Gambling and sports in the UK – a deep dive
January 31st, 2024, Rishad Dsouza

Gambling and sports in the UK – a deep dive

Sports and gambling have a symbiotic relationship in the UK – sports betting is easily the most popular online gambling category in the market with nearly half of all UK bettors saying they bet at an online sports bookmaker in the past 12 months (47%). Bettors here refers to those who have engaged in gambling activity in the past month (excluding lottery-only players).

While gamblers are naturally inclined towards sport, sports followers (those who say they are sports mad or follow sports closely) are markedly more likely than the overall British audience to bet. Nearly a quarter of these fans (24%) say they have placed a bet at an online bookmaker in the past 12 months compared to just 12% of the overall population.

But not all sports are equal, with fans of certain sports much likelier to participate in sports or other forms of gambling than others. In this piece we focus on fans of some of the country’s most popular sports – football, rugby, cricket, tennis and horse racing.

Fans of sports in this piece are defined as those who say they follow those sports on a regular basis.

Due to long-standing association with betting, horse racing is a massive outlier in that fans of the sport are significantly more likely than any of the other sports to engage in both sports and other kinds of betting online. Nearly half of them say they have placed an online sports bet in the past year (49%). Football fans come in next (23%), with cricket fans closely behind (21%). Under a fifth of rugby (18%) and tennis fans (16%) say they have placed online sports bets in the past year.

More variances emerge when looking at amounts staked on gambling by each of these groups. While tennis fans are the least likely of all to engage in online gambling, those of them who do gamble tend to stake substantial amounts. A fifth of them stake 100 pounds or more each month (19%) online or offline, eclipsed only by gamblers who are horse-racing fans (22%). Football fan gamblers are the least likely to stake at least 100 quid across various kinds of gambling activity in a month.

There is less variance in the amounts staked on sports bets specifically. For fans of tennis, cricket, football and rugby union, between 11-13% say they stake over 50 pounds on sports in an average month. The percentage goes up significantly among horse-racing fans.

How should marketers reach gamblers?

As seen in the shares of each sports fan group who dabble in gambling, room for further penetration exists. For marketers, perhaps the most prudent step is to recognise gaps in brand recognition when tailoring their strategies. For instance, only 69% of all tennis fans are even aware of Bet365, much lower than the share of football fans who know the brand (79%). Rugby fans are far less likely to know about Sky Bet (60%) than football (70%) or cricket (67%) fans. Filling these gaps could perhaps lead to some market share gains.

But gambling brands should be careful to keep their messages subtle because they risk alienating prospective consumers through aggressive advertising. Over six-tenths of fans of cricket (65%), football (62%), rugby union (64%) and tennis (63%) already say they see too much gambling advertising. Additionally, only a fifth of each of them say it is appropriate for gambling firms to sponsor sports teams.

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