As Sports Resume, Fans Say They’ll Stick To Wagering On Offbeat Selections

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Table tennis, virtual sports, and Belarusian soccer have been having their day in the sun during the unprecedented shutdown of most major professional sports as the COVID-19 crisis spread across the world. But according to a study released by DraftKings, which partners with the Gun Lake Casino in Michigan, that may be enough to boost long-term sports wagering interest in those sports.

The study, released on Monday, included 1,250 participants nationwide, 1,000 of whom identified themselves as sports fans. Among the most notable findings is that nearly one in four began following a new sport this year, and 67% say they plan to continue following the new sport(s) they adopted during the shutdown. That statistic seems to validate comments made by DraftKings CEO Jason Robins and Monumental Sports owner Ted Leonsis during a webinar earlier this year.

“People are interested in them and they want something,” Robins said of virtual sports. “Now they are playing it and they like it. … People want some sport, any sport. But what will things look like when sports come back? Will people stick with ping pong? Or will they shift back to basketball or baseball or football? Or what about golf and NASCAR coming back this month? Will they pick up incremental fans? I’m fascinated by the interplay, and I think it’s a trend that will keep going.”

E-Sports and professional video gaming were the most popular new sports, according to the study, followed by international soccer, golf, and MMA.

Fans still concerned about going to games

A handful of Michigan operators launched sports betting in early March, shortly before professional sports went on hiatus. Sportsbooks at the MGM Grand and Greektown (Penn National) casinos in Detroit opened for business on March 11, followed the next day by FanDuel’s MotorCity Casino Sportsbook. All were shut down in mid-March under state stay-at-home orders and await reopening.

Tribal casinos, however, are not under state control. Upon reopening, Firekeepers Casino Hotel debuted its sportsbook on June 22, becoming the first tribal casino in the state to offer sports betting.

The study also revealed that sports fans aren’t enthusiastic about heading back to stadiums and arenas (one in five said they don’t want to be in the stands). The study found that fans aren’t really sure when they’ll feel safe being in a big crowd — 19% are willing to watch a game in person within 0-3 months; 24% within 4-6 months; 16% within 7-9 months; 12% within 10-12 months; and 30% combined not for more than a year, or only when a COVID-19 cure is available.

“With over half of respondents having reported missing sports during the resultant hiatus, fans across the country are inarguably eager for the return of their favorite leagues and teams, albeit with largely adjusted expectations as exemplified by our latest findings,” said DraftKings co-founder and President Matt Kalish. “By deepening our understanding of the American fan through data and leveraging the technology of our platform, we are better able to adjust and serve the new experience of sports fans throughout the U.S.”

Fans’ unwillingness to see games isn’t stopping professional sports. Major League Baseball’s Opening Day is set for Thursday, and the Detroit Tigers will play their first game at the Cincinnati Reds on Friday with no fans. The Tigers open at home Monday with a four-game set against Kansas City.

For Michiganders, the Tigers will be the only game in town, as the NBA Pistons didn’t make the cut to play in the league’s Orlando bubble. The 22 qualifying teams begin play on July 30 across three locations at DisneyWorld in Florida.

‘It’s important’ for sports to return soon

Here’s a look at some other intriguing statistics from the DraftKings study:

  • 56% of respondents said they missed sports;
  • 66% said “it’s important” for sports to return between now and September;
  • 78% percent are comfortable giving up some of the live-viewing experience (i.e. concessions or tailgating) if that means bringing sports back sooner;
  • 53% said even before the coronavirus crisis, they preferred watching sports on TV; and
  • Respondents said it was “most likely” they would watch the NFL when it resumes, followed by the NBA and Major League Baseball.

The NFL season is set to begin on Sept. 13, with the Detroit Lions opening at home at Ford Field against the Chicago Bears. The Lions’ first preseason game is set for Aug. 13 at the New England Patriots.

Of those polled, 60% were men, 38% were between the ages of 31-40, and 57% have at least a four-year college degree.

 

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Jill R. Dorson

Jill has covered everything from steeplechase to the NFL and then some during a more than 30-year career in sports journalism. The highlight of her career was covering Oakland Raiders during the Charles Woodson/Jon Gruden era, including the infamous “Snow Bowl” and the Raiders’ 2003 trip to Super Bowl XXXVII. Her specialty these days is covering sports betting legislation across the country.

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