This concludes the men’s tourney. You’d have a hard time finding a similar analysis and bracketology of the women’s tourney.
Women’s sports are often overlooked. If you’re looking for a WNBA Fantasy League on ESPN or Yahoo or an oddsmaker to break down a National Women’s Soccer League match, you’re out of luck.
Researchers investigated the perceived absence of interest in women’s sport. The results show a consistent interest in women’s sports, but the huge difference in media coverage is what keeps ratings down.
We, researchers and educators, have been focusing on gender equality and the promotion of women’s sports. How can new marketing strategies be used to engage more women in sports? Specifically: Can gambling and fantasy sports narrow the gender gap?
From resistance to enthusiasm
Professional and amateur sports leagues have been resisting gambling for decades. The obvious reason was that gambling was illegal.
Sports fans, however, have always found a way to take part in unofficial “action” during sporting events. This could be through fantasy leagues such as March Madness brackets and Super Bowl squares or offshore betting sites.
May 14, 2018, was a pivotal moment in the sporting industry of America. The federal prohibition on sports betting was lifted. This decision changed how sports are marketed.
In order to stop gambling, ESPN and Fox Sports began to acknowledge the contributions that these activities make to the fan experience. Adam Silver, the current NBA Commissioner, has led this charge. In 2014, he published a New York Times op-ed calling for legalized sports betting. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred was another supporter, stating in 2019 that sports betting is a “fantastic source of fan engagement.”
Its financial impact is a major factor in this acceptance and even enthusiasm. It is clear that the industry is multi-billion dollar and has millions of participants. Estimates suggested that Americans bet $150 billion a year on sporting events through offshore betting apps. The Fantasy Sport and Gaming Association also noted that more than 59 million people participated in fantasy sports in 2017.
A customer considers the odds in the sportsbook at Bally’s Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Photo by Wayne Parry/AP
It’s important to note that fantasy sports and sports gambling can enhance fandom in many other ways. As TV ratings and fan attendance are declining, leagues recognize that fantasy leagues and sportsbooks can have a huge impact on consumption and engagement.
Fantasy sports and gambling create a new dynamic. When fans bet on a player or team, they are motivated to follow them.
Gambling to the max
Gambling has clearly become an important tool for retaining existing fans and attracting new ones.
Could the same be done for women’s soccer leagues?
We know that there is a lot more room for improvement. Women’s sports are only covered by 2% of the sports coverage. This is despite women representing roughly 40% of sports participants in North America.
The numbers for women’s games are good when they are heavily advertised, especially championship matches. The 2018 Olympic Women’s Ice Hockey Gold Medal match exceeded viewership numbers of all but one 2017 NHL Playoff game. And the 2019 NCAA Women’s Final Four saw an 8 percent increase in ratings from the previous tournament.
It is also known that those who have watched a professional event for women in the past will be twice as likely to watch another one, whereas those who have not seen a woman’s event before are much less likely to do so in the future.
It’s also worth considering whether fantasy sports and sports betting could be appealing to an audience who might require an “excuse.” This strategy has worked for golf, as millennial viewership has been up ever since the PGA began to promote fantasy sports.
It’s hard to find data about the media coverage of women’s sports, especially from a fantasy and gambling perspective. However, by looking at industry leaders’ offerings, you can see where there is a gap. There aren’t any mainstream sites that host WNBA fantasy teams for the entire season. It can be hard to find an article or TV segment that focuses on an oddsmaker’s opinion on a women’s sporting event.
This is not an endorsement of the gambling culture. We recognize that there are many negative outcomes.