When the U.S. Supreme Court removed the federal ban on sports betting in 2018, many speculated that fan engagement would go through the roof. The assumption, is that if fans are financially invested in outcomes they will be more likely to watch and stay tuned. This has occurred for a number of leagues. For instance, since the legalization of sports betting, NFL viewership has risen every year.
We’re not here to argue the effectiveness of sports betting as a facilitator of increased viewership and attendance. Instead, we want to draw attention to the fact that it has fundamentally altered the fan experience, and for a significant segment of the population that’s not a good thing. Consequently, any perceived success of sports betting legalization as a means to drive viewership and attendance is not likely sustainable.
Is sports betting ruining sports for millions of Americans? Let’s review.
How the Proliferation of Online Sports Betting Has Altered the Fan Experience and Put Vulnerable Americans in Jeopardy
Habitual Gamblers Can’t Enjoy Game Without Betting
“As much as I enjoy it, gambling has ruined sport now, because you can’t watch it without thinking: ‘I should put a fiver on first goal.’ You can’t just enjoy it for what it is. It has completely taken over. All my mates can’t watch it without having a bet any more. It has ruined sport […] I can’t remember the last time I just watched the game like a real fan, without having a bet on it.”The Guardian
Research conducted overseas has found that young adult males are strongly associating their support for sport (and respective leagues, teams, etc.) with gambling. In some reported cases, those who were once simply just fans can no longer watch a game unless they have multiple bets on it.
Even elite athletes are speaking out about how legalization has transformed what it means to be a fan.
“Sports betting has completely taken the purity and the fun away from the game at times […] There’s a difference between being a diehard fan and supporting your team and loving your team vs somebody that’s betting on a parlay or somebody that wants to hit..”Kyrie Irving, NBA
Non-Gamblers Turned Off by Non-Stop Betting Ads During Games
Pure fans of sport who have opted out of sports betting are fed up with the relentless stream of gambling advertisements on TV and in stadiums. This is no small segment of the population. Research finds that 45% those surveyed in the USA either Strongly Agree or Tend to Agree that there is too much advertising and sponsorship for sports betting. America has spoken; they would rather watch the America’s most agitating Burger King ad over and over again than see Jamie Foxx hocking sportsbook sign-up bonuses.
But alas, it seems that the average sports fan has no choice but to live with it, or stop watching altogether:
“The incessant hawking of gambling tips and ‘information, almost always given by people who are not actual reporters with actual access to actual information, is beginning to have an end-of-capitalism feel to it: It’s like sports executives and leagues are desperately tossing their souls into an “Everything Must Go” sale. The average non-gambling consumer — which is to say, the average sports fan — may hate how ubiquitous this has all become. But it’s probably just going to get worse. This is just what sports television is now and what it will be moving forward. We’re all locked in this hotel room now, and forever.New York Magazine
Leagues such as the MLB have recognized this and are working on a policy that does not ostracize fans who don’t gamble. They, and other leagues, have an uphill climb ahead as they attempt to balance sponsorship paydays with responsibilities to fans who built their respective sports in the first place.
Parents Afraid to Let Their Kids Watch Sports
Carrying over from the noted impact above, parents are particularly concerned about the volume and frequency of online sports betting advertising. Prior to 2018, families could watch a game without concern for what their children would be exposed to, aside from the odd streaker or wardrobe malfunction. But now, operators are cultivating a new generation of gamblers and are using fandom as the gateway to the impressionable souls of our nation’s youth.
Concerned parents are faced with a tough decision – must they add NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, and NCAA games to the list of what’s not appropriate to watch? It would be a shame, given that for generations American households have huddled up to watch the big game together. Please read this guide to how to talk to your kids about gambling ads on TV.
Sports Are Supposed to Inspire Healthy Activity, Not the Opposite
There as a time when American households would watch the game, then head out during halftime and after the final score to toss around the pigskin and shoot hoops at the nearest court. Following collegiate and professional sports inspired us to go outside and play. That’s all changing. According to the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) the country’s percentage of sports bettors has jumped from roughly 15% to 25% since the Supreme Court ruling. That’s nearly 6.5 million Americans who now bet on sports.
Instead of sports encouraging people to engage in healthy activity, habitual gamblers are now using the time between quarters, periods, and innings to check parlays, place live in-game wagers, and assess their wins and losses. The NCPG reports that the risk of gambling disorder has grown by 30% and that calls to gambling crisis hotlines are soaring. Vulnerable individuals who were once mere sports fans, are now in danger.
Has Sports Betting Taken Control of Your Life?
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