The 2022 FIFA World Cup will be different for American sports fans. You can place a bet on it. Literally.
For the first time, the world’s most-watched sporting event will take place in a country where sports betting is legal.
And it’s more than just the state-by-state legalization that began more than four years ago with the Supreme Court’s decision in Murphy v. NCAA. It is this type of action, which was previously thought to be limited to Las Vegas casinos, offshore websites, and British bookmakers, that will now be comfortably accessible to a broader range of people seated on couches with mobile phones in hand.
“For new American fans, this World Cup will be unprecedented,” says Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling. “Because they’re going to see soccer betting presented in a way they’ve never seen before, and probably even in a way they’ve never seen in the United Kingdom.”
As of early September, 30 states and the District of Columbia had legalized sports betting in some form, with 22 of those states allowing residents to wager online.
Anyone who has played, attended or watched professional or major college sports in recent months has felt the impact, as leagues and teams that once downplayed gambling have embraced advertising and “partnerships” with sportsbook sponsors.
There is no reason to believe that the World Cup will be any different.
“Won’t it be like every other big sporting event where every single commercial is now about betting?” deadpanned John Murray, the director of race and sport at Las Vegas’ Westgate SuperBook sportsbook. “I’m sure these corporations will be pouring money into the World Cup.”
And for those who become bettors for the first time, Whyte says it will be very different from what they expected.
He predicts that the majority of betting will take place during games rather than before, with a range of categories reminiscent of Super Bowl prop bets. Wagers on everything from who will win the match to who will cover the most distance in a 90-minute game could be available.
“I think we’re going to take everything they do in the UK (with live betting) and Americanize it,” Whyte predicted. “We’re going to accelerate it.”
What is less clear is the potential legacy of a heavily favored World Cup in 2022. Will it permanently bring new Americans into the betting fold, or will it potentially expose more people to the risks of addictive gambling behavior? Will it convert more bettors into lifelong soccer fans than in previous World Cup cycles when sports betting was not as accessible to the average American?
New bettors, new threats?
Some data suggests that, at least conceptually, the World Cup could provide an opportunity for American sportsbooks to reach consumers they might not otherwise reach.
According to Statista.com, approximately one-quarter of American women and slightly more than half of American Latinos watched at least some of the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Morning Consult found that soccer fans were also younger than fans of other traditional American sports in 2022.
According to Whyte, any fan who becomes a new bettor must understand the potential for risky behavior. He advises new users to use betting app features that allow them to set preemptive limits on how much they wager or lose.
However, Whyte does not believe that a person unfamiliar with other sports is more or less likely than a seasoned sports viewer to develop problem gambling habits.
“Part of it is gambling motivation,” Whyte says. “I don’t think it matters how much of a sports fan you are if you’re gambling for fun, with friends, and for low stakes.” “I think the risk is higher if you’re gambling for rent money, because you’re depressed, or because you just broke up with your boyfriend.”
There are also some risks for more experienced gamblers who are unfamiliar with the specifics of soccer, according to Murray.
One of the most common misconceptions about soccer betting is that money line bets are based on three outcomes rather than two — a win, a loss, or a draw.
Furthermore, most American bets account for any potential overtime. Unless otherwise specified, soccer bets are generally decided based on the outcome over the regulation 90 minutes plus injury time.
“That’s something that happens pretty much every major soccer tournament,” Murray said, “people making bets and not really understanding what they’re betting on.” “There are a lot of soccer newcomers who bet on the World Cup.” And it’s critical that they understand soccer in the same way that you assume you understand all of the rules if you bet on the NFL.”
Getting to know the Latinx community
From the perspective of American sportsbooks, the greatest opportunity to convert new long-term bettors is almost certainly within the American Latino/a/x community.
According to the 2020 United States Census, that group accounts for more than 60 million people, or nearly 20% of the American population. In terms of how they consume soccer in general, and the World Cup in particular, they are even more visible than other Americans.
It’s impossible to overstate the significance of this for a company like Jefe Bet, which provides betting-related content tailored specifically to the American bilingual Spanish-English audience.
“This is essentially the Super Bowl for us,” said Kyle Piasecki, senior vice president of strategic partnerships for First Street Gaming, Jefe Bet’s parent company. “Soccer articles receive 60% of our traffic… As a result, we recognize that this is a fantastic opportunity for us.”
The ratings for the 2018 World Cup, in which the US did not compete but Mexico did, support this.
Telemundo’s average audience across the 63 games was 2.03 million viewers, which was more than two-thirds of Fox’s average audience of 2.98 million, despite presumably missing out on about a fourth of the potential viewers.
The second-most watched World Cup game on any American broadcaster was Mexico’s group-stage match against Germany, which drew 7.13 million viewers on Telemundo.
However, Piasecki claims that many American sportsbooks are unprepared to capitalize on the event’s enormous popularity among Spanish speakers and other Latinos. It’s not entirely their fault.
“The operators have been so bogged down with getting all these states live,” he says, referring to the process that each sportsbook must go through in order to begin operating online in a new state. “Creating a new state is akin to establishing a new land-based casino.” So they’ve just been weighing their options. And going outside of their core business, it’s not in their natural business to pivot into cultural marketing.”
According to Piasecki, Jefe Bet is filling that void by sending two employees to cover the event in Qatar.
The company hopes that the coverage will raise its profile as it considers becoming a sportsbook operator online in Latin America and in a retail location in Las Vegas.
PointsBet could be an even bigger winner. Not only is the company a rare mainstream American online sportsbook with a Spanish-language option on its app and website, but it is also a partner of NBC Universal, which includes Telemundo, the Spanish-language World Cup rights holder.
Football or futbol (or both)?
Even though the 2022 FIFA World Cup is a big, novel betting event in the United States, many in the industry believe it could be even bigger under different circumstances.
Normally held in late spring or early summer in the Northern Hemisphere, the event’s unusual timing this year is intended to avoid the unplayable heat of the Arabian Peninsula during the summer months. However, it will clash with the latter stages of the NFL and college football regular seasons, which easily outnumber all other sports in the American betting landscape.
“This World Cup would be much bigger for us if it was played in the normal June to July time slot,” Murray said. “It’s a very busy time on the sports calendar.” Not only is the NFL in action, but also college football, hockey, the NBA, and college basketball. As a result, it will be difficult to generate as much interest as in the summer.”
Those sportsbooks, on the other hand, may benefit from cross-promotion on NFL broadcasts on two networks.
holder of English-language rights Fox also owns the rights to Sunday afternoon NFL games, which gives them a platform to promote the 35 tournament games that will air on their network.
Fox Bet (stylized as FOX Bet) is also owned by the company and is available to mobile and online bettors in Colorado, Michigan, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.
Meanwhile, NBC and Telemundo have the Sunday night NFL package, which is consistently the highest-rated broadcast on television during a typical week of the season.
NBC has previously used that English-language space to openly promote its Spanish-language World Cup coverage, even to those who do not speak the language.
“There are two possibilities,” Piasecki suggested. “The World Cup receives more attention because of the NFL, because people who bet on the NFL see it in the book and increase their spend and also bet on the World Cup.” Or their wallet splits in two, which would be problematic for books. This is completely unknown.”
This story is part of the Pixel Pitch series, which investigates the intersections of soccer, the internet, and identity. Pixel Pitch is a collaborative effort between The Daily Dot and The Striker, a soccer-focused online publication “where every day is a soccer news day.”
More stories from the FIFA World Cup Betting examining the intersection of race and sports can be found online.
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