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Volume 27 No. 87

SBJ Betting: 2021 Forecast

An empty summer calendar that drove bettors to wager on ping pong -- really, it’s a thing -- eventually gave way to a Sportapolooza that offered wall-to-wall action on weekday afternoons, giving new meaning to “Work From Home.”

Those are the sports betting mileposts that we’ll remember as we call it a wrap on 2020.

What will those be in 2021?

Making A Bet On Wagering? It's All About Map, Market, Media

We suggest you keep a close eye on three M’s: The map of state-by-state legalization, the battle for market share in each of those states; and the increasingly visible role that sports betting will play for the media properties now that they’ve settled on sportsbook dance partners. 

Let’s look at each.

The Map

Mobile sports betting now is available in four of the nation’s 16 largest DMAs -- Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington, and Denver -- with 15th-ranked Detroit set to drop soon, making nine of the top 30 markets. When Michigan opens, 80-million U.S. residents -- or a quarter of the country -- will have access to mobile sportsbooks. How high will that number climb in 2021?

Virginia and Maryland both legalized last year and should open this year. And analysts project that at least another 20 states will consider legislation that includes mobile betting this year, a pace that almost certainly will be hastened by budget shortfalls. Among those expected to present bills: Connecticut, Kansas, Missouri, Ohio, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maine, Georgia and Arizona. If all those passed, 45% of the U.S. population would have access to bet on a mobile device. All won’t. But most are expected to. And there could be some surprises -- such as in Texas, where billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson is pushing to introduce casinos on the Gulf Coast and several team owners have been vocal supporters of introducing sportsbooks.

It’s a long-shot, but no longer the DOA issue that it was a year ago.

New York also is in play, but that’s been the case since PASPA fell in 2018. Supporters hope that a massive budget deficit, coupled with New Jersey inching toward a $1 billion monthly handle, will help their case.

Market Share

Thus far, the state-by-state rollout largely has been dominated by legacy DFS brands FanDuel and DraftKings, which hold combined market shares of 62% in Illinois, 64% in Pennsylvania, 80% in Indiana, 97% in West Virginia and more than 70% in New Jersey, the states that reveal individual sportsbook handle and/or revenue each month. The combination of an existing customer base and awareness among sports fans have proven to be sizeable. But are they insurmountable over the long haul?

Caesars recent purchase of William Hill, combined with the brand’s promotion across ESPN platforms, makes it a likely mover in 2021. BetMGM and PointsBet bear watching, especially in Colorado and Michigan, the latter of figures to join Illinois as the two emerging markets to watch in 2021. Penn National Gaming plans for its Barstool-branded app to be live in a dozen states by the end of 2021. It’s rapid growth in Pennsylvania, where it blasted to a double-digit market share in only two months, could be an indication of what’s to come as it puts its app in front of a loyal audience of offshore bettors in other states.

Media Companies

There’s been a steady stream of tie-ups between sportsbooks and media properties, including Fox (FoxBet), ESPN (William Hill, Caesars and DraftKings), NBC (PointsBet), CBS (William Hill), Turner (FanDuel and DraftKings), Yahoo Sports (BetMGM), Barstool Sports (Penn National) and, most recently, Sinclair (Bally’s). While the past two years have been about striking deals in the space, 2021 will be about activating them -- and driving fans to open sportsbook accounts in legalized states.

With leagues relaxing sponsorship restrictions, expect to see more TV-visible sportsbook logos in arenas and stadiums, as well as more broadcasts integrations like the FanDuel odds displayed prominently at the end of Turner’s NBA pre-game shows and the once forbidden point spreads that now show up during picks segments of NFL pre-game shows.

Cheers To The New Year

Here’s wishing you all a happy, healthy and hopeful New Year. Remember to raise a midnight toast to the many who sacrificed much.