NFL Draft 2020 Betting Shatters Records as Over $30 Million Expected to be Spent, Bookmakers Say

The coronavirus pandemic has taken the NFL draft away from Las Vegas but, paradoxically, it may have done sportsbooks in the city and across the country a favor.

The draft was scheduled to be held in the glitz and glamour of Sin City, featuring players shaking hands with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on the stage in front of the Bellagio Fountains and thousands of fans packing Vegas' iconic strip.

None of that will happen, however, as social distancing measures in place because of the coronavirus outbreak mean the draft will be held remotely, with teams joining a conference call with the NFL and Goodell announcing the picks from the basement of his home in Westchester County, New York.

While the virtual draft will be a test of internet speed and connectivity for the 32 franchises, it has already proven to be a financial bonanza for bookmakers, who expect this year's event to shatter every record set by previous drafts.

The reason is simple. With no live sport to speak over the last five weeks, fans have had no chance to bet on anything. Watching the draft may not be as riveting as watching the World Series of the Super Bowl, but it's as close to watching live sport as it is going to get for the foreseeable future.

According to industry data, approximately 90 percent of betting on the NFL draft was done on the day of the event last year, but without any live sports to wager on betting has started earlier this year.

"Judging by the business we have seen already, which has easily eclipsed last year's record turnover even before the last day rush, this will be by far the biggest draft in terms of betting," Steve Baumohl, co-founder and head of trading at RedZone.bet, told Newsweek.

"With little else on in the sporting world, we have put up over 200 markets for punters and many other operators have expanded their offerings also. With that in mind, I can see turnover on the draft hitting $30 million in the U.S."

The feeling is shared across the industry. PointsBet expects the amount of money staked on the draft to be over twice as high as last year's total, while Fox Bet has suggested the increase in turnover from 12 months could be as big as five-fold.

Oddschecker, meanwhile, expects the rate of increase in turnover to be 1.5 times bigger than last year, but the ceiling is high.

"With a significant number of bets certain to be placed on the day as the rumor mill hits full speed, that number will rise as the hours pass," Oddschecker spokesperson Pete Watt told Newsweek.

"Across all draft markets, there has been a 49 percent increase in terms of number of individual wagers from last year, according to our data."

If betting on the draft has soared due to lack of other live sporting events, broadcasters are also likely to benefit from the attention of sport-starved fans.

Across all Nielsen-measured channels, the 2019 NFL draft telecasts combined to reach for more than 47.5 million viewers over the three days, a five percent increase from the previous year. The draft recorded an average of 6.1 million viewers across NFL Network, ESPN, ABC and digital channels alone.

Last week, the WNBA draft averaged 387,000 viewers, a 123 percent increase from 12 months earlier.

Considering the NFL draft will be broadcast on ESPN's flagship channel—the WNBA draft was on ESPN2 and ESPNU—NFL Network and ABC, and that football dwarfs the WNBA's profile, the omens are good for network executives.

Should the NFL draft match the rate of increase of the WNBA selection process, it would draw in a staggering cumulative audience of over 100 million viewers, with an average of around 13 million.

To put the figure into context, in March ESPN reported Monday Night Football recorded its highest audience since 2015, finishing the 17-game schedule in 2019 with an average of 12.5 million viewers an eight percent increase from the previous year and was cable's most-watched series for the third straight year.

NFL draft, betting
[File photo] A bettor places wagers ahead of Super Bowl LI between the Atlanta Falcons and the New England Patriots at the Race & Sports SuperBook at the Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino on January 26, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Ethan Miller/Getty