Long-suffering US sports fans finally got relief from the global sports shutdown this past weekend while gaining a glimpse into the future on the most bet-on sport in the country thanks to the much-anticipated NFL Draft. Traditionally an annual “circle on your calendar” event, the 2020 NFL Draft took place with a larger-than-normal spotlight… and it didn't disappoint for fans of the sport or needy sportsbooks around the country.
Both TV Networks and sportsbooks saw increased numbers over the three-day unprecedented virtual event. All three days of the NFL Draft coverage set all-time highs. Although the final figures have yet to be tallied, comments from some of the sports betting operators and stats released from Nielsen show that the 2020 NFL Draft was the biggest in history.
The NFL Draft has been gaining in popularity the last 10 or so years as fans of the sport scramble to get their offseason football fix. Last year, viewership reached record-numbers with an average of 6.2 million viewers over the three days.
2020 saw a 35% increase over the previous record with an average of 8.4 million viewers – that's a total of 55 million viewers over the three days. The increased viewership was not a surprise and helped sportsbooks post record handles for the event. The Draft is something that may be looked back upon as the catalyst for the re-opening of the sports betting industry and the event that kicked the sports world back to normal.
The strong betting figures from the 2020 NFL Draft can be attributed to two major factors – the fact that it represented "the only game in town" and the sheer amount of intriguing prop bets available to the wagering public. William Hill, for example, offered 104 props on the 2020 draft, or more than 10 times the 10 props it offered in 2017. Overall, one sportsbook compared the betting traffic to that of a Thursday Night Football game, another likened it to a Monday Night Football game.
Keep in mind, bets on the Draft came exclusively from mobile apps – there are Zero brick-and-mortar facilities open in the US at the moment, so all bets had to come via the internet.
“This was an outstanding opening night for the NFL draft,” said Mattias Stetz, COO of Rush Street Interactive, which operates PlaySugarHouse.com. “We are delighted with the strong wagering action and how bettors supported many imaginative prop bets. They really prepared well for the draft and they weren’t afraid to bet heavily on some long shots.”
What sportsbooks are saying
PointsBet USA director of communications Patrick Eichner said of this year’s NFL Draft: “Overall handle for the 2020 NFL Draft turned out to be almost 12 times (more) compared to 2019, while bet count was almost 10 times (more)”.
William Hill US director of trading Nick Bogdanovich said: “Handle was good. Probably five times more In Nevada and 20 times in New Jersey”.
Circa reported a six-figure handle on just Day 1 of the NFL Draft and another one of the huge players in the industry reported that their handle increased 13.5 times from the 2019 to 2020 Draft.
Other benefits of the boom
Obviously, sports fans were the biggest winner of the three-day event but one cannot underestimate the importance of the Draft on NFL teams and revenue-starved sportsbooks.
But it wasn't just those involved in the sport directly or indirectly that benefitted from the record numbers from the Draft. Charity also gained from NFL fans. NFL Media put out a statement that read: “Draft-A-Thon LIVE” helped raise $6.6 million during 2020 @NFLDraft, contributing to the collective total of more than $100 million raised by the NFL Family to support COVID-19 relief efforts #NFLDraft".
Did sportsbooks gain a win from the Draft?
Sportsbooks didn’t actually make money off of the NFL Draft but the exposure and the re-introduction to their brands made the event a “Net Victory” for those in the US sports betting business. Nick Bogdanovich of William Hill said about his company’s weekend: "It was not a profitable draft. The players were the victors."
But the restart of sports as we previously knew it may turn out to be the biggest winner of Draft Weekend. Kudos to the NFL for adapting and pulling off an unprecedented virtual Draft seemingly without a hitch. Fans of the sport, those that wager on America’s most bet-on game and sportsbooks that rely on the NFL to float their businesses thank you.