver, as per usual. To be honest, I’d imagine the bettors were the ones still tuning in!”

John Sheeran, the director of trading for FanDuel, reported “excellent” betting volume. It was the same at William Hill.

It didn’t affect us at all,” said Nick Bogdanovich, the director of trading at William Hill, to “There was plenty of money in the pot. The bubble was a huge success. Hats off to the NBA for pulling it off. The bettors were strong on the NBA. Real strong.”

On the other hand, Matthew Metcalf, the sportsbook director for Circa Sports, said the delay took a bite out of business.

The NBA playoffs drew far less action than we are used to seeing when they take place in the spring/summer months,” Metcalf told

It’s nearly impossible to determine how much the league’s social justice campaigning, which included “Black Lives Matter” painted across the courts and individual messages replacing names on jerseys, affected interest. But NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said there would be “somewhat of a return to normalcy” for the upcoming season.

With college football and the NFL, sportsbooks had their typically strong weekends. NFL games on Monday night and Thursday night are huge, too. College football’s Mid-American Conference has filled the TV desert – and helped fill the betting void – by playing its games on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Still, a game like Wednesday’s between Toledo and Western Michigan is no substitute for a Lakers-Celtics showdown.

“As much as I love Tuesday night MACtion, yes, the return of the NBA will definitely be big for books in filling the holes in the daily schedule,” Eichner said.

Lakers Are Favorites

No different than the end of the season, the LeBron James-led Lakers are the consensus favorites at sportsbooks. At William Hill, the Lakers are +375, followed by the Los Angeles Clippers at +400, Milwaukee Bucks at +650, Golden State Warriors at +800, Brooklyn Nets at +850, and Celtics and Heat at +1,200.

Bogdanovich said the Lakers have “by far” the most tickets and money in William Hill’s future market.

I’ve got to believe it’s a lot more wide open than it ever has been,” he said. “Last year proved that. A lot of the middle teams made a step up, and LeBron will be a year older and everything went right for him.”

At FanDuel, two teams that were hammered by injuries, the Warriors and Nets, are among the most popular championship bets, Sheeran said. The Warriors had the worst record in the NBA last year without stars Steph Curry and Klay Thompson.

The NBA Draft will be held Nov. 18 and free agency will begin Nov. 20. The future of two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Bucks will be a focal point of a short and swift off-season. He is under contract through the upcoming season, but could force a trade if he desires.

“We’re assuming he’s playing,” Bogdanovich said. “There’s not a lot of money on Milwaukee. With a team like that, we’ll probably adjust up at some point just to get some tickets on them. But we’re assuming he’ll be with the Bucks.”