Sports betting won't go bust if college football is canceled

Oct 16, 2020 |
Sports betting won't go bust if college football is canceled
The Big Ten was the first Power 5 conference to cancel its 2020 college football season due to concerns about the spread of COVID-19 on Tuesday, followed by the Pac-12.
Photo By - USA Today Images
The Big Ten was the first Power 5 conference to cancel its 2020 college football season due to concerns about the spread of COVID-19 on Tuesday, followed by the Pac-12.
Photo By - USA Today Images

If the 2020 NCAA football season is canceled or postponed until spring, then college football betting will certainly take a hit, as well. Among Power 5 conferences, the Big Ten and Pac-12 on Tuesday canceled their fall football seasons due to COVID-19 concerns, hoping to play in the spring, while the Big 12 said Wednesday it plans to play this fall.

Sports betting industry veteran Jay Kornegay, the American Gaming Association’s Casey Clark and gambling industry strategist Chris Grove spoke about the potential effects on sportsbooks of a canceled or delayed college football season.

How does a canceled 2020 college football season impact sports betting?

Grove is a partner with the gaming research firm Eilers and Krejcik, which analyzed what happens this fall at sportsbooks if there’s no college football.

“The impact of the loss of college football on a given U.S. state sports betting market, per our estimates: about a 12 percent hit to total revenue,” Grove said. “Our estimate is based on a mix of publicly reported data and checks with various operators. It’s important to note that it’s an estimate of the contribution of college football betting in a typical year for an average U.S. state.”

Kornegay wouldn’t go so far as to project how the lack of NCAA football betting would impact the bottom line at The SuperBook at Westgate, which he operates as executive vice president of race and sports. But there’s no question it would be a sizable pill to swallow.

“I’m not sure any of us really knows how that will impact us,” Kornegay said, speaking to the sportsbook industry as a whole. “If it’s completely canceled, it’s certainly going to be a punch to the gut. However, it’s not as bad as some might think, as long as we still have the NFL. Last year, 65 percent of our total football handle was NFL.”

That still leaves college football betting as a not-insignificant 35 percent chunk. But as Kornegay alluded, there's a market that will gobble up a substantial portion of that chunk.

How does a canceled 2020 college football season affect NFL betting?

As Grove noted in the Eilers and Krejcik estimate of a 12 percent loss in total sports betting revenue: “A meaningful amount of it will simply evaporate. (But) some of that demand will find its way to other sports, so the actual impact will likely be less.”

Kornegay and many of his sportsbook industry peers are counting on that being the case. If Kornegay’s instincts are right, the NFL betting market will be waiting with open arms, should the 2020 college football season be canceled or postponed.

And the NFL itself would make moves that would be a huge driver of that shifting handle.

“If there’s no college football season, I believe the NFL would be smart enough to move some games each week to Saturday, to take advantage of that,” Kornegay said. “Having two to three Saturday games, that would generate a tremendous amount of action. It would be like Thanksgiving. Whenever we isolate a game by day and time, we have a spike in interest. There’s one game going on, and all eyes are on it.


“If the NFL takes advantage of this and spreads out its games, then it won’t be as big a punch to us as many people think.”

Clark, the senior vice president of strategic communications for the American Gaming Association, fully expects the sportsbook industry to show its flexibility should NCAA football not take place this fall.

“The gaming industry has always been innovative, and the legal sports betting sector is certainly no exception,” Clark said. “If the global pandemic causes the cancellation of this year’s college football season, sports betting operators will undoubtedly create new options to meet the continually growing demand.”

Indeed, as the AGA pointed out, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the legal sports betting space has grown significantly over the past five months. With Illinois, Michigan, Montana, Colorado and Washington, D.C., all going live since March, legal sports betting is now available to 22.4 million more American adults than before the pandemic began.

Will college football in the spring be a sports betting boon?

Many in the media and the sports betting space are speculating that a spring college football season would provide a huge boost on the wagering front. Among the main reasons for such speculation is that NCAA football wouldn’t be competing with the NFL every week.

But Kornegay doesn’t think it’s that simple, and he’s skeptical of what a spring season would mean for college football betting, or even if a spring season will happen at all.

“There’s so much speculation, it drives you nuts,” Kornegay said. “I don’t know how that impacts us. I don’t think it’s that simple to give an idea of how that affects sportsbooks. There are so many other sports going on, so many different scenarios. It’s crazy to think of all those scenarios. A month or two months from now, things could be totally different.

“I guess anytime is better than not having a college football season at all. But I just don’t know how it’s going to affect handle.”

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