The 2022 World Cup was, as always, filled with twists and turns. In the end, Argentina came out on top after a hectic month for players, coaches, fans and indeed everyone associated with the competition. All sorts of questions were raised the minute Qatar was selected to host the tournament, given both its climate and, perhaps more importantly, its lack of history with the sport. But as they say, the show must go on – and go on it did. A total of 32 nations made their way to the Middle East to take part in one of the biggest sporting events in the world, with maestro Lionel Messi ultimately – and finally – lifting the prestigious trophy.
Taking place in winter, the tournament certainly had an impact on European gaming operators, coming bang in the middle of the top domestic European football leagues. That absence will undoubtedly be felt when such operators are analysing their financials early in the New Year. It was the first time ever that the tournament had not taken place in summer, meaning companies were having to deal with all sorts of unprecedented factors. But there was a counter-balance factor: this was the biggest tournament in football and one of the biggest sporting events in the world. Betting levels were, therefore, extremely high, with many predicting record levels of betting before a ball was kicked.
An inaugural survey from the American Gaming Association (AGA) in the build-up to the tournament found that 20.5 million American adults planned to bet a total of $1.8m on the competition. Helping the cause was the fact that the United States Men’s National Team took part in the competition, as did Canada. The AGA noted that at the beginning of the tournament, live, legal sports betting was available in 31 states and Washington DC, with five additional legal markets awaiting launch. Of the 2,213 adults who took part in its survey, a total of 29% who planned to watch the World Cup intended to bet on it.
The survey also found that Gen Z (11%) and Millennial (14%) adults were more interested in betting on the tournament than Gen X (8%) and Baby Boomers (2%), highlighting the current state of affairs across the nation when it comes to demographics; something for operators to perhaps note ahead of their upcoming marketing campaigns for other major sporting events. Patriotism was also seemingly in the air pre-tournament, with 24% of respondents saying they would bet on the USA to win the entire competition if they were given $50 to wager with. It didn’t quite work out, of course, as the nation headed home in the round of 16 following a 3-1 defeat to the Netherlands.
Commenting on the results of the AGA survey, Covers.com's Geoff Zochodne explained that while betting on the event would be significant, it would still remain lower than other major sporting events that the North American audience has an interest in. “The AGA’s research suggests that World Cup-related betting will be significant, albeit lower than other major sporting events,” said Zochodne. “In February, for example, the group’s research projected that 31.4 million American adults plan to bet around $7.6bn on the Super Bowl; in March, the AGA said an estimated 45 million American adults intended to bet approximately $3.1bn on the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament.
“Still, I think sportsbook operators will be more than happy with another big event, especially one expected to generate more than half of the handle for March Madness.” Zochodne also predicted which US operators would enjoy some success during the tournament, noting the usual suspects of DraftKings and FanDuel, who had the opportunity to “nudge their considerable customer bases toward some soccer wagering.”
He continued: “A good showing by the major US books during the tournament could lead some users to expand their wagering horizons beyond the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL. However, the World Cup could also be an opportunity for smaller operators in the US that have roots outside the country, where soccer wagering can be hugely popular. For instance, books such as bet365 or Betway may be able to showcase deeper betting markets to their American clientele during the tournament – and win more business for themselves in the US.”
ANOTHER SURVEY, ANOTHER POSITIVE FOR SPORTS BETTING
Carrying out similar pre-World Cup research was BettorOff, with its survey of 1,500 self-identified adult sports fans resulting in 49% of respondents saying they planned to bet on the 2022 World Cup, with 18% betting on football for the very first time.
Another key finding of the survey involved 74% of respondents saying they plan to bet more on the sport after the World Cup, a figure that will make the ears of North American sports betting operators perk up, given the fact the 2026 edition will be jointly hosted by the US, Canada and Mexico. Flutter Entertainment also reported on expected betting levels before the very first whistle in Qatar, with the industry giant anticipating the tournament would be its most popular betting event of the calendar year, predicting that its UK and Ireland brands would rake in over £300m ($357m) in overall stakes from fans.
Much of that figure can be pegged down to England playing in the competition, but several other important markets to Flutter were well represented, including Spain and Brazil. The operator also noted its high expectations for its FanDuel and Sportsbet brands, given the fact the USA and Australia were taking part in the tournament.
A STARK DIFFERENCE
The USA came very close to hosting the 2022 event before being eventually pipped to the post by Qatar, but the former didn’t give up hope, and is already looking ahead to four years’ time despite the recent World Cup only just coming to a close. Interestingly, discussions on legal sports betting were in their infancy when the US, Canada and Mexico announced their intention to submit a joint bid to co-host the global tournament in April 2017. Just over 12 months later, PASPA was overturned.
"The survey also found that Gen Z (11%) and Millennial (14%) adults were more interested in betting on the tournament than Gen X (8%)"
Revenue from sports betting may not have been on the minds of those involved in the bid, but it certainly will be now, given just how many states have legalised the pastime. Things will look very different from 1986 and 1994, the last time Mexico and the US hosted the World Cup respectively. Never mind 30 or 40 years ago, the recent World Cup looked very different when compared to just five years ago. According to FIFA, total global handle for the 2018 World Cup in Russia was an estimated $146bn. Only three US states – Delaware, Nevada and New Jersey – offered legal sports betting back then, and it was largely limited to retail locations.
That number has grown and grown since then, with legal wagering now available to 132 million Americans in their home states, compared to just 10 million during the 2018 World Cup. The number will continue to grow and grow in the next few years, with no telling how many US states will have legalised sports betting by the time the 2026 World Cup comes along.
AFTER THE FULL-TIME WHISTLE
The 2022 World Cup final will go down in history for all the right reasons, with iconic players like Messi and Kylian Mbappé going head to head for the highly coveted trophy. But it was also a tournament to remember for operators and indeed their customers, again particularly in the US, with data from GeoComply immediately after the competition showing that the 2022 World Cup final was the second-most popular match of the year for US sports bettors.
The thrilling final attracted 7.9 million geolocation transactions, second only to the 23.5 million of the Super Bowl. Football’s figure was well ahead of the likes of the final game of the NBA season, the NCAA March Madness final and the NHL Stanley Cup final at 5.1 million, 4.8 million and 1.9 million respectively. Moreover, 1.7 million active users betting on the final was the second-highest of showcase finals in 2022, again behind the Super Bowl (3.1 million) but ahead of the other major sports finals. Around one million new accounts were created during the tournament, highlighting just how popular the beautiful game really is in the US.
BettorOff CEO Alex Dubin’s thoughts echo such sentiments, describing the 2022 competition as a ‘tipping point’ for an ‘explosion’ in football betting for Americans. "The unprecedented interest in the 2022 World Cup among US sports bettors is doubtless due, in part, to the US qualifying for the tournament and advancing out of the group stage; but it also speaks to the meteoric rise in the popularity of 'soccer' betting in America, as sports wagering continues its hypergrowth across the country,” said the BetterOff CEO.
“What’s more, our research indicates that nearly three-quarters of Americans who bet on the 2022 World Cup will continue betting on MLS and European soccer, now that the tournament has ended. When the United States hosts the next iteration of the tournament in 2026, it is a safe bet that we will look back on the 2022 World Cup as a tipping point for an American soccer betting explosion.”
As noted by Vantage Market Research, the global sports betting market was valued at $74.2m in 2021, and is expected to almost double to $129.3bn by 2028, with a CAGR of 9.7% during the forecast period of 2022-2028. It’s a mammoth vertical, and one that continues to grow, with major tournaments such as the World Cup showcasing just how much interest there is in sports betting around the globe.