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  • Bob Sillick

Casual Sports Fans Are Driving the Next Phase of Legal Sports Betting

The 2018 US Supreme Court ruling allowing states to decide if they wanted legal sports betting and to establish the rules and regulations, licensing and taxes not only benefited the gaming/casino industry, but also the hardcore sports bettor who had to make their wagers illegally.

Fast-forward just three years and now 29 states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation for live, legal betting, which is defined as “single-game sports betting legally offered to consumers through retail and/or online sportsbooks.” Another three states, Maryland, Michigan and Nebraska, have passed similar legislation, but their sports-betting apparatus is not yet operational. Legislation is either active or pre-filed for 2021 in Massachusetts and Ohio.

As the various major TV sports networks have added solely dedicated TV and online shows with sports-betting data and analysis, the strategy for many of these networks is to target casual sports fans. They place smaller bets than the hardcore wagers, but they are a much larger audience. Plus, the networks recognize casual fans are emotionally involved with their favorite teams and, therefore, are more likely to place small wagers of $10 to $20.

Data from five representative 2021 consumer/market surveys conducted and published by Local Sports Insights parallels the findings of many other creditable sources: men and younger men specifically are the prime audiences of those who placed bets on any college/professional sports games during the past year.

The comparative data in the table leaves little doubt that Millennial and Gen X men account for the bulk of the dollars wagered on sports games,” said Tony Ott, Vice President/General Manager, Local Sports Insights. “The larger percentage of Gen Z men betting on sports is likely influenced by Columbus being the home of The Ohio State Buckeyes. In Tampa-St. Petersburg, the large percentage of Baby Boomers is probably attributable to the many retirees in the market.”

Although there are some variations, most of these sports bettors have household incomes of $75,000 or more: San Francisco 83.0%, Columbus 73.7%, Chicago 49.5%, Phoenix 41.6% and Tampa-St. Petersburg 28.3%.

In Tampa-St. Petersburg, however, 48.3% have household incomes of $35,000–$75,000 and in Phoenix, 41.7% have household incomes of less than $35,000. These lower- to middle-income adults are more likely to be the heavily targeted casual fans.

In a September 2021 press release, the American Gaming Association reported based on its August survey 36% more fans said they would bet during the 2021 NFL season than the 2020 season, or a total of 45.2 million Americans.

Additional data from The Media Audit’s five consumer/market surveys shows the NFL may attract the largest number of sports bettors, but in various markets, other sports over-index for men 18+ who placed bets on any college/professional sports games during the past year.

“A close look at the indices in the table above shows how the sports in a particular market may influence how much men 18+ over-index for betting on teams in those leagues,” said Ott. “For example, men over-index to be more for the NHL than the NFL, although the Lightning and Buccaneers have very large and loyal fan bases. In Columbus, eSports over-index the most in any market; however, college football under-indexes by 23 points, although the OSU Buckeyes are there.”

Sports betting is a significant and growing market. As it matures, fans won’t just be placing bets on major college and professional teams, but also will discover the entertainment value of betting on their local minor-league teams. Ownership can benefit from this increasing local betting by obtaining and carefully analyzing market data to position themselves for partnerships or other revenue-generating relationships in the sports betting industry.

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