BLOG | by Charlie Dundas

As Flutter strengthens in the US, how ready for sports betting are American fans?

With Flutter acting to strengthen its foothold in the US market through its acquisition of The Stars Group this month, we thought we would take a look at American’s views on sports betting.

The American betting market, of course, is still embryonic. Eleven states have legalized, and seven more are ready to pull the trigger.

But legalizing a market doesn’t instantly create it. Apart from the odd hotspot, like Las Vegas and Atlantic City, betting is not as well-entrenched in American culture.

So just where do Americans stand on betting?

Well, as is often the case with moral argument in a religious country, it’s complicated.

Twenty-three percent of Americans believe that gambling should be completely illegal (and that’s up from 20% last year). But do sports fans, many of whom have grown up betting through fantasy sports like FanDuel, feel the same? Yes, it turns out they do.

In fact, slightly more sports fans (defined here as fans of the major leagues) believe that all gambling should be illegal (24% v 23%).

But while that may be somewhat discouraging for those preparing to break into the market, in good news, far more people believe that betting should be permitted. Almost half (46%) of sports fans believe that online sports betting should be made legal, compared to 42% of the general population.

So, we’ve established that there’s a reasonable appetite for sports betting in the US. But unlike in the UK where soccer has market dominance in terms of audience share, fandom of US sports is rather more evenly split. Given that’s the case, around which sports is the betting market most likely to develop?

As a proxy for sports betting, we looked at fantasy sports activity. And while this isn’t a pure comparison (some sports lend themselves to this format of betting more than others), it’s a helpful pointer. And if existing habits are anything to go by, it’s football again (the American kind) which leads the way.

Fantasy NFL is far and away the most popular form of the game, with 8% of Americans saying that they’ve played in the last 12 months. That’s twice as many as any of the other major leagues (4% play fantasy NBA and the same amount play the MLB version), with soccer beating hockey into fourth place.

On this basis, it’s NFL which looks the ripest market – although this data is also a reflection of the NFL’s size. It’s the sport with the biggest market share in the US.

Now, given the opportunities already afforded to Americans to gamble – in casinos, lotteries, online etc – are sports fans any more likely to do so than the general public? Generally speaking and almost across the board, the answer is yes.

Whether it’s Powerball, scratch tickets, card games, slots, Mega Millions, bingo or an online gambling product, major league sports fans are more likely to have played in the past 12 months than the general population. For every type of gambling, the difference between the general population and sports fans is only small but it demonstrates a broad trend – that sports fans are likely to be better disposed in general to betting.

Finally, let’s take a look at a sport’s fans’ feelings about existing betting brands – in this case, the big casinos.

Once more, sports fans are slightly more likely to have a positive impression of these brands. Out of 27 operators we track, fans of major league sports had a better impression than the general population of 22 of them.

All the evidence, then, points to a soft market in the States, rather than a developed one. Still, as the biggest online bookmaker in the world, Flutter should be able to show plenty of patience while it ripens.

BLOG | by Charlie Dundas

CHARLIE DUNDAS
Commercial Director

With over 15 years’ experience in the sports and sponsorship field, Charlie’s role at YouGov Sport (SMG Insight) is to develop new market opportunities as the company continues to grow internationally. He also assists established and future clients to get the most from YouGov Sport’s market-leading tools and research techniques.

E charlie.dundas@smg-insight.com