The NFL is heralding its TV ratings from Week 1 boasting that more than 121 million fans watched games during the 2022 Kickoff weekend — up 5% compared to 2021.
Every data point, whether it was the measure of prime-time games, the Sunday and Monday Night games, or the Sunday afternoon early- and late-window games on FOX and CBS showed a leap in NFL ratings.
The nearly 83 million fans who watched games on Sunday afternoon of Kickoff weekend watched over 12 billion minutes of NFL action, the highest total on record. ESPN's Monday Night Football had almost 20 million viewers to set a record for a season-opener.
While the NFL may suggest that the ratings increases were the result of fans just hooked on the excitement of the games, other data indicates a compelling correlation with the march of legalized sports gambling across country.
The rising numbers of TV audience and internet traffic can reasonably be called far more than a casual correlation. There would seem to be little doubt that there’s unmistakable causality between greater access to legal sports betting and interest in watching the games.
Illinois sports betting saw a 60% increase (3 million) in total volume of bets on NFL opening weekend over last year, according to GeoComply. It was the fifth-highest state and had a 7.8% total volume share of the U.S. Not coincidentally, Illinois did away with in-person registration for sports betting last year.
The Chicago Bears beat the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, 19-10, at a rain-soaked Soldier Field in Chicago.
NFL Ratings & Sports Betting By The Numbers
New York & Other New States Boost Traffic
Regarding internet activity during the games, GeoComply, the tech company that specializes in geolocation, noted its tracking of web users to gambling websites — described as geolocation volumes — were up 71.5% to a record 103.1 million. In other words, fans were doing more than just watching football on TV.
It’s a reasonable deduction that contributing to that increased activity are the additions of five jurisdictions to the rollcall of states with legalized sports gambling since opening day a year ago.
Chief among the new states is New York, which was joined by Arkansas, Connecticut, Kansas and Louisiana.
So far, more than 20 jurisdictions allow for some type of internet sports gambling, often from anywhere in the state. A handful of other jurisdictions allow or have launched just retail sports betting. And Maryland, with retail already, has online on the horizon and Ohio will have a whole suite of sports gambling on Jan. 1.
GeoComply NFL research noted that New York is the overall market share leader in U.S. sports betting with 15.3% of the wagering action during the NFL’s opening weekend, followed by Pennsylvania (14.8%) and New Jersey (13.1%). New York reported a mobile sports betting handle of $330 million for the week ending Sept. 11, its highest week since May.
NFL Sees Relief with Ratings Rise
The NFL wasted little time trumpeting its ratings victory in Week 1. The nearly 83 million viewers who watched games on Sunday afternoon alone of the first weekend was the highest total since 2016 and up +7% vs. 2021. Plus, there’s the further viewership of specialized broadcast opportunities such as Red Zone, usually available in a subscription package, that features seven hours of commercial-free almost real-time highlights.
All of this is especially good news, and a relief too, for the NFL who just a few years ago was in the throes of a TV ratings decline. The 2020 football season had special challenges, such as the national bandwidth being taken up by a super-heated presidential election (the same was true in 2016) and a crescendoing COVID-19 pandemic. During that season, there were reports of TV networks even lowering the prices for advertisers for NFL games.
But even before the difficult 2020 season, NFL ratings suffered a malaise through the second half of the 2010s as pundits speculated that the NFL was leaking popularity.
What Legal Sports Betting Brings
However, sports gambling advocates had always contended that legalized sports gambling would be just the shot-in-the-arm all team spectator sports would need to juice their fan engagement. And not just in attracting viewers to turn on games, but to also keep viewers glued to the TV until the final whistle, buzzer or pitch because gambling outcomes on Illinois sports betting apps would still be in the balance.
The early ratings of the 2022 NFL season are an indication that fan enthusiasm for the NFL is definitely on the upswing. There’s no question the ratings lift coincides with greater access for fans getting in on the action with legalized betting.
And that means more tax revenue to the states earmarked by some for schools, first responders, general funds and responsible gaming efforts. In New York, for example, tax revenue from mobile sports betting, which launched last January, goes to elementary and secondary education and youth sports grants. Some is earmarked for preventing problem gambling and treatment.
Illinois sports betting taxes, including those from Illinois NFL betting, go to the state’s Capital Projects Fund, where money is used for improvements to roads, bridges, mass transit, public schools and universities.
Kansas, the newest state to launch, sets aside taxes to attract professional sports teams to the state, including the Kansas City Chiefs.