Tom Brady, Mahomey, and COVID, oh my!
Yes, Super Bowl LV – between TB’s new-look Buccaneers and the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs helmed by Patrick “The Face of the League” Mahomes himself – had all the ingredients for a blockbuster…
Except for the projected ratings and betting handle.
In fact, the American Gaming Association (AGA), the US’ foremost lobby and statistics firm regarding all things gambling both online and off, suggested that the 2021 Super Bowl – despite its many compelling narratives – would suffer bigly at the sportsbooks.
And that made sense, as during the 2020 season, the league’s ratings were down seven percent year over year.
Many analysts and pundits have danced around the “why” of it all, but it’s actually quite simple to suss out the driver here:
The NFL has devolved into a politically left-of-center institution pushing all sorts of heavy-handed nonsense on a fanbase that really just wants to watch some football and be left alone.
In other words, it’s not COVID.
As the sole US sport not upended by the coronavirus fiasco, the NFL couldn’t really count on the virus as a plausible excuse for its abysmal viewership numbers.
After a summer without sports and an NCAAF campaign that saw many teams play only a handful of games in empty stadiums, the NFL should have been a massive winner in the ratings department.
If COVID were the issue.
But the hemorrhaging of fans wasn’t due to COVID-19, it was due to Politics 2020. And Politics 2019. And Politics 2018. And Politics 2017. And Politics 2016.
You get the idea.
And if that idea remains somehow lost on you, just go back and watch the pitiful Super Bowl commercials that ran in this year’s NFL title tilt.
But even as ratings were in the toilet – and they were in the toilet (where they shall remain) – betting has persevered.
Nevertheless, the AGA didn’t think that bettors would show up for the Big Game itself.
The outfit projected that bettors would turn a handle of $4.3 billion, with roughly 23.2 million Americans wagering on the contest.
Compared with their projections for Super Bowl LV just a year ago – 26 million Americans betting $6.8 billion – that’s a massive dropoff.
And it wasn’t really a bad prediction.
After all, Super Bowl LV was the least-watched NFL championship game in 15 years, and it needed some post-facto statistical gymnastics and “viewers-per-minute” trickeration to climb even that high.
Still, the prediction was way off.
Like, Chiefs-favored-by-three-and-losing-by-22 off.
It turns out that even without several states yet reporting their total numbers, domestic US betting sites pulled in close to $500 million, representing a massive increase over the $280 million handle reported last year.
While the AGA’s calculations include projections for legal offshore prepaid sportsbooks and not just US-based domestic sportsbooks, they shorted reality by a wide margin.
Some might make the argument that as more US states have legalized domestic sports betting, the local markets take business away from overseas betting operators.
However, that’s not been the case at all.
By all reports, every reputable online gambling house with US-friendly international operations actually increased its clientele during the coronavirus lockdowns.
This makes sense for a few reasons.
First, most casinos in the 30 or so states that have commercial and tribal brick-and-mortar venues were closed for most of the year.
Locals and vacationers for whom gambling is a part of life had no domestic options left to them.
And even in those states with legal sports betting within their borders, the dramatic majority of them do not offer casino gambling as part of their service portfolio.
At these sites, when someone signs up to access one market, they’re going to have access to all markets. Just because their state brings a third of that choice back to them, that doesn’t mean they’re going to jump ship.
And they didn’t.
Another reason why betting skyrocketed in 2021 even as poor television ratings commanded the NFL airwaves all year long is that as states legalize betting – as betting itself becomes less taboo and more accepted – those living in states without domestic options are emboldened to seek out legitimate alternatives while their state representatives twiddle their fat little thumbs.
That’s how Joe Average sticks his big work-weathered thumb in the eye of those slowpokes in the statehouse.
Legal in one state doesn’t mean legal in another, but it means that the citizenry no longer views such amusements as completely off-limits.
Thus, they find suitable places for their business. In this case, those are international prepaid gambling sites.
In the end, more US residents wagered on the Super Bowl with overseas operators in 2021 than have ever wagered on the Super Bowl with such sites before.
All things considered, the reality is simply this:
There’s no real correlation between the viewing numbers for a given event and the betting numbers for that same event.
In fact, this realization lends itself to some interesting potential futures.
If you’re a sports fan, for example, you may have seen that the NFL’s ratings problem isn’t just an NFL ratings problem – it’s a sports ratings problem.
Every major US sports league – the NFL, the MLB, the NBA, and the NHL – are at multi-decade lows in terms of ratings, and the trend started before the coronavirus hysteria of 2020.
Between progressive politics, new-wave schooling policies, general market saturation, burnout, and fresh competition for in-home entertainment in the form of streaming services, traditional sports are going to continue their slow decline in ratings relevancy.
However, they are unlikely to lose their relevancy entirely, as betting will keep them afloat.
Ironically, what once was though to be the scourge of sport and the bane of every fair-minded player and fan alike is now poised to save athletic competition as we know it.
Until, of course, eSports – and eSports betting – completes its total takeover.
Source: American Gaming Association