Sports betting commercial blitz may be slowing down – but gambling industry keeps growing

The union between the NFL and unblushing, unabashed sports gambling is among the most unlikely marriages one could imagine – even in Las Vegas, which has seen its share of long-shot nuptials.

Sunday, when a viewing audience expected to exceed 115 million tunes in to CBS for Super Bowl 58, the partnership will be impossible to miss, what with shots of the Strip from above Allegiant Stadium and precious little desert scenery beyond Nevada’s soaring casinos.

Yet there will be a notable lack of synergy between the Super Bowl’s historic Sin City gambit and the monstrous reach of legalized sports gambling that’s now approved in 38 states and counting across the USA.

As of Thursday, there were just two ads for sports gambling booked during the game broadcast – two fewer than the maximum the NFL loosely sets.

Tired of the DraftKings guitar riff or Kevin Hart’s high-energy shtick? Well, after two consecutive years of in-game advertisements, they’re downgrading to a spot in the pregame show.

And what does that leave the viewer for roughly four hours of game action?

Just two ancient Patriots: Tom Brady, emerging from a relatively low-key retirement to partner with Vince Vaughn on behalf of BetMGM. And Rob Gronkowski is back, the legendary tight end once again taking on the curious task of attempting a field goal on behalf of FanDuel.

This Super Bowl symbolically completes the NFL’s 180-degree turn on sports betting, and for all the irony and righteous indignation marking this occasion, it’s notable that the online sports betting industry – expected to reach $10 billion in revenue in 2024 – no longer feels the need to max out on brand awareness.

Tom Brady and Vince Vaughn star in BetMGM's Super Bowl commercial.
Tom Brady and Vince Vaughn star in BetMGM's Super Bowl commercial.

Fewer ads, but billions more in revenue

And perhaps that’s because the war has already been won. Sports betting’s flag is firmly planted in the ground and embedded on your mobile phone.

“The fact they didn’t sell out all of the (gambling) ads just tells me that maybe they feel like they didn’t need to,” says Daniel Kelly II, clinical professor and academic director of graduate programs at NYU’s Preston Robert Tisch Institute of Global Sport.

“It’s one of those industries where you don’t need to see the commercials, but you know it exists and will be part of the game and the game experience. I think it’s very unique because, for the most part, other industries need to max out all the other commercial opportunities.”

For a few years, that was certainly the case. The 2018 Supreme Court ruling that paved the way for legalized sports betting put into the open what everyone knew: Folks bet on sports, in the billions. This Super Bowl Sunday, an estimated $23.1 billion will be wagered, some of it legally.

And for the past six years, casinos and nascent sports betting apps have staged a two-front war – to persuade states to legalize sports betting and capture loyal customers once it went live.

Hence, the barrage of promo codes and celebrity shillers and invasion of virtually every televised sporting event. But the roar may be quieting.

Advertising analyst MediaRadar notes that gambling ad buys across all media were flat from 2022 to 2023 and down significantly in the third quarter; DraftKings, FanDuel and BetMGM each reduced their ad spend year over year.

That's not to say it's hard to miss gambling ads − perhaps even within this piece of content you're enjoying. And despite that smaller advertising footprint, revenue continues driving upward.

DraftKings reported that its third-quarter revenue jumped 57% to $790 million, a period that coincided with it leapfrogging FanDuel to No. 1 in market share for the first time since the gambling floodgates opened. Still, the two are reportedly neck-and-neck in market share (31% to 30%) as yet more rivals – ESPN Bet and Fanatics, along with many other long shots – come online.

But appetite does not seem to be a problem.

From November 2022 to November 2023, the nationwide monthly retail and online sports gambling handle increased 42%, from $10 billion to $14.2 billion, according to Legal Sports Report.

New Jersey and New York – which sandwich Nevada in the No. 1 and No. 3 spots for revenue after PASPA, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2018 – both set monthly records in November 2023, with New York booking $2.1 billion in bets and New Jersey $1.6 billion.

BetMGM hopes to get a bigger piece of that pie. It reported $458 million in third-quarter revenue and claims it holds an 18% share of the sports gambling market – a steep climb to catch DraftKings and Fanduel.

Enter Brady, the seven-time Super Bowl champion, and "Swingers" star Vaughn onto the Vegas stage, their Super Bowl spot concluding as they gaze up at the bright lights of the Strip.

“I like what MGM is doing by going all in,” says Charles R. Taylor, professor at Villanova’s School of Business. “They may be able to really stand out in this Super Bowl with less competition in the category.

“I’m surprised the category hasn’t grown a little bit more, but it might actually be good for the NFL. They have to be careful about getting too closely associated with gambling. And with the Super Bowl in Las Vegas this year, one might have expected there would have been more gambling ads than ever before.”

House money

Meanwhile, the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs are the cast members in this circus, yet rules and regulations environmental conditions are designed to keep them out of the Sin City maelstrom.

They’re housed not on the Strip but at hotels far east of town. Though NFL players are barred from gambling on the game and from sportsbooks (save for if they simply can’t avoid it walking through a casino), gambling of any sort this week is verboten for players.

It might seem a tad hypocritical, save for the fact that the games do, in fact, need to be insulated from gambling activity (integrity!). And betting action at least partially trickles back to the players – for a long time, indirectly, and now directly.

When the Supreme Court’s decision threw open the gates for states to allow sports betting, the American Gaming Association estimated that could generate $2.3 billion a year to the NFL, via sponsorships and partnerships, use of data and increased consumption of media.

And if one sports betting partner is good, hey, why not four? The NFL has since struck deals with MGM, Caesars, FanDuel and DraftKings as official sportsbook partners.

The reach is suddenly very tangible, as opposed to the decades of wondering just how much the corner bookie, the office pool or your Super Bowl squares contest drove engagement and revenue for America’s sporting behemoth.

Now, the various crawls and tickers at the bottom of the screen consistently tout the betting lines, and the pregame show jocularity is no longer delivered with a wink and nod to the point spread and total; the favorite and the underdog are right there for the world to see.

“In the beginning, I was bothered by it as a consumer,” NYU’s Kelly says. “It was a bit distracting; I’m not a gambler.

“But it’s such a part of the game that now, I don’t even notice it.”

That's what they call "earned media" for the sportsbooks – all without having to shell out $7 million for a 30-second ad.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Super Bowl commercials for sports betting pay off for gambling industry