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Survey: Legalization of Sports Gambling Could Lead to Increased Sports Viewing

In states where gambling on sports is already legal, active gamblers report watching more live events

Sports Betting
John Locher/AP/Shutterstock

With sports dominating the most-watched telecasts on broadcast TV in 2018, its value to TV networks in guaranteeing a live audience is unparalleled. People are still watching sports despite the decline in overall live viewing.

But an exclusive study conducted for Variety by Prodege, a leading market research panel, found that being able to gamble on sports drives interest in watching more sport events in place of other types of TV content. This holds true for both those living in U.S. states where sports gambling is legal, and for those interested in gambling living in non-legal states.

The NFL, NBA, NCAA and MLB are the sports organizations best positioned to benefit from additional viewers resulting from gambling, with around 9 in 10 active or interested in gambling saying they’d be interested in betting on a football game, just over half saying basketball, and a little under half, baseball. The interest in gambling mirrors the overall popularity of these sports. Of note was that 1 in 5 said boxing was a sport they would be interested in having a flutter on, coming in ahead of soccer and golf.

The Prodege study also found that potential punters are most interested in placing bets on championship games or finals like the Super Bowl, NBA Finals or World Series, followed by the team(s) that they follow and then tournaments such as March Madness or the World Cup. A small minority of gamblers are interested in betting on teams or competitions that they don’t follow, with the proportion similar to the number of gamblers in the U.S. estimated to have an addiction or problem.

Interested basketball bettors are more likely to be interested in betting on a tournament versus football and baseball bettors, with 7 in 10 basketball fans selecting this, versus 6 in 10 for baseball and 5 in 10 for football. This suggests that the NCAA’s March Madness tournament may be a prime beneficiary of legalized sports gambling, with the networks carrying the tournament also benefiting from interested basketball bettors being more likely to pay more attention to commercials airing during a game they have a wager riding on (3 in 10 reporting doing so).

If the momentum of legalized gambling continues, with more and more states removing the prohibition on it, popular sports organizations look set to benefit from increasing rights fees, as TV networks compete for content that captures both a live audience and higher than normal attention paid to ads. Those same networks will also benefit from being able to charge a higher premium for larger, more engaged audiences, with advertisers acquiescing for being able to deliver to an engaged audience in an ever-fracturing live viewing world.