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Women’s soccer is the huge opportunity that legal U.S. sportsbooks are largely ignoring

Photo Copyright Lewis Gettier for The Equalizer

The biggest untapped opportunity for women’s soccer in the United States is one which helped proliferate the popularity of major men’s sports. The question is when the involved parties will recognize the opportunity being missed.

With stars like Rose Lavelle and Christen Press enjoying unprecedented levels of international fame and NBC Sports broadcasting their clubs’ matches to North American audiences, now is an optimal time for sportsbooks to promote betting markets on top-tier international women’s club leagues like England’s FA Women’s Super League.

Partnering with a gambling company that offers legal wagering on matches involving such stars abroad would also be a great opportunity to increase the visibility of these athletes and, in turn, the domestic clubs they play for. Not doing so is like Nike choosing to not make shirts for a women’s national team available in women’s sizes.

Ignorance of how the regulated market for sports betting works, and a lack of familiarity with the Women’s Super League, are embarrassingly turning what should be a scoring chance into an own goal. Both sides of this potential partnership barely acknowledge the other even exists, as evidenced by U.S. soccer and sportsbooks’ declining to comment on the prospects of a partnership.

The legal sports betting industry in the United States of America is a still-growing giant

Regulated sportsbooks in the United States are more robust than ever. Voters in Louisiana, Maryland and South Dakota just voted to legalize sports betting, making it legal in half the U.S. states, plus Washington, D.C. There is active legislation in three other states as well.

In September, New Jersey’s legal books recorded the highest monthly total of dollars wagered in a U.S. state ever, handling nearly $668 million in bets. Although there are definite areas of weakness in the regulated markets, both out of operators’ poor choices and regulatory flaws, it’s a positive sign that residents of many states are embracing legal sports betting.

NWSL enters sports betting era, with all its pros and cons

Sporting clubs in many of these jurisdictions have embraced partnering with companies that offer legal sports betting. While most of these deals involve MLB, NBA, and NFL teams, it has permeated women’s sports as well.

FanDuel is a prominent partner of the WNBA’s New York Liberty. The company also operates a brick-and-mortar sportsbook in New York state. Sports betting is now a prominent part of broadcasts and coverage of sports in the United States as well.

NBC has a partnership with PointsBet Sportsbook just as CBS has a deal with sports betting brand William Hill. Yet, the National Women’s Soccer League and its clubs — which have a multi-year media rights agreement with CBS — have barely engaged the partnership publicly. That goes for current or former players as well.

For athletes and clubs, it’s not as simple as an official beverage sponsorship

Partnerships with gambling companies are no different than the NWSL’s partnership with Budweiser, as far as how they work. They are cross-promotional deals, in which both parties hope to make the other’s customers their own customers as well.

Some athletes, NWSL clubs, and U.S. Soccer may be hesitant to fully embrace sports betting because of the appearance of promoting activity that many associate with addictive behaviors and attempts to fix the results of matches, however. Additionally, there’s somewhat of a learning curve here.

How the NWSL adapted to add sponsorship despite shortened season, pandemic

Coaches, players and team personnel may not be aware of the value of information when it comes to sports betting. Casually mentioning an injury or a change in the starting XI could give some bettors an advantage over others.

With the proliferation of legal sports betting, clubs and leagues have a need to educate their personnel on this topic. That applies whether they embrace legal sportsbooks or not. Many of them had markets for the NWSL Challenge Cup and took bets on the NWSL Fall Series matches.

Ignorance of how the regulated market works fuels hesitancy

The regulated market makes allowances for match-fixing and responsible gambling. Part of the tax dollars that jurisdictions collect from sportsbooks go to funding the treatment of addictive gambling.

Additionally, legal sportsbooks employ robust integrity monitoring services. With modern technology, it’s quite easy to detect and snuff out irregular wagering crucial to match-fixing.

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Clubs and supporters should also remember that legal sportsbooks have been running in the United Kingdom for a long time. The instances of successfully compromising the integrity of matches are nearly non-existent there in this modern era.

As far as the Women’s Super League goes, it’s not a matter of whether regulated U.S. sportsbooks can take bets on the related events legally; it’s more a matter of when they will do so.

With ideal conditions, when will legal books invest in the Women’s Super League?

Most jurisdictions’ regulatory bodies have no prohibitions on their licensees accepting bets on first-division international women’s leagues. For example, Indiana’s Approved Events list restricts what fixtures its licensees can post markets for based on level, not gender.

Dennis Mullen, director of sports wagering and paid fantasy sports for the Indiana Gaming Commission, confirmed that as long as it’s a top-tier division, whether it’s a men’s or women’s league matters not. This is quite standard across state regulations.

The reality is that legal sportsbooks in the U.S. will eventually start taking action on top-tier women’s clubs around the world. FanDuel had markets available online for bettors in several jurisdictions on Women’s European Championship qualifiers recently, for example.

The prominence of domestic talent in these matches and the matches being carried by major U.S. broadcasters make that more inevitable. Clubs, players, and the U.S. soccer community at large could start sharing in the fruits of their labor by forming promotional partnerships with gambling companies now.

At the same time, legal sportsbooks in the U.S. have the opportunities and resources to capture additional handle by offering markets on Women’s Super League matches now. They are simply choosing to forego those opportunities for the time being.

We could have Twitter posts advertising money lines and a prop bet on whether Rose Lavelle will score in her next Manchester City match. But with no real collaboration between legal sportsbooks and the various soccer entities to date, both are missing out on the potential benefits.

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