Big Ten Cancels Football Season, Sportsbooks Must Call Audibles

Posted on August 11, 2020 - Last Updated on August 24, 2020

There will be no Big Ten football season this fall. If legal online sportsbooks in states like Indiana, Pennsylvania and West Virginia do take action on college football games this fall, it won’t involve the Ohio State Buckeyes.

Just days after releasing an updated conference-only schedule, the conference has pulled the plug on all fall sports. For sportsbook operators, that means adjusting marketing plans for the coming months.

How the Big Ten football season cancellation affects sportsbooks

It’s difficult to put an exact number on how much handle Big Ten football is normally responsible for at online sportsbooks in Indiana, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. There are a few reasons for that.

First off, the historical data is quite limited. Last fall was the first time legal sportsbooks were running during college football in both Indiana and West Virginia. In Pennsylvania, it was only the second season.

It’s hard to call these preliminary numbers typical because we don’t have much to measure them against.

The “new and shiny” factor could have inflated handle from September through January of last year in both states. Additionally, it’s impossible to isolate what percentage of handle Big Ten football contributed.

Monthly reports from regulators in all three states don’t break the handle down that far. In October 2019, Indiana sportsbooks took in over $40 million on football bets alone, with some estimating 10-15% came from college football.

It’s hard to imagine the complete absence of Buckeye football will have zero effect on sportsbooks, regardless of the difficulties of quantifying exactly how much. To what degree operators will be able to pivot depends on similar circumstances.

Sportsbooks need the NFL now more than ever

In terms of dollars wagered at legal sportsbooks each year, football is the undisputed champion in the US. At this point, it looks like the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t going to derail the next NFL regular season.

If there is no college football this year, sportsbooks will need that situation to exist throughout the fall and winter. With no college football to offer promotions on, the sportsbooks will likely shift even more of those resources to the NFL.

These promotions usually include:

  • special markets
  • deposit bonuses
  • sign-up bonuses for new customers
  • guarantees against lost bets
  • odds boosts

This new situation could accelerate sportsbooks’ marketing plans. NFL teams in states with legal betting own some valuable real estate like stadiums, social media accounts and team websites. Sportsbooks are starting to take advantage.

The Denver Broncos, for example, have forged partnerships with several sportsbooks operating in Colorado. The upside to these cross-promotional deals with NFL teams is getting the sportsbook product in front of the eyes of thousands of potential customers.

With an even greater premium on NFL action for operators this fall, sportsbooks may be more aggressive in closing these deals. There are plenty of opportunities out there.

The Indianapolis Colts and Pittsburgh Steelers, for example, are without official sportsbook partners. Pittsburgh does have a sponsorship deal with FanDuel, but only for daily fantasy contests.

If sportsbooks can convert Big Ten football bettors into NFL bettors, they may not feel much pain due to the lack of Ohio State and Big Ten football this fall. If similar circumstances befall the coming NFL season, however, sportsbooks will really start to hurt.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a freelance journalist who resides in Kansas City, Mo. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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