New research released by the American Gaming Association (AGA) found that more than 33 million American adults plan to wager on the 2020-21 NFL season, with a greater number of bettors intending to place NFL wagers at both online sportsbooks and brick-and-mortar gaming venues than in 2019.

Conducted August 24-27 by market research company Morning Consult on behalf of the AGA, the online survey gathered a national sample of 2,200 American adults and found that of the approximately 13 percent who plan to bet on NFL games this season:

  • 34 percent or 11.3 million will place a bet via legal AND illegal platforms, up from 29 percent over last year
  • 20 percent or 6.6 million will place wagers at brick-and-mortar, legal sportsbooks, up from 2019’s 18 percent
  • 26 percent or 8.6 million plan to bet casually via pools, fantasy contests, and squares, down from last year’s 31 percent
  • 50 percent or 16.6 million will place casual bets with family, friends, or co-workers, a dip from 2019’s 53 percent

Fan enthusiasm:

Research from the Washington, D.C.-based data intelligence company also found that individuals who plan to bet on the season that kicks off on Thursday, Sept. 10, are “more enthusiastic than NFL fans overall.” What’s more, sports bettors are 54 percent more likely to be hyped about the season than “self-described avid and general NFL fans” at 41 percent, the “general population” at 18 percent, or “casual NFL fans” at 12 percent.

A September 2018 Nielsen Sports Study (pdf) commissioned by the AGA found that the NFL looks to pocket $2.3 million annually from legal sports betting, largely attributed to increased fan engagement. However, I doubt the folks at Nielson could have predicted the current health crisis, which, since mid-March, has put most sports in the U.S. on hold.

And while the NFL has had more time to prepare, coronavirus concerns led to the league modifying the 2020 player draft, all 32 teams losing the entire 2020-21 pre-season schedule of games, and players opting out of their 2020 NFL contracts care of the NFL and the NFL Players Association’s opt-out rules – decided upon on July 24, 2020.

Bill Miller, who was named President and Chief Executive Officer for the AGA in December 2018, said…

“The NFL traditionally drives a significant amount of action from sports bettors, and this year appears to be no different.

“While we’ve known for a long time that bettors are more engaged fans—particularly when it comes to football—continuing to drive them to the legal market is essential for protecting consumers and the integrity of the games they wager on.”

According to the AGA, engagement from those betting on sports will be even more important to the NFL as fans report “generally lower enthusiasm” for the 2020-21 season. As 42 percent or 4 in 10 American adults say that they are “less excited” about the current season than last year‘s pandemic-free season.

Reasons cited as the main contributing factors for the decrease in interest

….reportedly include “increased political activism” (36 percent) around the league, lack of fans in stadiums (19 percent), and inability to come together with friends to watch games (17 percent).

Super Bowl LV bets:

Looking ahead to Super Bowl LV, to be hosted at Raymond James Stadium, in Tampa, Florida on February 7, 2021, 13 percent of NFL bettors reportedly plan to wager on last year’s championship team, the Kansas City Chiefs, to repeat, while 9 percent will wager on the Dallas Cowboys, and 5 percent each on the San Francisco 49ers, New England Patriots, Miami Dolphins, Cincinnati Bengals, and Baltimore Ravens.

Miller added…

“The legal sports betting market continues to grow to the detriment of dangerous, illegal offshore operators. The NFL and its teams must continue to prioritize and act on the shared responsibility to educate customers on regulated markets and responsible gaming principles in order to realize the full benefit of legal sports betting.”

Potential loses/home openers:

Billions of dollars at stake for the league and TV networks, with only five teams, including the Cleveland Browns, Kansas City Chiefs (22 percent capacity at Arrowhead and mandatory masks), Indianapolis Colts (25 percent capacity at Lucas Oil/2,500 fans for home opener), Miami Dolphins (13,000 fans for home opener at Hard Rock Stadium), and Jacksonville Jaguars (25 percent at TIAA Bank Field) confirming -so far- that they will have fans in their stadiums when the season begins.

The Cincinnati Bengals will not have fans at their Sept. 13 season opener, they will reportedly host up to 6,000 fans at their Oct. 4 and Oct. 25 home games when they host the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Cleveland Browns, respectively. Similarly, up to 6,000 fans will reportedly be allowed at two Cleveland Browns home games on Sept. 17 vs. the Bengals and on Sept. 27 vs. Washington, via a “spectator variance,” issued by the state of Ohio.

Dallas Cowboys billionaire owner Jerry Jones reportedly said on Aug. 12 that he will use a “pod” seating system for fans at home games at AT&T Stadium.

The newly-relocated (Las Vegas /Allegiant Stadium ) Raiders and the Washington Football Team (FedEx Field), formerly known as the Washington Redskins, have said they will not have fans for their home games for the entire season, while the Baltimore Ravens will be without fans “for at least the initial part of the 2020 season.”

In Illinois, the Chicago Bears, will welcome fans when “deemed safe and appropriate,” while the Los Angeles Chargers, Los Angeles Rams, Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants, and New York Jets in New Jersey, say they won’t have fan attendance “until further notice.”

The remaining 17 teams will not have fans for their home openers at least, however, future attendance has not been ruled out.

Meanwhile, the Denver Broncos announced 5,700 fans, the majority of which are season ticket holders, will be allowed at Empower Field at Mile High Stadium starting with their Week 3 home game on Sept. 27 when they host the Tom Brady-led Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Season opener expectations:

This life-long football fan predicts the Patriots’ game against the Dolphins on Sunday, Sept 13 at Gillette will be the MOST watched home opener other than the KC vs Houston game on Thursday, Sept 10 at 8:20 EDT. What say you?