The American Gaming Association (AGA) has released new research this week finding that more than 33 million American adults plan to bet on the upcoming NFL season, with greater shares of bettors planning to place NFL wagers with both brick-and-mortar and online sportsbooks than in 2019.

While overall fan enthusiasm for the 2020 NFL season is down, sports bettors report that they are far more likely to be excited for the season than both avid and casual NFL fans. The report, said the AGA, is the latest illustration of the power of sports betting to engage fans, and, importantly, do so even when league interest is otherwise down.

Looking at the key figures, approximately 13% of American adults plan to bet on NFL games this year despite lower enthusiasm from fans in general about the 2020-21 season. Of the estimated 33.2 million adults who plan to bet on this NFL season 20% (6.6 million) will wager at physical, legal sportsbooks, up from 18% last year.

Legal and illegal online platforms will also see an increase in activity with 34% (11.3 million) placing a bet through those channels. Six million (18%) bettors will wager with a bookie, either in person or via a mobile platform, up from 12%.

Casual betting through pools, fantasy contests, and squares is, however, predicted to be down from 31% to 26% with 8.6 million bettors choosing those options, while 50% (16.6 million) will bet casually with friends, family, or coworkers, down from 53%.

Those who plan to wager on the upcoming season are more enthusiastic than NFL fans overall. Sports bettors are significantly more likely (54%) to be excited about the upcoming season than the general population (18%), self-described avid and general NFL fans (41%), or casual NFL fans (12%). 

The AGA previously found the NFL stands to gain $2.3bn annually from legal sports betting, largely due to increased fan engagement.

“The NFL traditionally drives a significant amount of action from sports bettors, and this year appears to be no different,” said AGA President and CEO Bill Miller. “While we’ve known for a long time that bettors are more engaged fans—particularly when it comes to football—continuing to drive them to the legal market is essential for protecting consumers and the integrity of the games they wager on.”

Engagement from sports bettors will prove even more important to the NFL as fans report generally lower enthusiasm for the NFL season. Four in 10 (42%) American adults say they are less excited about this season than last year, citing the increased political activism around the league (36%), absence of fans in stadiums (19%), and inability to gather with friends to watch games (17%) as the main factors contributing to their lessened interest.

Looking to the Lombardi Trophy, 13% of NFL bettors plan to wager on the Kansas City Chiefs to win the Super Bowl, followed by 9% on the Dallas Cowboys, and 5% each on the Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, and San Francisco 49ers.

“The legal sports betting market continues to grow to the detriment of dangerous, illegal offshore operators, continued Miller. “The NFL and its teams must continue to prioritize and act on the shared responsibility to educate customers on regulated markets and responsible gaming principles in order to realize the full benefit of legal sports betting.”

The AGA also underlined that as more American adults access legal betting options closer to home, it is important they do so responsibly. To that end, it has built Have a Game Plan.® Bet Responsibly. to bring the core tenets of responsible sports betting to consumers and provide access to gamblers who may need additional support. 

Driving bettors away from illegal operators and toward the legal market is also a focus of this initiative.