Analysis, Sports Data

How Legalization Of Sports Betting Affects Game Viewership​ ​And Fan Engagement In The US

Throughout history the popularity of sports betting has frequently been associated with wider interest in a given sport itself, so it is no surprise that in the age of online bookmakers this correlation continues to exist.

Of course the sticky issue of the legality of sports betting on a region-by-region basis does make this matter a little more complex, so here is a rundown of how things are shaping up in terms of viewership and fan engagement across the US and North America as a whole.

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Mixed messages

It has taken decades for sports betting to be legalized in America, but when the federal outlawing of this pastime was reversed in 2018, it fell to individual states to decide whether or not to implement this legalization on their own turf.

Of course the wheels of the legal system turn slowly and there are places where sports betting was already allowed prior to the ban’s removal, including Nevada, Oregon and Pennsylvania.

No doubt there will still be confusion around this subject going forwards, not least because regional differences are commonplace elsewhere. In Canada, for example, it is possible to place wagers online both via sports betting sites and on slots-focused platforms like Casumo, even though doing so in a land-based context is far more tightly controlled and restricted.

All of this means that the industry is facing something of an uphill struggle to convince people to get involved with sports betting. Once this is overcome, the rewards available are significant.

Raw statistics

As more liberal attitudes towards sports betting spread, the data demonstrates that there are benefits to professional athletes, teams, broadcasters and advertisers tied into this trend.

Experts agree that allowing people to wager on the outcome of games means that they are more actively engaged with the sport, both from moment to moment and from a more holistic perspective. A study from Nielsen found that a quarter of people who watch the NFL are bettors, with this group watching almost twice as many games per season on average than a non-betting fan. This example outlines how similar benefits could be felt in other sports, including those with a lower profile than football.

Part of the reason that industry insiders are so eager to build momentum behind the legalization of sports betting is that modern audiences have shorter attention spans than their predecessors. With online streaming services and smartphones proving a constant distraction, people need to have a very good reason to put down that second screen and actually pay attention to a live event being broadcast over traditional channels. This is where the power of gambling comes into play; even if people have a relatively modest amount of money on the line, they will be actively compelled to focus on a given event.

Future possibilities

One of the other perks that the legalization of sports betting brings to the table is its ability to help more niche activities to attain a larger, more actively invested audience in a short time frame.

This is especially relevant in an online betting context, where people can quickly browse through reams of different sports and events, making it more likely they will encounter something they have never heard of before and then bet on it. Viewership figures for e-sports events, for example, have been able to grow in part due to the fact that betting sites have been including wagering opportunities here in larger numbers.

In some senses the legalization of betting is the best defense that all sports have against dips in viewership and it is set to become even more crucial going forwards.