An estimated 33 million American adults plan to wager on the NFL this season, according to a survey released from the American Gaming Association Wednesday morning. That number represents 13% of all U.S. adults, down from 15%, or nearly 40 million in 2019.
Twenty percent of respondents say they will wager through the legal market at brick-and-mortar locations while 34% say they will be online — legally or offshore. Both numbers represent an increase from last season.
The number of respondents who say they plan to bet at physical locations is up 2% over last year and the number of respondents who say they plan to bet online/mobile is up 5%. Six million respondents — or 18% — said they will bet with an illegal bookie.
The survey was conducted by Morning Consult, which contacted 2,200 U.S. adults across the country between Aug. 24-27.
But enthusiasm for NFL season apparently down
According to the AGA, sports fans report less enthusiasm about the upcoming season than they have in past years — 42% said their enthusiasm has waned, pointing to several factors.
Per the AGA (emphasis added):
Engagement from sports bettors will prove even more important to the NFL as fans report generally lower enthusiasm for the NFL season. 4 in 10 (42%) American adults say they are less excited about this season than last year, citing the increased political activism around the league (36%), absence of fans in stadiums (19%), and inability to gather with friends to watch games (17%) as the main factors contributing to their lessened interest.
On the flip side, the survey revealed that NFL fans who plan to wager on games are 54% more likely to be enthusiastic about the season vs. 18% of the general population and 41% of avid football fans.
“The NFL traditionally drives a significant amount of action from sports bettors, and this year appears to be no different,” AGA President and CEO Bill Miller said in a statement. “While we’ve known for a long time that bettors are more engaged fans—particularly when it comes to football—continuing to drive them to the legal market is essential for protecting consumers and the integrity of the games they wager on.”
In terms of bets placed to date, the AGA reports that 13% of all bettors are wagering on the Chiefs to repeat as Super Bowl champions, followed by 9% who selected the Dallas Cowboys to win it all.
During the last U.S. presidential election year in 2016, when former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the singing of the national anthem to call attention to police brutality and racial equality issues, NFL ratings crashed — by double digits during early parts of the season. Then-candidate Donald Trump lambasted the NFL and players taking a knee during the National Anthem, in a season swallowed by dissent and controversy. Columns about the NFL’s demise and downward trajectory were prolific, and the myriad theories included a lack of superstars.
Of course, the ratings came right back in subsequent seasons. However, a confluence of events this year is likely to spur a 2016 repeat: overall uncertainty about live sports amid a pandemic; the lack of an NFL preseason; economic impact on fans; closure of sports bars and restaurants; and a deeply divided country barreling toward a momentous Nov. 3 presidential election while protests and counter-protests occur nationwide in connection with repeated cases of police brutality against Black men.
Taken together, NFL enthusiasm probably will be down and/or volatile during the election cycle and overall tumult.
NFL season opens Thursday
The NFL season kicks off Thursday with the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs hosting the Houston Texans on Thursday Night Football. A full slate of games is set for Sunday, though most teams will not have fans in their stadiums. Some teams, including the Dallas Cowboys, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs, and Miami Dolphins, will welcome a limited number of fans.
Since the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act was overturned by the Supreme Court in May 2018, 19 U.S. jurisdictions now have legal, live sports betting, with two more likely to be added by the end of the year. The Tennessee Education Lottery has plans to launch up to four operators by Nov. 1, and the Virginia Lottery, which is set to approve its sports betting regulations next week, is aiming to have operators go live by the end of 2020.