After Fighting Sports Betting, NFL Is Running Ads and Scoring Big Bucks

In-game gambling ads demonstrate how much the NFL has changed in its approach toward sports wagering

Two NFL footballs on the field before a 2021 preseason game
Two NFL footballs on the field before a 2021 preseason game.
Scott Taetsch/Getty

Prior to the NFL kicking off last week on Thursday Night Football, The American Gaming Association estimated that a record 45.2 million Americans would place a bet during the season, up 36% from last year. 

While it is far too early to tell if the AGA’s season-long estimate will be correct, the early returns suggest it may have been low; the legal sports betting market posted record numbers in the U.S. over the NFL’s opening weekend with 58.2 million online sports betting transactions taking place, a 126% increase year-over-year, according to GeoComply.

Of the sportsbooks in 18 states and the District of Columbia, New Jersey reported the highest volume of transactions (12.5 million) with Nevada’s sports betting handle experiencing a 20% increase year-over-year from Thursday through Sunday.

“The data tells a remarkable story about the growth of the industry in a short period of time,” GeoComply Managing Director Lindsay Slader said in a release.

One of the reasons that growth has been substantial as well as fast is the NFL, which battled legalized sports betting tooth-and-nail for decades, has completely reversed its stance and is now actively promoting gambling.

In addition to inking deals with seven sportsbook operators (Caesars, DraftKings, FanDuel, FOX Bet, BetMGM, PointsBet and WynnBet), the NFL is now allowing ads for betting during game broadcasts, and celebrities including Ben Affleck, Martin Lawrence, Jamie Foxx and J.B. Smoove appeared in commercials reminding viewers that placing a wager was just a click away. The NFL Network also included betting lines on its ticker for the first time.

The advertising blitz projects to be a lucrative one as industry experts expect the revenue from gambling companies for the league and its 32 teams to be several hundred million dollars this season alone, according to The New York Times. “Over the next 10 years, this is going to be a more than $1 billion opportunity for the league and our clubs,” Christopher Halpin, NFL chief strategy and growth officer, told the publication.

Considering online sports betting isn’t even possible (yet) in heavily populated states such as New York, California, Texas and Florida, as well as the fact that the biggest name in American sports, ESPN, has not yet entered into the massive sports-betting deal that many see as a foregone conclusion, the NFL’s opportunity to cash in on legal sports wagering is only going to increase.

If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em — and advertise to ’em while taking their money.

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