For the purposes of this piece, we define followers as those who told us they actively watch, attend or read about the sport. While this is a broad definition, it allows for a larger sample size for us to analyse.
We found a little more than a quarter (28%) of UK adults who follow football have placed a bet in the last 12 months, the highest figure of the five major sports we looked at. Cricket is in a close second: 27% of its fans have gambled in the last 12 months.
Rounding out our list, roughly one in five (22%) rugby union fans have put money down on a bet in the last year, followed by 20% of tennis fans and 19% of motorsport fans.
It’s no surprise football ranks high on our list, as its betting market has grown considerably in recent years. Punters can now place money on thousands of games among different leagues across a range of markets.
With so many football fans keen to bet, it makes sense that football leagues are defending their positions as the UK government is poised to rewrite the 2005 Gambling Act, which will include looking at gambling sponsorships.
“The association between football and the gambling sector is long-standing, with a collaborative, evidence-based approach to preventing gambling harms of much greater benefit than that of a blanket ban of any kind,” a statement from the English Football League read in October.
Further to that, the Betting and Gaming Council said it welcomes the review, but is leery of strict legislation. “The industry’s importance to these popular national pastimes shows why it’s vital that the Government gets the balance right, and does not drive punters towards the illegal, online black market, who have no interest in supporting sport either at a grassroots or national level.”
How frequently are football fans placing online bets?
While the data above looks at how often fans place bets online and offline, we also collect data on how often fans place bets through online bookmakers. Our data shows 13% of British football fans place online bets at least once a week (2% daily, 5% 3-5 times a week, and 6% once a week). Another 11% place online bets at least once per year (3% on a fortnightly basis, 3% once a month, 2% once every three months, 2% every six months, and 1% once a year).
Online betting figures are notably lower than offline numbers: Just 5% of football fans place a bet at least once a week, a figure no doubt tamped down by the COVID-19 pandemic, YouGov data shows. But beyond the restrictions brought on by the pandemic, the constant innovation of the mobile betting has brought in new patrons and has more existing bettors putting money down more often.
While play has largely resumed for several major sport leagues – albeit behind closed doors in hushed stadiums devoid of spectators – in-person bookies were forced to close during the latest national lockdown. As a result, gamblers keen to take a punt are forced to do so online. The online betting world may also be benefiting from UK residents under lockdown who yearn for entertainment while stuck at home.
The betting sector as a whole is expected to see substantial growth over the next several years as more sporting events become available for streaming and internet speeds increase.
Photo by Daniel Norin