Which sports have the most pulling power for online operators in the US?

Jayms Brooks  • 

“You miss 100 per cent of the shots you don’t take”; arguably one of the most iconic quotes from a US sporting cult hero - ice hockey star Wayne Gretzky, believe it or not, wasn’t just talking about playing tactics.

A quote that has been recycled on numerous occasions; used and applied to all walks of life, the US online sports betting industry can certainly be no exception for this. Where operators are concerned, every market is effectively there for the taking.

Following the widespread legalisation of sports betting in numerous US states and with more in the pipeline, this has provided an unprecedented opportunity for Americans to wager on their favourite sports, with numerous Sportsbooks available - indeed, 2021 saw the US sports betting handle double, as $52.7 billion was wagered.

Obviously, ice hockey attracts a significant amount of betting interest, indeed, this is reflected by the sponsorship agreement between the NHL (National Hockey League) and BetMGM - an MGM Resorts International and Entain joint venture. 

Even Australian firm PointsBet have got in on the action as a sponsor; a dichotomy if ever there was one - ice hockey and the “land down under” could not be any further apart. While the sport has a significant, almost cult following in the US, it certainly isn’t the most popular though.

Many sports betting operators over the last year saw many record months for wagering figures, just reflecting the overall popularity; of not just sports themselves, but also the American resident’s proclivity for a sports bet.

Of course, it could be argued that the foundations had already been laid which provided the clues needed to discover whether this would be a success in the US. Some years before - 2009 in fact, daily fantasy sports betting came to the country in the shape of FanDuel and DraftKings; similar platforms that allowed players to pay an “entry fee” and win money daily based on their fantasy sports picks. This, effectively, was their way around strict gambling legislation that existed at the time.

However, during those years, the US got a taste of what sports betting was all about, without reaping the maximum benefits. Both FanDuel and DraftKings invariably found that the most popular sport, perhaps unsurprisingly was football (NFL), something which appears to have translated across to the Sportsbook format.

Influence of the Super Bowl

There has to be no doubt that, arguably the most anticipated event on the US sporting calendar, is a major contributor for its sport’s importance for operators. NHL’s season climax, the Super Bowl attracts one of the largest television audiences in the world.

This time around at least, from a betting perspective, this was no different. Several states reported record figures and New York state, which had launched mobile sports betting just four weeks earlier surged to number one spot as the betting figures were tallied for each state.

Senior Director of Research at the Gaming Association, David Forman revealed: “It’s pointing to a very positive picture.

“Nevada was up over 30% from last year, New Jersey was up over 20%, which is particularly impressive given that New York is now online.”

One only has to look at the various promotions and sign up offers at each of the Sportsbooks to realise that the NFL and the Super Bowl especially, has a lot of pull. Some operators were even offering as much as $5000 in free bets in certain states as a sign up offer for the most recent edition of the Super Bowl.

Difference between states and the number of franchises?

For some operators, it could be that they notice a difference in revenues based on the number of franchises there are in certain states and as a result, they will then need to compete with other Sportsbooks to attract the most customers.

Of course, there are some states with a huge number of franchises - the recently regulated New York market, for example, plays home to no less than seven major teams across each of the main sports - any Sportsbook that is not licensed there could certainly be missing out on a substantial share of the revenue.

In just its first year of online gambling and sports betting being live, Michigan state generated just shy of $300 million for sports wagering alone, having broken monthly records continuously, throughout the year. 

Michigan has its fair share of sports franchises - none of which have a particularly successful track record, yet no doubt have their fair share of following, across each of the major sports. However, it would be fair to say that neutral games would have attracted many bets, especially from fantasy sports converts. 

In Michigan, fast emerging Sportsbook, BetMGM ranked in first place in terms of the highest performing operator for sports wagering, with rivals FanDuel and DraftKings following close behind.

There will be examples of course where a Sportsbook is perhaps more popular in one state than its rivals, due to the number of corporate sponsorships that it has with sports franchises. This alone is one reason why sponsorships can be so important to Sportsbooks and should one have more than one deal in a state, the likelihood is that they will be the lead Sportsbook. 

Will Foreign Operators have an impact? 

What will be interesting to see is, to what extent non-US operators can have an effect - especially those with many years of experience becoming specialists in a particular sports market. 

For decades, William Hill was known as the leader in horse racing. It is still early days in the US market, though each Sportsbook in the US has the potential to become a leader in a certain sport. 

Should this be a foreign operator though, this would be viewed as a major issue in the US. Bet365 have proven to be a force to be reckoned with over the years in a number of markets, across a range of sports. There is no reason why they cannot have a similar influence on the US market. 

Australian Sportsbook PointsBet has made a considerable dent in the US, especially over the last 12 months, agreeing to a number of sponsorship deals. They have shown that they can be a force to be reckoned with and certainly, for a sport such as golf (still very popular in the US), they could be the Sportsbook of choice. 

Will Sportsbook segmentation happen in the US? 

In some ways like with the UK market, where every Sportsbook has one or two USPs (Unique Selling Points), whether these are being specialists in a particular sport, or market product (live betting, for example), this could eventually move in this direction in the US market. 

However, it really is still early days in the US market and still a lot of territories to fight for. It is hard to believe that every Sportsbook has a truly defined strategy right down to the last detail. 

Right now it appears that every Sportsbook is aiming to compete on every front for as long and as hard as it can. Gretzky, it turns out, never stopped needing shooting practice. 

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