When legal sports betting in Ohio launches later this year, the state’s nearly 12 million residents will be able to place bets in their home state for the first time.
According to new research, women will make up a considerable slice of the market after sports betting in Ohio launches on Jan. 1, 2023.
In 2021, more than 4.6 million women signed up for U.S. sports betting apps, according to mobile insights firm Global Wireless Solutions. Women accounted for a 115% increase in sports betting app signups year-over-year compared to a 63% jump for men, up to 7.5 million.
FanDuel CEO Amy Howe recently said women bettors are a “huge opportunity” for the company, noting that women make up 50% of sports fans but less than a third of sportsbook users.
“This is a big priority for us,” Howe said. “There’s a lot we’re doing to really try to own this.”
The trends suggest women will continue to dip their toes in the sports betting waters at high rates. Ohio will offer plenty of opportunities for them to do so.
Ohio sports betting market flush with fandom
It’s difficult to find a pocket of Ohio where a professional team, university or high school sport doesn’t dominate the entertainment market.
Ohio boasts two NFL franchises (Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns), two Major League Baseball teams (Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians), an NBA franchise (Cleveland Cavaliers) and an NHL team (Columbus Blue Jackets), along with two Major League Soccer teams (FC Cincinnati, Columbus Crew).
Add the powerhouse Ohio State Buckeyes football program and Cincinnati’s NCAA men’s basketball crosstown rivals Cincinnati Bearcats and Xavier Musketeers — plus UC football and six Mid-American Conference college sports programs — and it’s easy to understand why Ohio punches above its weight when it comes to sports fandom.
This is all without mentioning the fervor of high school athletics in many corners of the state (though those games will not be open for bets).
Women, of course, make up a healthy slice of the fans packing every stadium and arena.
“I think that Ohio is a great sports state and women support all of the different sports,” says Jesse Ghiorzi, director of marketing for the Greater Columbus Sports Commission. “We don’t have a WNBA team or (National Women’s Soccer League) team, so we don’t have as much at the pro level in women’s sports. But Ohio State has 36 sports, all told, and a lot of those are women’s sports or women’s teams.”
No women’s major pro teams, but plenty of sports highlights
It’s true that Ohio can’t claim a single women’s sports program with a massive following. The Cleveland Rockers were an original WNBA franchise, but the team folded after the 2003 season.
There’s also no Tennessee Volunteers or UConn Huskies women’s basketball teams with outsized followings, though the OSU women’s basketball team leads the Big Ten with 24 conference championships and has made six Sweet Sixteen appearances since 2005.
The Greater Columbus Sports Commission, which works to bring sporting events, fans and participants to central Ohio, has attracted 550 new events leading to $625 million in direct visitor spending during its 20 years of existence. Ghiorzi says the organization promotes all events to everyone.
“I think Ohio largely celebrates women’s sports,” he says. “The state overall and especially Columbus — we’ve consistently tried to boost women’s sports.”
Columbus hosted the 2018 Women’s NCAA Basketball Final Four, and Cleveland is set to host it in 2024. Cincinnati hosted in 2007.
Ohio State hosted the 2018 and 2021 NCAA Division I Women’s Volleyball Tournament at Nationwide Arena. The University of Dayton and other Mid-American Conference schools host their fair share of conference championships — both men and women — as well.
While women might bet more on women’s sports than men, they will still gravitate mostly toward traditional betting sports like the NFL and NBA.
“There are just a ton of sports fans in Ohio of both genders,” Ghiorzi says, “and it’s great that we’ve got that many women who are interested in the game as well as men.”
No shortage of advocates for Ohio women’s sports
A nonprofit in Cleveland is working to make it easier for women to find and support recreational sports teams and athletic organizations.
The Northeast Ohio Women’s Sports Alliance started as just a handful of teams and has grown to over 20. The group’s mission is to “expand awareness for community-based sports in Northeast Ohio and offer supportive services for individual athletes, teams, their coaches and staff.”
The group does so by removing the barriers to women finding and joining teams. According to a recent survey the alliance conducted among its members, the main barriers were time, cost and transportation.
By promoting so many different teams and leagues, ranging from softball and roller derby to rugby, e-sports and ice hockey, the teams are able to build a sense of community, support each other and find new participants more easily. Women who play one sport can find new teams and groups to join.
“Spectatorship, fandom — that’s easier than becoming a volunteer at an organization or playing on a team if you’re not sure if they’re welcoming to your physique or your experience level or your competitive level,” says Barb Anthony, co-founder and executive director of the Northeast Ohio Women’s Sports Alliance. “We want people to know: Here are access points. Here’s the information. Find a good fit for you — wherever that is.”
The NOWSA also supports youth organizations, including groups dedicated to engaging with and supporting kids with physical disabilities and girls who are at-risk.
Title IX celebration coming to Cleveland this summer
The Northeast Ohio Women’s Sports Alliance will host a panel of speakers at an event celebrating the 50th anniversary of Title IX on June 23 at Cleveland State University.
“That’s exciting because it’s a different way to uphold our mission,” Anthony says. “We aim to build community and grow that space for folks in this region to feel like they have a place to have these conversations, to find people who have a shared experience — or different experiences — that they can hang out and get along with.
“Our ongoing goal is to always promote information and awareness about our partner teams and organizations. What they’re doing we try to push out as much as we can.”
Whether these trends and initiatives translate to more women betting on sports when Ohio launches remains to be seen. But there is definitely a potential market here in the Buckeye State.