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The new poll represents at least some of the reason behind why major sports leagues, most notably the NFL, have been tepid or publicly against the expansion of sports betting in the US.
The recent poll from Seton Hall comes with the backdrop that Republican candidate Donald Trump has warned that the presidential election could be rigged, despite the fact that there is little evidence of any widespread voter fraud.
Seton Hall decided to take the question to the world of sports, and the responses are somewhat surprising.
Generally, nearly half of all respondents said games in the US ‘could be rigged.’ At the top end, 52 percent of people who answered the poll believe an NFL game can be rigged. A smaller percentage, just 42 percent thought a World Series game could be rigged.
The bottom line takeaway is that not everyone believes the sports they are watching are necessarily 100 percent above board.
“The sports organizing bodies rely heavily on the public believing that their games are honest,” said Rick Gentile, director of the Seton Hall Sports Poll. “This measurement of public perception certainly can’t please them, just as people in government are so upset about Donald Trump’s charges.”
Such perceptions likely color major US sporting organizations’ stance toward sports betting. The NBA and Commissioner Adam Silver have been vocal about legal sports betting being preferable to the current illegal offshore market that serves US bettors.
But the other pro sports leagues and the NCAA have been more stand-offish or opposed to sports betting. That includes the NFL; Commissioner Roger Goodell maintains the league remains “very much opposed to gambling on sports.”
The concept of “rigging” a sporting event can capture other sentiments outside of the effects of sports betting, however. For instance, it’s possible Americans think the leagues themselves can influence game outcomes for optimal TV ratings, even if this isn’t actually happening.
The poll also took a look at the daily fantasy sports industry and people’s perception of contests vis a vis integrity of the underlying sporting events:
The poll also asked whether some teams having ownership positions with fantasy sports companies opens the door for the rigging of performances of professional athletes to affect the daily fantasy outcomes. 45% said yes, 32% said no, with 24% stating “don’t know.”
All of the perceptions captured by the poll belie the fact that fixing matches and performances at the top levels of professional sport is increasingly difficult. Even lower-level professional athletes make large sums of money, and it would be difficult to influence them to throw a game or turn in a poor performance.
Theoretically “rigging” amateur contests, where players are not paid, would be tacitly easier, despite the fact that respondents to the poll thought the outcomes of college football and basketball games are less likely to be influenced.
Given the dynamics in play in DFS contests, in particular, it would be nearly impossible to pay a player or players to influence or produce a certain outcome.