Legal sports betting would raise the overall time spent by viewers watching NFL games
Legal Sports Report

NFL Would Boost TV Ratings, Ad Revenue If US Ban On Sports Betting Lifted, New Report Says

NFL sports betting TV
The legalization of sports betting would help the bottom line of the NFL in a number of ways, according to a new report from a leading media research company.

Sports betting would help viewership, ads

MoffettNathanson Research released a report called NFL Season Recap – It’s All Over But the Crying (paywall), looking back at 2016-17.

Part of the analysis focused on sports betting, and opportunities missed by the NFL to generate more interest and revenue. The NFL has generally tried to distance itself from the possibility of legal sports betting.

Commissioner Roger Goodell routinely says his league is opposed to it. That’s in the face of the fact that Americans wager billions of dollars illegally every year on NFL games. Federal law prohibits single-game wagering outside of Nevada.

Here’s the top-level analysis from the report’s section on sports betting:

One potential change in the direction of viewership and ad dollars would be an evolution in the NFL’s view of legalized national sports gambling. …

Up to this point, the NFL has been reluctant to embrace [NBA Commissioner Adam] Silver’s point of view. Perhaps that would change if broader business decisions — and the health of the NFL’s TV partners — were taken more into account.

“This report from the leading media analyst on Wall Street shows TV partners why legalizing sports betting would boost viewership and grow advertising revenue,” said Sara Slane, the American Gaming Association’s senior vice president of public affairs, in a release highlighting the sports betting component of the report. “We invite broadcasters and advertisers to join our growing coalition to advocate for Congress to lift the failing federal ban on sports betting.”

The nitty-gritty on sports betting and engagement

Here are some of the numbers from the report, per the report:

  • If the US were to legalize sports betting, roughly 10 percent of non-bettors would be likely to bet on sports, which would raise the overall time spent by viewers watching NFL games.
  • “On a network by network business, the NFL Network and ESPN were more likely to be viewed by sports bettors versus the average viewer. These trends would be further inflated if gambling were to be legalized …. If gambling were allowed, a majority of NFL Network viewers would be sports bettors, followed closely by 47 percent on ESPN. The broadcast networks would all be closer to the 40 percent range.”

The new report echoes the findings of an AGA-sponsored study from Nielsen Sports. That report found that legal sports betting in the US would increase viewership and engagement of NFL fans in a meaningful way.

new poll showed that more people said they would bet on the Super Bowl, if doing so were legal.

Will the NFL change its mind in the face of economic realities?

The NFL is in the business of making money. Sports betting would mean more money for the NFL. At that level, supporting legal sports betting seems like a no-brainer.

The argument from Goodell is that the “integrity of the game” is paramount to the NFL. The presence of legal and regulated sports betting, the NFL argues, would threaten to hurt the game’s integrity.

The thing is, we know sports betting goes on already, whether the NFL likes it or not. We also know the NBA (definitely) and Major League Baseball (maybe) have changed their tune on sports betting. Regulation, there have come to realize, is likely better than the current black market that exists.

Will the NFL eventually join them in reconsidering its sports betting position? The potential for sports betting to help the bottom line — especially in the face of declining ratings — will stick out for the league. And any effort to legalize sports betting in the US will likely require the NFL to be on board.

If and when the NFL will join the chorus for regulated US sports betting , however, remains a variable.

Image credit: Keith Bedford/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

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Dustin Gouker
- Dustin Gouker has been a sports journalist for more than 15 years, working as a reporter, editor and designer -- including stops at The Washington Post and the D.C. Examiner.