Will US “Sports Bettors” Eagerly Return to Sports Stadiums & Arenas Post COVID-19?

Sports Bettors Eagerly Return to Sports Stadiums

  • Does being at the game “distract” sports bettors vs. their current at-home situation?
  • US marketers prepare for the future sports stadium watching & wagering experience
  • Advancing “in-game” wagering popularity will change “at the game” experience 

Much has been written predicting what a post-COVID-19 landscape will look like within the US affecting our economy, way of life, and general social practice. That is, with the hopeful and prayer-laden assumption the US and the rest of the world soon return to a normal way of life following our current pandemic while continuing to rack-up a record number of illnesses and deaths.

Restaurants are being shut down weekly. Retail chain stores in business for decades are meeting their demise. Involving the entertainment business, the biggest question remains is if the everyday movie theatre will ever recover. While giant theatre operators like Regal Cinema. AMC and Cinemark swim in billion-dollar debt, they conclusively know their traditional model is Coronavirus completed. Replaced by an at-home preference for Netflix, HBO Max, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, etc.

Involving the exploding sports and sports wagering landscape, another societal change is slowly taking place and more important could quickly shape affecting the future. Is the rising group of involved “sports bettors” eager to return to sports stadiums and arenas to focus directly on the action they paid to see and enjoy? Or might they view that as a potential risk distraction to the wagering action they prioritize?

The Home “Sports Betting Stadium”

As COVID-19 has continued to plague our day-to-day life for over nine months, sports bettors have adjusted to certain practices as to how theatergoers have adjusted to life without large, big-screen theatres to visit.

At home at any bettor’s disposal is either a desktop computer, laptop, or cell phone to obtain necessary information and wager. Likely all three. Along with that their favorite 50 inches or larger screen and favorite chair to comfortably view all action and negotiate all wagering.

Essentially the sportsbook is right there online in their living room or den for an increasing number of people within the US. It is forecasted as many as 25 states or more will have iGaming access sometime in 2021. No safety mask is necessary to gain entry nor any restriction policy noted at the door.

Although the sports wagering industry is still in its infancy, monthly figures continue to support this cultural scenario. Reports from larger states that include several sportsbook operators including New Jersey and Pennsylvania consistently average 85-90% of their handle online despite having several retail sportsbook locations available to visit within their states.

Tennessee, only a few months in action, is thriving with an online gaming “only” policy for their newly legislated sports wagering business.  Other states are carefully viewing this model for themselves as a potential fit plus a cost-saving, profit, and fund maximizing alternative.

The In-Stadium Sportsbook

In an attempt to combine the experience and provide the bi-situational sports fan and sports bettor the ultimate opportunity, we are seeing sportsbooks appear directly in stadiums and arenas. Something common in Europe but would be thought of as unheard of and impossible within the US only a few years ago.

As an example, UK betting and gaming company William Hill will be opening its permanent sportsbook at the Capital One Arena in Washington DC this spring. It will include 1,500 square feet of LED screens, a Jumbotron on the second level, and a radio and TV broadcast studio on the first floor. The sportsbook itself will include 12 ticket windows and 10 self-service kiosks, two VIP areas, and a large private dining and event space.

It all sounds great but on further thought, is this why the average Washington Wizards or Capitals fan/bettor came to the game? Or more importantly, invested in tickets, and paid for expensive parking?

These questions need to be studied by experienced marketing minds in breaking down the interest levels of the customer base as sports betting weaves into our new culture. DraftKings Sportsbook, FanDuel, and BetMGM are advertising heavily and forming partnerships with many US sports teams to enhance interest and business opportunities. But are they unintentionally distracting their customers from the home game they came to see?

Betting “In-Game” at the Game

Another factor to consider is the rise in popularity of “in-game” wagering covering several sports including US favorites football, baseball, and basketball.

The betting phraseology of “who do you like in the game” might be replaced now by “who do you like in the second half, fourth quarter, etc.”. New technology and sportsbook app development to include in-game wagering is growing at warp speed. It is equivalent to playing a slot machine, with the difference relying on a sports bettor’s thought decision to weigh odds on a specific play, the player(s), or timed opportunity.

While being seating at the game, are you missing the chance to best evaluate other opportunities for other games you can click toward on your home television set? Or, being AT the game, can you generally see less than you might see better on the TV set at home?  What situation provides you the better chance and evaluation to win the bet? Ugh….

The Stadium is NOT the Racetrack

A suggestion to consider is finding the breaking point between marketing the wagering experience at the stadium and arena for that intent on focusing upon the enjoyment of the game itself.

The sports stadium is NOT equivalent to horse racing, where most of the interest is solely provided for and intent on wagering only. Fans go to the track with the purpose of betting only, not to appreciate equine athletes, nor skill of jockeys.  Most racetracks survive day to day dependent on online simulcast wagering with sparse crowds in the grandstands.

Only a few “destination racetracks” like Saratoga, Keeneland, and Del Mar draw many onsite spectators. Only on Kentucky Derby weekend, do the famous Twin Spires of Churchill Downs draw more than a few thousand people.

As sports stadiums and arenas hopefully look past COVID-19 and anticipate full capacity, it is not assumed they will receive the same fanatical support as before sports wagering has hit full throttle in the US.

The guy screaming for the home team will also have his cell phone anchored in his hand to watch other games and check for updated results of his previous wager. They might be watching other games live via streaming services or checking statistics to contemplate their next bet. Or sadly, perhaps away in the stadium sportsbook, missing the action they paid to see that evening.

All things to think about as sports fans and sports bettors are unfortunately locked-out of most stadiums and arenas due to our current pandemic crisis. Will they be returning and if they are what will their potential changed behavior and habits be like?

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Larry Gibbs

Expert on Sports Betting Industry

Larry Gibbs is both a seasoned journalist and a respected online gaming industry consultant. His wry commentary & sharp analysis have appeared in numerous top gaming and sports wagering publications. He has also served as Vice President of US Gaming Services, a marketing research organization with 15 years of experience in US online wagering. He has spoken at noted gaming industry conferences including G2E, GiGSE, and NCLGS.

Email: [email protected]