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NFL vs. NBA vs. UFC: Battle for Sports Betting Market Shares

Sports betting is currently live in 36 states and Washington, D.C., with the sports betting market share dispersed among various sports leagues. The American Gaming Association (AGA) estimates that bettors wagered nearly $27 billion, providing $350 million in federal, state, and local taxes from January 2021 to July 2021.

Sports Betting Activity Map

For all intents and purposes, we’ve evaluated the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, and the Ultimate Fighting Championship to envision what the sports betting market share will look like 10 years from now.

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To do so, we delved into the history of sports betting while reviewing the NFL, NBA, and the UFC in terms of its valuation, viewership, and betting statistics.

Brief History of Sports Betting

Defined as the act or practice of betting involving money or other stakes, gambling can be traced to sailors playing games of chance during the discovery of the “New World” in 1492.

Throughout American history, gambling has endured countless obstacles, such as the enactment of the Idleness Statute of 1633, effectively banning the possession of cards, dice, and any other means of gambling in 1638.

Years later, gambling was again on the rise, and on November 18, 1776, the Continental Congress organized a national lottery to help fund the American Revolutionary War. 

While the national lottery and casino games materialized, sports gambling didn’t emerge until the 1860’s when betting booths appeared at baseball stadiums.

On March 19, 1931, Governor Frederick Bennett Balzar signed Assembly Bill 98, known as the “Wide Open Gambling Bill,” legalizing the gaming industry. Though, it wasn’t until 1949 that the first legal sports bet transpired in horse racing and off-track betting.

On October 28, 1992, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), sometimes referred to as the Bradley Act, outlawed sports gambling across the US.

As a result, Nevada was the only state that had state-sponsored betting, even though Oregon, Delaware, and Montana were grandfathered in. The only domain not affected by the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 was parimutuel horse racing, dog racing, and Jai lai.

After years of back-and-forth that yielded no results, the United States Supreme Court passed a landmark decision on May 14, 2018, declaring that the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 is unconstitutional, essentially legalizing sports betting in the US. 

Since the historic decision, sports betting has emerged across the country, with the majority of states already legalizing sports gambling and many others amid proposed legislation. 

The Supreme Court’s overturning of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 has welcomed tremendous engagement from sports bettors, especially in the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, and the Ultimate Fighting Championship.


The NFL Betting Landscape

As recently as March 28, 2017, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell continued his opposition towards sports betting in the NFL. However, after the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 was overturned, the NFL embraced sports betting with open arms.

Before the 2020 NFL season, the Denver Broncos and FanDuel reached a partnership, becoming the first NFL team to partner with a sports betting partner. By April 2021, the NFL reached partnerships with Caesars, DraftKings, and FanDuel to become their approved sportsbook operators. By Week 1 of the 2021 NFL season, the NFL continued making headway, partnering with BetMGM, FOX Bet, PointsBet, and WynnBET.

According to Forbes, 26 of the 32 NFL teams are recognized in the world’s top 50 most valuable franchises. As of 2021, the most valuable franchise in the world is the Dallas Cowboys, valued at $5.7 billion. The other two NFL franchises ranked in the top 10 are the New England Patriots (8th), valued at $4.4 billion, and the New York Giants (9th), valued at $4.3 billion.

NFL teams garnered $12.2 billion in the 2020 NFL season, led by the Dallas Cowboys ($800 million), the New England Patriots ($478 million), and the Los Angeles Rams at $422 million.

While the value of NFL franchises continues to climb, the league maintains success through corporate sponsors. In the 2020 season, the NFL made $1.46 billion from corporate sponsorships.

After years of opposition, the National Football League finally welcomes the sports betting landscape, and for good reason. With the NFL’s affiliations with sports betting and gambling operators, the 2021 NFL season is projected to deliver $270 million in revenue for the league.


NFL Betting Statistics

Since the NFL accommodated sports betting, the number of wagers placed on NFL games has grown. According to the American Gaming Association, an estimated 45.2 million fans intend to place bets on the 2021 NFL season, a boost of more than 36% more from the 2020 NFL season.

The American Gaming Association forecasted that a staggering 45.2 million fans would place wagers on the 2021 NFL season in various forms:

  • 21.7 million gambling casually with friends (31% increase from the 2020 NFL season)
  • 19.5 million placing wagers online (73% increase from the 2020 NFL season)
  • 14.6 million participating in fantasy and daily fantasy games (69% increase from the 2020 NFL season)
  • 10.5 million placing bets at physical sportsbooks (58% increase from the 2020 NFL season)
  • 6.7 million placing wagers through bookies (13% increase from the 2020 NFL season)

The notion of legalized sports betting has NFL fans more enthused than ever, as 25% voiced they are more excited about the 2021 season than any prior year, and 48% of NFL fans are interested in betting on the NFL.


18 Week Season

When the Green Bay Packers won Super Bowl 1, formerly known as the AFL-NFL World Championship, an NFL season featured 14 weeks. In 1978, the NFL expanded from 14 games to a 16-game schedule. Forty-three years later, the NFL introduced an additional game for the 2021 NFL season, with each NFL team playing 17 games over an 18-week schedule.

In Week 1 of the 2021 NFL Season, bettors placed 58.2 million bets, a 126% increase from the 2020 NFL season. With $12 billion in wagers projected in the 2021 NFL Season, roughly $666 million is projected to occur each week. Considering the 2021 NFL season features an additional week, approximately 6% more wagers will ensue in the 2021 NFL season than years prior.


NFL Viewership

 An ESPN poll determined that there are 160 million NFL fans in the US, with the viewership of each NFL regular-season game in the 2020 NFL season being 14.9 million.

The 2020 NFL playoffs featured 14 teams in the expanded playoffs, an increase of two teams, offering two additional postseason games than years prior. The six Wild Card games averaged 24.3 million viewers, the four Divisional round games averaged 30.6 million viewers, and the AFC and NFC Championship games averaged 44.3 million viewers.

While the viewership was slightly down from Super Bowl 54 (100.45 million), the estimated viewership of Super 55 was 91.63 million. According to the American Gaming Association, roughly 23.2 million Americans bet on Super Bowl 55 between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The estimated total amount wagered on Super Bowl 55 was $4.3 billion.


The Largest NFL Wager

The largest wager on an NFL game occurred at Super 55 between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale, known for ushering promotions at his furniture store to hedge massive bets, placed a $3.46 million bet through the DraftKings mobile app on the Buccaneers, who were +3.5 underdogs to the Chiefs.


The NBA Betting Landscape

Commissioner of the NBA for 30 years from 1984-2014, the late David Stern vehemently opposed sports betting. In fact, Stern testified in the United States Senate in favor of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992.

Stern’s stance against sports betting grew stronger in 2007 when 13-year veteran referee Tim Donaghy, who officiated in 772 NBA games, including the postseason, schemed to fix NBA games.

After announcing his retirement in 2014, Adam Silver, then President and COO of NBA Entertainment, was elected on February 1, 2014 by the NBA Board of Governors to be the next commissioner of the NBA.

Unlike Stern, Adam Silver viewed sports betting as a positive for the league. On November 13, 2014, in his first year as the NBA commissioner, Silver boldly wrote an article in The New York Times advocating to legalize sports betting.

After retiring in 2014 as the longest-serving commissioner, Stern changed course in August 2016 in favor of gambling in the NBA.

After the Supreme Court ruling on May 14, 2018, the NBA quickly established a partnership with MGM Resorts International to become the official betting sponsorship of the league on July 31, 2018. Since the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 was deemed unconstitutional, the NBA has also partnered with FanDuel, DraftKings, and The Star Group.

Nine NBA franchises are acknowledged in Forbes list of most valuable franchises, including the New York Knicks, valued at $5 billion (3rd), the Golden State Warriors, valued at $4.7 billion (6th), and the Los Angeles Lakers, valued at $4.6 billion (7th).

The Golden State Warriors bring in the most revenue at $474 million, followed by the New York Knicks ($421 million) and the Los Angeles Lakers ($400 million). 

The total league revenue of the NBA is estimated at $7.92 billion in 2021, with the league earning $1.46 billion from sponsorships. With the integration of betting on the NBA, the league will garner even more revenue than the forecasted 7.92 billion.


NBA Betting Statistics

According to Nielsen, 57% of NBA fans are interested in betting on the NBA, just behind the NHL (62%) and College basketball (59%).

On May 26, 2021, back in the 2020-21 NBA Playoffs, Capital One Arena in Washington D.C, home to the Washington Wizards, Washington Capitals, and Georgetown Hoyas, opened the first sportsbook in an arena with William Hill Sportsbook.

Then just before the 2021-22 NBA season, the Footprint Center, home to the Phoenix Suns opened a FanDuel Sportsbook inside its arena. As more franchises partner with sportsbooks, the NBA’s sports betting market share will climb to unprecedented numbers.


NBA Viewership

Across NBA’s broadcasting partners of ABC, ESPN, and TNT, the average viewership per game was 1.34 million in the 2020-21 NBA season.

The most-watched game of the 2020-21 NBA season was on Christmas Day, showcasing the Los Angeles Lakers versus the Dallas Mavericks, averaging 7.01 million watchers hosted by ABC/ESPN. The 2020-21 NBA playoffs were hosted on ABC, ESPN, and TNT, with NBA viewership averaging 3.7 million viewers.

The 2020-21 NBA Finals between the Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns averaged 9.89 million viewers. As the Bucks defeated the Suns in six games, the total viewership for the 2020-21 NBA Finals was 59.34 million compared to the 91.63 million viewers of Super Bowl 55.


The Largest NBA Wager

One of the largest bets ever wagered on an NBA game took place during Game 6 of the 2021 NBA Finals featuring the Milwaukee Bucks versus the Phoenix Suns, who were favored by 4.5 points at home in Game 6 by FanDuel. A bettor wagered $820,000 on the Bucks money line to close out the series versus the Phoenix Suns. After the Bucks won Game 6 105-98, the bettor cashed in $410,000.


The UFC Betting Landscape

Founded in 1993, the UFC is the youngest of the three leagues by a landslide. The first Ultimate Fighting Championship event, termed UFC 1: The Beginning, transpired at the McNichols Sports Arena in Denver, Colorado, on November 12, 1993. By 2001, the UFC became an organized and sanctioned sport, hosting more than 40 events each year.

 Since UFC 1: The Beginning, the UFC has soared in popularity. As such, it’s essential to grasp a strong understanding of the different wagers you can make in the UFC.

Betting on the UFC offers bettors access to money line bets, though many bettors prefer making prop-style wagers called round bets. A rounded bet can be anything from predicting the fight’s winner, the exact round a fight will end, the method of victory, and whether the fight will go the distance.

The strategy for betting on the UFC also differs from the NFL and NBA because the UFC is an individual sport versus a team effort. Perhaps more than traditional sports, it’s crucial to research each fighter, from their strengths and weaknesses to their previous victories and losses, to paint a comprehensive picture of how one fighter will perform versus another.


UFC Viewership 

Offered to fans through pay-per-view, the UFC has stayed true to its pay-per-view concept since its founding, revealing an 86,000 buy rate at UFC 1: The Beginning, in addition to the 7,800 fans in attendance.

In 2001, the UFC averaged 71,000 PPVs per event, topping the 100k plateau in 2005, averaging 158,000 each event. Since the UFC’s inception, the highest yearly average of PPVs per event topped 655,000 in 2016.

The most viewed UFC fight event of all time materialized at UFC 229 on October 6, 2018, featuring Khabib Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor. 

With the SD version costing $54.99 and the HD version commanding $64.99, UFC 229 obtained 2.4 million pay-per-views, earning $180 million, the most PPV in UFC history.

The attendance of UFC 229 was 17,835, with the gross sales of the gate conveying $17,188.894.67, registering the highest gate in UFC history.


UFC Valuation

 The Ultimate Fighting Championship broadcasts roughly 40 live events to more than 900 million TVs each year. The UFC is estimated to have more than 625 million fans, with Dana White, President of the UFC, declaring that the fan base of the UFC grew more than 40% in 2021.

 As of September 2021, 13% of US citizens who took a survey confirmed they are avid UFC fans, including 22% of people aged 18-34. After the UEFA Champions League, La Liga, NBA, and English Premier League, the UFC has the 5th highest digital footprint in all of the sports.


The Largest UFC Wager

 At the UFC Apex Facility for UFC 250, a bettor placed a $1 million bet on Amanda Nunes to defeat Felicia Spencer at -600 odds. After winning by unanimous decision, the bettor earned $166,666,70. 


Each League’s Case for Sports Betting Market Share

Sports Fan Interest in Sports Betting

While the NFL is the most popular and watched sports league in the US, the study suggests that the fewest percentage of NFL fans (48%) are interested in placing wagers, with the NBA ranked 3rd (57%), followed by the NHL, whose fans who are the most captivated in placing bets.

Another thing to note from the graphic is that the UFC isn’t cited. However, according to another illustration from Nielsen, the UFC has the 8th largest global fanbase at 608,581 fans, with the NFL not featured in the top 14, with less than the 216,101 fans of cricket. 

(Insert Number of Global Sports Fans Graphic)

The NFL’s Case

Experts estimate that fans will wager over $12 billion at sportsbooks in the National Football League this season, with several billion wagered on the Super Bowl alone.

Averaging nearly 100 million viewers, the Super Bowl is consistently the most-watched broadcast each year in the US. However, the Super Bowl is significantly less watched than the World Cup finals, illustrated by the 1.1 billion people who tuned into the 2018 World Cup finals between France and Croatia.

Experts estimate that the NFL has 190 million fans, although teams will begin strategically marketing internationally to reach a larger global footprint, which could add 50 million NFL fans.

The NFL has the smallest fan base of the three leagues, though should the NFL, the most profitable sports league in the US, succeed in adding 50 million more fans, the NFL sports betting landscape will skyrocket.

Although the NFL has opposed the sports betting landscape for years, it has quickly become quite profitable for America’s most thriving sports league. Taking into account the most significant betting event of the year in the Super Bowl, in addition to the extra game played in the 2021 NFL season, the NFL receives one of the highest sports betting market shares in the world. To illustrate the value of the NFL betting landscape, the $4.3 billion valuations of the New York Giants is the same amount bet on Super Bowl 55.


The NBA’s Case

Basketball performs well on the global stage, with the second-highest number of fans, though the 865,600 figure also includes basketball overseas. 

Compared to the NFL, the NBA is much more prevalent overseas. The NBA also truly shines is in its digital footprint across Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. The NBA is ranked the 3rd highest among the top global sports leagues, behind only the UEFA Champions League and La Liga.

Here is a comparison of how the NBA stacks up versus the NFL and UFC in terms of its digital footprint:

(Insert Digital Footprint Graphic)

Total Video Views

Jan 2020-Dec 2020

NBA: 14.392 billion views

NFL: 6.155 billion views

UFC: 6.150 billion views 

Fan Engagement: Facebook

NBA: 15,744 per post

UFC: 13,351 per post

NFL: 5,163 per post

Fan Engagement: Instagram 

NBA: 339,015 per post

UFC: 186,704 per post

NFL: 181,340 per post

In the National Football Leagues’ 17 game season, there are 272 regular-season games, with 13 postseason games. In comparison, each team in the National Basketball Association plays 82 games, totaling 1,230 regular-season games, with a tentative number of playoff games to be played based on the outcome of each series.

As such, there is much more opportunity to bet on the NBA than the NFL and UFC, not to mention the National Basketball Association’s continued global presence, giving the NBA a solid case to hold the highest betting market share down the road.


The UFC’s Case

While they haven’t been around very long, the UFC is already one of the most prominent leagues globally in terms of popularity, with 608,581 fans. 

Unlike both the NFL and the NBA, watching the UFC requires purchasing each event through its pay-per-view model. Despite the UFC requiring fans to purchase each event, the UFC continues to grow exponentially.

With an average of 12-14 fights on each UFC card and 40 events each year, UFC fans can look forward to 560 distinct fights in the UFC Octagon every given year, offering 275 more chances for bettors to place wagers than the NFL.


The Sports Betting Landscape in 10 Years

Since the United States Supreme Court lifted the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992, many states quickly authorized legalized gambling. Although Nevada has long been the gambling capital of the world, since 2018, New Jersey has fared more favorably in terms of handle and revenue, with 10 additional states handling over $1 billion in sports betting wagers.

In 2019, online gambling advertisements disbursed $10.7 million in spending. As of May 2021, the market for online gambling advertisements has skyrocketed to $154 million. Experts project that by 2024, advertisers will spend more than $587 million in spending.

In 2021 alone, the betting market is expecting revenue to reach $2.1 billion. By 2028, experts anticipate that the revenue for sportsbooks will surpass $10 billion, though what percentage will be wagered on the NFL, NBA, and UFC is an intriguing future bet.

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