Inside Track

Place Your Bets: Sports Wagering is Taking Off

If you live in one of the states where sports wagering is legal, we’re betting you’ve noticed a striking number of advertisements.

From billboards and street signage to satellite radio commercials and social media ads, daily fantasy, wagering, and sports betting are quickly changing the American professional sports landscape.

It wasn’t that long ago that sports personalities like Bill Simmons were dissuaded from discussing sports lines in their copy. Now, it’s impossible not to spot a Vegas line on a sports ticker or brought up in its own sponsored slot on a sports talk show.

The changes have been interesting to follow for sports media personalities, too. Bill Simmons hosts a “guess the lines” episode on his podcast during the NFL season, his guest Cousin Sal practically has started his own sports betting media company, and Darren Rovell continues to pine for the moments when NBC broadcaster Al Michaels sprinkles in slight nods to wagering as the game happens live.

So, how did we get here, how have sports betting been impacted by the pandemic, and who are the major players? Let’s take a look.

🗺 Where Is Betting Legal?

Currently, sports betting is legal and online in 18 American states as well as the District of Columbia. It’s also legal, yet not currently operational in four states (Washington, Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina). There’s active legislation on the dockets for 7 states where state legislatures will address their legality.

🚀 Betting In COVID Times

Sports betting was on track for a record year before the pandemic. 2020 was primed for a massive year, but the lack of sports canceled or postponed during the pandemic put those numbers on hiatus.

Still, savvy bettors and resilient sportsbooks continued to offer up things to wager on, from the daily weather to Russian table tennis.

Despite the dire, sports-less situation, some sportsbooks reportedly held up well. MGM saw betting volume jump on NBA games when the end of the season and subsequent playoff bubble returned in Orlando.

FanDuel was also noticing that for games when there was no other competing sporting event, they saw a 30 percent increase in volume.

According to Front Office Sports, sportsbook operators drew $64.2 million in revenue during the second quarter, a massive 46.3 percent YOY decrease, which was the first quarterly decline since sports betting became legal in 2018. However, sports betting revenue for the first half of the year was still up 10.4 percent. States like Indiana, Iowa, and New Jersey saw significant traction. New Jersey, for example, reported $315 million in bets during the month of July — up from $54.6 million in bets taken during April.

According to Scott Kaufman-Ross, SVP of fantasy and gaming for the NBA, many American bettors are facing similar situations that are getting sports wagering and daily fantasy betting back on track.

“Fans at home and less to do with their disposable income. We also have a very unique schedule with games all day long that creates a lot more opportunity to bet on games. We’re seeing a lot of trends coming together at once which are really accelerating — people, confined to homes, are looking for new entertainment,” notes Kaufman-Ross.

In addition, the pandemic is also illustrating that innovative gaming and wagering fueled by mobile devices can help aid states looking to tap into new revenue streams.

“We expect state legislatures to pass bills more quickly, especially legalizing mobile sports betting. This is something that can create new revenue for the states. While some states have said you have to come in person or in brick-and-mortar retail — people are seeing the importance of mobile and online wagering,” he said.

🕹 Interactive Betting

Gone are the days where you had to appear at a sportsbook in Nevada to place a bet on a sports event or a futures bet.

Now, digital overlays, integrations, increased access to data and machine learning, and innovative partnerships are fueling a new trajectory for mobile sports betting.

For the NBA, the fast-paced nature of the game makes all sorts of intriguing possibilities with relation to betting or at least being informed with how to make a bet. The NBA is taking a non-exclusive approach and working with a number of the major players in sports betting as partners realizing that many NBA fans choose a variety of betting platforms based on their preferences.

“Digital overlays will be a big part and opens up big possibilities — integration with live odds, statics, and trends with partners. We have a number of sports betting partners (FoxBet, William Hill, Fan Duel, DraftKings) we’ve taken a non-exclusive approach to the space because we know that our fans are betting on all these different platforms,” Kaufman-Ross said.

Perhaps, in the future, who you’re betting with will allow access into a bettor’s particular platform where you can see the updated odds and more importantly, receive a tailored and personalized experience. This is the key to who engaging content and experience will play into the ever-changing world of sports betting.

The market is already seeing this a bit with some free predictive and outcome-based platforms that allow you to watch a game, but have chosen a particular situation or answer a series of questions beforehand, where the winner(s) will receive a guaranteed payout depending on the outcome.

⏰ The Market Opportunity is Micro

Right now, the bulk of American betting opportunities are on game lines like will the team win straight-up, or by a certain amount of points. In betting parlance, this is referred to as run-lines or money lines. Bettors can also wager on future events like whether a team surpasses or under-performs on a season win total or wins a title or championship.

With more betting moving to digital devices, it’s easier to do more than just anticipate a team or player’s performance before the game. Daily fantasy sports has trained people to think about collective player performance in order to win, which keeps people interested during the game at a high-level to track whether or not your roster will net them big cash.

This in-game interest, coupled with digital advances and second-screen betting on mobile devices is opening up what’s called “micro-betting” and predictive betting opportunities.

Instead of just focusing on the game result, the event is broken down into a series of endless betting moments like guessing what the next play will be, or whether a player will accomplish a certain outcome.

In Europe, this is already a big deal. There, more than 70 percent of betting action comes from these in-play events.

🚀 Sports Technology + Betting = Immersive Fan Experience

When it comes down to the future of sports betting in America, it’s shining a light on creating a more engaging and exciting fan experience built on technology across mobile devices. Betting is proving to be an added benefit and everyone from professional sports leagues to broadcasters are getting involved to tap into new streams and the ability to improve the fan engagement experience.

At the NBC Sports Group, the historic lag and now the sudden acceleration of interest in the sports betting marketplace is allowing them to see new opportunities, fueled by innovative technologies that enhance fan engagement. It’s also a new way to tap into opportunities without the costly burden of physically creating content or figuring out how to sell.

“Having a fresh set of eyes on a space like sports betting — we’re only going to benefit from that,” said Will McIntosh, EVP, Digital & Sports Consumer Business. “We’re trying to figure out how to stand up businesses that can serve to establish a sports betting vertical for us that isn’t reliant on live sporting rights, or creation of content or just selling advertising.”

Another way this is coming to fruition is seen in the just-announced partnership between NBCUniversal and PointsBet. NBCU gets a stake in PointsBet while allowing Points Bet to gain access to their immense programming events including the Olympics, NASCAR, The PGA Tour, and the USGA.

PointsBet will also become the flagship sponsor for the NBC Sports Predictor App and odds-making insights for the golf properties.

NASCAR has taken a lead in this by allowing fans to grab a stake in the races by guessing race outcomes. Turns out, this is an additional way to help keep fans sticking around longer and have them participate in the action.

“Those things really do attract fans and keep them engaged through an entire event so that they’re interested in watching from the start of the green flag to the checkered flag finish,” said Craig Neeb, Chief Innovation Officer at NASCAR.

What are some of your experiences and expectations for the ever-changing sports betting market? Have you won a share of a jackpot on DraftKings? Have you placed bets in your home state on a mobile device? Has betting kept you more interested in the games? Share your thoughts with us on our social channels on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

Also, be sure to attend the SportsTechie Sports Capital Symposium, happening on Sept. 17 through Sept. 18. We’ll be presenting “Against the Odds – PointsBet, NBC Sports & PGA Tour” at 12:10PM ET with Will McIntosh | Executive Vice President, Digital and Sports Consumer Business, NBC Sports Group and Nicolina O’Rorke | Chief Financial Officer, NBC Sports Regional Networks & Senior VP, NBC Sports Enterprises
Learn more and register here (it’s free!).