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Is golf set to become a prime betting market in the US?

Is golf set to become a prime betting market in the US?

“The most important shot in golf is the next one” - a quote famously coined by a legendary exponent of the game, Ben Hogan; there is similar symmetry for most aspects of life, including business.

For decades the sport has almost operated under-the-radar - although its been a box office attraction at the same time - perhaps not quite on the same level as some of the ‘major’ sports such as American football and basketball in the US/soccer in Europe.

However, it has always had somewhat of a glamorous yet understated edge about it. Combining most of the human senses: visually stunning backdrops, velvet commentary attuned to creating suspense and if watching live, a cacophony of other sounds and floral aromas. Essentially a sporting orchestra.

It also appeals to statistics fanatics, providing a basis for the sports betting industry that has created a market over the last couple of decades that has so many variables to it.

As of the end of last year there were 66.6 million active golfers around the world, having grown significantly over a five-year period from 61 million. There are signs that this will continue over the next decade, helped by ambassadors of the game and great branding.

Phil Anderton at the R&A and Sports Marketing Surveys revealed: "Golf is enjoying a real boom in popularity at the moment and we are seeing substantial increases in participation in many parts of the world, particularly in the last two years when the sport could be played safely outdoors during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The new figures are very encouraging but we need to work together as a sport to make the most of this opportunity by retaining those people who have returned to golf or tried it for the first time. We can achieve this by offering a variety of attractive and flexible options that encourage golfers to play more regularly and enjoy its many health and wellbeing benefits with family and friends.”

From a betting perspective there is definitely room to grow, especially in the US, where this is still a relatively new industry but one which has witnessed explosive interest from customers who have been waiting for licenses to be passed for years.

Now is the time for golf to make par

Arguably, from a commercial sense at least, the US is the biggest market in the world for golf - certainly when you consider the number of ambassadors (players and former players) that are in the public eye, in addition to retail companies.

This perfectly aligns with the betting angle, which in the US has evolved into more of a sponsorship-driven venture based on partnerships to attract customers to sign up for sportsbooks.

Currently, the likes of FanDuel, DraftKings and BetMGM have all seen great success aligning with different franchises in multiple states and whichever one makes a major move in the golf market could really capitalize.

However, the main sportsbooks are all competing fiercely in the four main US sports markets: American football (NFL), basketball (NBA), baseball (MLB) and ice hockey (NHL). A prime opportunity is there, especially based on the statistics and level of interest for one of these to make serious gains by putting a lot of weight behind golf.

Particularly by securing rights to be the main betting partner of a major competition or even the PGA (Professional Golf Association), which has events all year round. Onboarding a popular figurehead (player) of the sport as an ambassador would also be a smart move in being able to increase acquisition.

At the minute golf is still considered to be a marginal sport for betting in the US, reflected by the minimal number of markets that are available to customers, with US sportsbooks only offering the option of being able to bet on the outright markets (to win, or top-five place). 

With hundreds of golf courses around the US and particularly in states where mobile sports betting has become legal, this means there are many opportunities from a branding perspective if deals can be struck between sportsbooks and golf courses.

An example that could be mirrored in the US is MLS (soccer), in terms of a newish sport introduced to the US market that has gone on to achieve significant success over the last few years, with golf having even more potential - especially from a betting aspect considering that this is virtually a year-round sport.

The number of professional US golfers far eclipses any other country in the world. As such, with many being from different states, it means that there could be serious betting interest in those states where it is, or may become legal - as such perhaps prompting a loyalty incentive to bet on a local golfer. This effectively works in the same way that a sports franchise in a particular state would work. For example, the Chicago Bulls NBA team would likely have a number of fans in the state of Illinois and as a result, attract a substantial betting handle for this franchise.

A swing and a miss or a hole in one?

In terms of the likelihood of the golf betting market taking off in the US, this definitely has serious potential if sportsbooks realize it. 

Certainly an untapped market, as far as revenue is concerned, it could be a great way for a brand to add a significant amount to its top line while also growing awareness in what is likely to become the largest betting market in the world over the next few years.

With a lot of investment being ploughed into the sport recently and also taking into account the number of up-and-coming golfers in the country, this is another sign that it is on the up.

Perhaps there is a fair way to go, though it is likely that the golf betting market would get the rub of the green.

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