Ever since soccer started to increase in popularity in the US; around the time when LA Galaxy set a precedent for bringing ‘Galacticos’ to America with David Beckham, the sport has almost taken on an entirely new context, as more followed in the form Thierry Henry and more recently, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, attracting a considerable fanbase.
However, compared to US sports such as American football, basketball, baseball and even ice hockey, the popularity of soccer at the time was still some way off. However, although sports betting didn’t become legalised in the US until 2018, it still had all of the foundations in place. Hugely popular was fantasy sports, in particular that of American football which attracted players in their millions, the main demographic usually being college students.
Naturally the most popular betting markets initially in America are those of US origin. According to a survey by Statista, in 2017, football (not soccer) was the sport that American’s liked to have a bet on; out of all the sports, this ranked the highest with 78 percent.
Perhaps not that surprising, professional basketball was next with 43 percent, however, what might be construed as interesting is that college basketball closely followed in third with 40 percent.
While baseball came next with 39 percent, it is actually horse racing (27 percent) which just marginally superseded soccer (25 percent). For a long time, horse racing dominated the sports betting industry, particularly in England, with the traditional high street bookmakers, such as Ladbrokes, Coral and William Hill especially often known as the specialists. In fact, it is the latter company who now have a considerable share of the US market, having preempted the legalisation of sports betting in most states years before it happened and, as a result, started putting plans in place.
Could William Hill have an effect on the growth of English sports betting in America?
Having undergone somewhat of a rebrand in recent years in their attempt to try and appeal to a new and arguably, younger demographic, an obvious part of William Hill’s strategy is attempting to corner the US market.
In doing this, they can essentially reinvent themselves, while marketing a number of sports that the no doubt fee have potential. Although American football and basketball might be the main markets at the moment, William Hill has a rich history in the UK with soccer and obviously horse racing and with a number of betting shops and terminals in the US already, this is prime real estate for them to promote all of the betting attractions that soccer has.
The facelift that the company has had also gave them an excuse to also change their strategy and approach to other sports; historically they were mainly focused on horse racing, however, through their marketing and advertising campaigns, we have seen other sports given more attention – something which can only be valuable in their attempt to increase their market share in America.
Sports which aren’t likely to have too much of an impact in the American market are those which traditionally have a strong English heritage such as rugby union or even the more niche sport of rugby league, however the founding and success of the Canadian rugby league team Toronto Wolfpack has helped to raise the sport’s status in certain pockets of North America.
The most interesting sport to keep an eye on, will no doubt be soccer though – the recent success of the ladies American soccer team, winning the World Cup in 2019 will have helped to significantly raise the profile of the sport around the country.
While there is definitely potential for soccer to increase their share of the market in the US sports betting industry, based on the popularity of sports such as American football and basketball, it is highly unlikely that soccer will ever overtake these. The English Premier League is widely watched in America and a number of the major teams are popular – not least because some have US owners, however, it appears that soccer is generally considered most people’s second or even third favorite sport.