While the NFL has endured a tough year in the US, Metric Gaming chief executive Martin de Knijff believes the sport’s growth in the UK means exciting times for betting operators
At the end of the 2017 season, it’s fair to say that it’s been a year of hard knocks for the NFL.
On the field there has been plenty of entertainment, but this will be a season remembered primarily for the sport’s very public dispute with the US President over players taking a knee during the national anthem and a worrying number of empty seats in the stands.
While the Super Bowl will undoubtedly be the event of the year in the US, its razzmatazz will only drown out the voices of pessimism for a short while.
Team owners and league officials are worried about the sport in the US, with many suggesting the problems experienced in 2017 are part of a longer term decline.
To give a flavour of the problem, the average number of TV viewers during week seven of the season was down almost 20% compared to 2015.
While things aren’t looking great in its home country, the NFL’s growth in other markets – particularly the UK – is one area of encouragement for league chiefs.
The record NFL crowd at September’s Wembley fixture between Baltimore and Jacksonville illustrated once more that American football is winning over Europe. 84,592 attended the game in London, just a few more than the Washington Redskins-Cincinnati Bengals match-up at the same venue last season.
Four games were played in London for the first time, with more than 300,000 people attending the matches at Wembley and Twickenham in September and October.
Its TV ratings in the UK have soared over 60% in the past year. As of week six of the season, according to NFL UK chief Alistair Kirkwood, just over 14 million people had watched NFL games on either subscription service Sky or the free-to-air BBC.
If Kirkwood’s figures are correct, around half a million people typically tuned into the Sunday afternoon games shown live on the BBC. Around 80,000 are watching the early Sunday evening game on Sky Sports, with an average of more than 35,000 tuning in for the Red Zone round-up show over the course of its six hours.
While the residents of Los Angeles and Louisville might be losing interest, those in London, Leeds and Lincoln seem to be taking the NFL to their hearts in increasing numbers, which should be incredibly exciting for UK betting operators eager to see a minor sport become a big hitter.
Indeed, the next few years will undoubtedly see a further spike in NFL support in the UK.
A deal struck between the NFL and Tottenham Hotspur will see American football fixtures played at the Premier League club’s as-yet unnamed stadium in each of the next 10 years, starting in 2018.
The NFL has played a role in the design of the stadium, and it has been suggested that a London-based franchise could be in situ at Tottenham’s interim home by 2021.
If London does become home for an NFL team, well, the sky will be the limit for the sport in the UK. Far from being distant, suddenly the NFL will be on the UK betting radar each weekend. More people will know when games are taking place and have an interest in their outcome.
While it’s months until the action resumes, now is the time to prepare for this surge in interest and to make sure that fans of the sport are satisfied by betting operators. Why would an NFL follower accept second best when they have so much choice on the Premier League or tennis?
Undoubtedly, American fans deserve a wide variety of markets and the opportunity to put their expertise to the test.
At present, too many betting operators are failing to provide adequate coverage of NFL fixtures, and that is a shame for them and their customers.
Those that enhance their offering now will be able to establish themselves as a home for American football enthusiasts and, when further growth comes alongside the London franchise, become a natural choice for the influx of newbies.
Punters want markets such as ‘drive outcome’, where they can bet on punt, touchdown, field goal and pretty much anything else. Bettors can pick run or pass for the next play, and even the distance of the next pass.
Those traditional money lines and points spreads will always have their place. However, despite the problems in its home country, this is a new era for NFL, and that means a fresh dawn for betting on the sport.
Professional punter Martin de Knijff, CEO of sports betting software provider Metric Gaming, founded the company in 2011 to leverage advances in mobile technology to revitalise the sports wagering industry. Metric is headquartered in London with offices in Las Vegas, Stockholm and the Isle of Man.