NFL In-Play Betting Market May Not Be As Rosy As Genius Expects

The sports data company expects in-play betting to be 80% of the NFL handle in 10 years
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Genius Sports, the London-based sports data and technology company, held its most recent Investor Day on Jan. 27, and buried in the 70-slide presentation is one of the most “big if true” moments in the brief history of the American sports betting industry.

The slide is titled “NFL Overview & Trends To Look Out For,” and part of it contains a simple chart, labeled “year one” to “year 10” on the X axis, with rising percentage numbers on the Y axis. 

The lines cross over in year 5, and by year 10, they are the inverse of where they started. 

In short: Genius Sports believes that by 2031, in-play betting will yield over 80% of the NFL betting handle.

“That may happen, but I’m relatively bearish on that,” said Alun Bowden, a senior consultant with Eilers & Krejcik Gaming who is based in the UK. “In-play betting is going to be very popular in the NFL, without question. But I have a very hard time seeing it climb past 50 percent.”

His reasoning? The NFL is too darn popular.

“It is the key product for betting in the U.S. market and that means everyone from your granddad to pro bettors are betting on the NFL, and that means unless we’re going to see a seismic shift in the way people bet in the U.S., unless everyone is going to stop betting most of their money pre-game and start betting most of their money in-game, then I don’t see how you can get to that number,” Bowden said.

Differing views on European evidence

When reached for comment, Chris Dougan, Genius’ chief communications officer, said Genius’ prediction for the NFL came straight from a recent financial report by bet365 in which the company — with its large European presence — noted 75% of its revenue came from in-game betting.

“Based on the assumption that in-play betting is more prominent in mature markets, we expect that as the U.S. market matures, the dynamics will trend in a similar direction over time,” Dougan said.

And Genius would certainly love to see the NFL — with which it has an exclusive data rights deal — start working toward the 80% in-play number (in 2021, according to Genius, it was around 25%). And the reason is simple: According to their data, in a “mature” market, the win rate on NFL in-play for sportsbooks will hover around 10%, whereas the win rate on pre-match betting is 6%. And considering Genius gets a taste of each winning wager from the sportsbooks it services, it’s obvious why Genius is hoping to see the NFL in-play betting market explode.

But Bowden doesn’t buy it.

“The evidence from the European market just really isn’t there,” he said. “Look at the [English Premier League] in the UK for example. You’re not seeing 80 percent of betting on the EPL taking place in play. It’s not even close. I don’t know what the actual number is, my guess is 50-ish percent. Why? Because you have a week to get excited and engaged to place your bets. Parlays, props, all these bets people get engaged with, they have time to read the articles, research.”

So where are bet365’s — and, by extension, Genius’ — numbers coming from? 

“You hear people talking that it’s 75-80 percent right now in mature European markets,” Bowden said. “It’s simply not true. Where it is true, it’s because people are betting high volume on essentially in-play only sports like table tennis, and, to a lesser extent, low-grade tennis.

“Right now there’s a big confusion about what in-play betting actually is. The big drivers of in-play volume right now is because people are betting on stuff they literally wouldn’t bet on otherwise if in-play didn’t exist. It’s because it’s there on their screen, they can watch it, it’s something to bet on when no other sport is taking place, or, frankly, they’re degenerate gamblers. This is what drives the big handle.

“The big mainstream leagues, where there is a massive market penetration, there’s always going to be a really large volume that wants to bet pre-game,” he continued. “And unless you’re going to fundamentally change the way these people bet — and I don’t think you are, certainly not within a 10-year time frame — then the math just doesn’t stack up for me.”

Maybe half, but no more

“Yes, I think that’s a little bit optimistic on Genius’ part to think in-play NFL betting is going to get to 80 percent,” said Mike Ciavarella, the executive chairman of Elys Game Technology. “Now I’ve seen it evolve over in the Italian market — it’s more soccer generated — but even in that case, in a more mature market, it’s still only 50 percent in terms of in-game betting.”

Longtime Las Vegas bookmaker Vic Salerno, who now runs USBookmaking, a wholly owned subsidiary of Elys, agrees.

“It’s going to be a difficult sell for NFL fans,” Salerno said. “Probably 15 years ago they had a company that was doing in-game wagering — the problem back then was you had to sit in front of computers in the book. I tried it.  It wasn’t a pleasurable experience. By the end of the game I was exhausted and didn’t know who won the game. It was so intense, it takes a lot of pleasure out of watching the game.”

Bowden notes the same — especially if someone loses a bet or three in their introduction to live betting.

“People losing lots of money, constantly, is not a great user experience, is it?” Bowden wondered. “You have five seconds to think about it, 10 seconds to place your bet, 30 seconds to see it lose. That kind of sucks as a user experience compared to a couple of days thinking about it and three hours of watching it.”

Salerno is also worried about the quick-hit nature of live betting and how it might actually have a detrimental effect by chasing out would-be long-term customers.

“Like an old-time bookmaker used to say, ‘I want to take him to the cleaners, but I don’t want to clean all his clothes at once. I want to clean a shirt a week,’” Salerno said. “Let ‘em have some fun, let ‘em win a little. They’re not going anywhere. But if they’re not having fun, they won’t come back.”

Other sports might go higher

Of course, there are other sports in America that might, if things break right, start sniffing that European 75% number.

Baseball, for one, comes to mind.

“They need it, I’ll tell you that,” Salerno said. “It’s probably going to put a little more excitement into baseball for sure. I don’t think it will come down to next pitch, but more like will a player get a hit or home run, walk, strikeout, things like that.”

Soccer is also a sport that lends itself well to live betting.

“If you miss the start of the game, you’re still right there,” Salerno notes. “The biggest driver is how much time is left in the event.”

Salerno does note he sees plenty of in-game wagering today on the NFL, but the majority of it is coming after a score. Basically, bettors — and, in some cases, syndicates — are using live betting as a hedging tool.

“But it’s never going to be 80 or 90 percent of the wagers,” Salerno said.

He also points to latency being a major issue, though he said the processing speed for in-game bets will get better over time.

“Latency is a pain in the ass,” Salerno said. 

As latency gets better, so will the in-game products, many agree.

“I see how you could definitely get caught in a trap thinking the way things are is the way things are going to remain. And yes, there will be improvements — the latency issues will be resolved, that’s a big thing,” Bowden said.

But when it comes to sportsbooks seeing 80% of their NFL betting handle come from in-game betting, even lightning-quick speed may not matter.

“It can happen, it may happen, but it doesn’t instinctively feel like that’s where it’s automatically going to head,” Bowden said. “I would fundamentally question the idea this is the indisputable, inescapable direction of trend for the NFL. I don’t think that’s correct, and I think Genius needs to prove why it would happen and not just assume it’s going to happen. It simply doesn’t tally to me.”

Photo: Shutterstock

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