October 1, 2023

  • Silvia Paleari, Director of Public Affairs, International Betting Integrity Association

Betting on women’s sports: realizing the untapped potential

a new report sheds light on the increased interest in women’s sport and sports betting

The recent and dramatic increase in interest in women’s sports is undeniable. It is a hugely positive development – for fans, the sports and women athletes themselves, and also for the betting market. It is creating very significant and untapped opportunities for sports betting operators, and the whole women’s sports ecosystem which we are only just beginning to understand.

Records were set in 2019, with over a billion people watching the Women‘s Football World Cup. It continued with the UEFA Women’s EURO in 2022 and further records, for attendance, viewers, and sponsorship, were broken at this year’s Women’s World Cup. And it is not just football. The 2023 NCAA women’s basketball tournament, for example, drew nearly 10 million viewers for the final game between Iowa and LSU—up 103 percent from the previous year.

In addition to generating headlines across the world, these developments have also raised a number of fundamental questions about women’s sports and sports betting. Has its growing popularity been matched by a similar increase in betting on women’s sport, and what might this mean for the sports betting market and operators? Could growth in betting on women’s sports create integrity issues for those sports?

Unfortunately, research on women’s sports in general, let alone research on betting on women’s sports, is scarce. Much of the data that does exist is recent, or not publicly available, which limits its value from an academic and research perspective. To help bridge this gap and initiate a conversation about women’s sport and sports betting, the International Betting Integrity Association (IBIA), together with the All-In Diversity Project, Entain, Flutter and Stats Perform, recently commissioned a ground-breaking study, “Breaking Barriers: Assessing Women’s Sports, Betting, and Integrity Challenges.”

Conducted by the German Sport University Cologne, the study analyses the economic development of five women’s sports (soccer, tennis, basketball, cricket, and volleyball) and the women’s sports betting market, including its size, growth and characteristics. It also examines the potential vulnerability of women’s sports to match-fixing.

The results did not come as a surprise, although it is important to be able to finally confirm what until now were often just assumptions. The study concluded that there is indeed a growing interest in betting on women’s sports. It was also possible to understand the nuances of this growth: data showed that football has consistently attracted the highest number of bettors, followed by tennis, with basketball, cricket, with other sports trailing far behind.

More specifically, the study confirmed a 20 percent compound annual growth rate for the number of people betting on women’s football between 2017 and 2022, and there was a similar trend in relation to the total number of bets on women’s football. However, when examining the total volume of bets, the picture changes with tennis boasting the highest volume during the past 5 years. This suggests that the average value of bets placed on tennis is much larger than in other sports.

The gender-specific analysis of the study also highlighted some ground-breaking trends. In terms of volume, the growth of women betting on women’s sports has grown at a faster pace when compared to men betting on women’s sports during the past 5 years. Additionally, the share of female bettors betting on women’s sports has grown over time, with annual growth rates of up to 10 percent in all the sports analyzed, while the total number of women betting on women’s soccer has more than doubled.

It is clear that interest in betting on women’s sports, as well as the interest that women have in sports betting, are here to stay, and whilst the study has made significant advances in our understanding of this phenomenon, further research and analysis is required. For the sports betting industry, we need, for example, to better understand what this means for sponsorship and partnership and broadcasting.

One of the lessons learned from the men’s game is that sports betting can contribute to raising interest in sports which, in turn, can help in securing or improving broadcasting and distribution deals. However, as the study confirmed, while there has been an unprecedented demand for basketball, cricket and football, with record-breaking TV ratings across the women’s sports examined, many sports and leagues either don’t have broadcast deals, or these deals do not properly reflect their current or potential market value.

This does raise the intriguing question: if traditional broadcasters aren’t prepared to capitalize on these broadcasting opportunities, might the sports betting operators step-in?

The same challenges and opportunities also apply to sponsorship and partnership. Some sports have already understood their benefits and have successfully pursued them. The multiyear partnership between the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) and FanDuel has benefited both parties. FanDuel’s support saw continued growth of the WNBA whilst is saw increases of 270 percent in bet count and 101 percent in handle year over year for WNBA betting across all FanDuel Sportsbook retail locations.

With increased growth in women’s sport, comes an increased responsibility to protect our customers, sports betting operators, athletes and sport from match-fixing.

When it comes to sports integrity, IBIA, together with its members (the regulated betting operators), currently applies the same risk management approach to detecting and reporting potential suspicious betting activities in both men’s and women’s sports betting markets. However, it will be important to assess whether this needs to be adapted to any specific situations in the women’s game.

It was therefore very important that the study also examined the integrity of women’s sports. It did so from an academic and practical perspective, with the latter based on real life case studies. The research found that the number of publicly available and confirmed match-fixing incidents in women’s sports is significantly lower than in men’s sports. Whilst this creates a perception that women’s sports may be less susceptible to this criminal activity, the study also cautions that – in part because of how recent the rise in the popularity of women’s sport is –  there is not currently enough data available to be definitive about this finding. There is therefore no room for complacency.

One of the key recommendations made in the study was therefore to increase the availability of data for research designed to deepen our understanding of the match-fixing dynamics in women’s sports. This will help sports governing bodies and sports betting companies to develop approaches to sports integrity which are tailored to the particular circumstances of women’s sports.

By happy coincidence, the rising interest in betting on women’s sport will also lead organically to the generation of more data. We have already seen how US leagues and sports benefitted from selling their official data to sports betting operators when the betting market opened. By monetizing this data they have created additional revenues. The same can and should happen in women’s sports.

There is further hope from other parts of the ecosystem. Stats Perform, for instance, registered a 62 percent growth in data coverage of women’s sporting events (football, basketball, cricket) between 2019- 2020. As with most data, the value of the whole is greater than the individual parts, so by recording data and building more comprehensive databases, the value of the data will increase with the growth in women’s sports and provide an additional incentive for data providers to invest in women’s sport.

We are at the beginning of a revolution, and the whole women’s sports ecosystem could benefit from it. However, with increased growth, comes an increased responsibility to ensure we get ahead of the game when it comes to sports integrity and the fight against match-fixing in women’s sport. By understanding what this new and rapidly evolving landscape looks like we put ourselves in the best possible position to keep sport, athletes customers and sports betting operators, and safe for all.