The National Women’s Soccer League Playoffs begin this Sunday, and as of Thursday morning, none of the major sportsbooks are offering odds on individual games … yet.
Caesars Sportsbook is the only one with any odds on the tournament at all, listing futures prices on the outright winner.
FanDuel has promised to post gamelines and other markets at least 48 hours before kickoff.
For most leagues on sports betting markets, the odds are posted shortly after a tournament bracket is set, and odds for an outright winner are posted even earlier. For example, the odds for outright betting on the 2023 NBA Championship were posted, in some cases, even before the 2022 NBA Finals ended in June.
At Gaming Today, we wanted to better understand why betting options are so sparse for women’s soccer. With international superstars like Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe in the mix, some fans of the sport are wondering why they can’t bet on the NWSL playoffs yet.
Are Sportsbooks Offering Odds on the NWSL Playoffs?
It’s an issue that plagues women’s sports in general, despite significant advances recently for the WNBA and Women’s World Cup Soccer.
The National Women’s Soccer League – the United States’ top women’s soccer league – finished its regular season on Sunday, Oct. 2, and the brackets were finalized that night.
But as of Wednesday, Oct. 12, 10 days later, the league had still not been listed on several major sportsbooks.
Caesars Sportsbook is, so far, the exception for the NWSL playoffs. On Tuesday night, Caesars posted odds for the outright winner of the NWSL championship in states where the league is approved for sports betting (which notably does not include New York, the largest legal sports betting market in the country).
Caesars told Gaming Today it will also have individual match lines, to be posted Saturday or Sunday.
We spoke with Adam Pullen, the Assistant Director of Trading at Caesars Sportsbook, about the decision to post the odds.
“When it was brought to my attention, immediately we stepped in and quickly crunched the numbers and got our odds out,” Pullen said. “We are bullish on women’s sports, we don’t treat it as an afterthought. In the past, we’ve booked the championship game, but (the challenge is) just getting it in with the whole sports calendar that’s so crowded. Sometimes we’re human.”
DraftKings will have odds available “at some point this week,” according to an email sent to Gaming Today by the sportsbook operator.
FanDuel doesn’t have the NWSL playoffs up yet but confirmed to Gaming Today that they will post matches 48 hours before kick-off. They will also have Extra Time and Qualify markets that were not available in previous NWSL games. The sportsbook is also the only one currently offering outright betting odds on the 2023 Women’s World Cup.
“Odds usually go up closer because there’s not a lot of action,” FanDuel Director of Publicity Kevin Hennessy told Gaming Today. “We had games up during the year and we are extremely happy with the handle and interest that we have seen in the NWSL games and we are looking foward to the playoffs.”
Each of these sportsbooks has seen growth in women’s sports, though. FanDuel told us last month it saw a massive spike in interest in WNBA bets this summer, with a market increase of 270% in bet count and 101% in handle across locations. DraftKings has seen betting on women’s sports increase 61% year over year, and they’ve increased the number of women’s leagues available by 30 times since 2018.
But even for the sportsbooks who are bullish on women’s sports, NWSL odds are lagging behind.
Why is it so Difficult to Find Odds for Women’s Soccer?
Here’s what else we learned from conversations and emails with FanDuel, Caesars, DraftKings, and other books.
The NWSL is still a fairly young league. It was founded in 2012 after other attempts to run a national women’s soccer league folded. The league is currently mired in scandal after reports exposing rampant verbal, emotional, and sexual abuse that was tacitly allowed to continue; some coaches and executives have been fired in the fallout.
While women’s soccer has made strides in visibility, the sport still lacks coverage. In fact, the NWSL is not approved for sports betting in New York. One sportsbook contact (who asked to remain anonymous to maintain a relationship with regulators) suggests it might be because legislators were simply unfamiliar with the league. But, ultimately, it’s up to sportsbooks to submit new leagues to states.
Industry veteran Robert Walker of USBookmaking points to the lack of broadcast and TV opportunities for women’s sports. A much-touted UNESCO survey showed that while women comprise 40% of all athletes, women’s sports get only 4% of the total sports media coverage.
“The reality is that people will bet on games they can watch on TV,” Walker said. “Then, as they bet, more people watch it on TV.”
A study from Horowitz Research backs this up, finding that people who bet on a specific sport are 80% more likely to watch that sport. What that means is both major sportsbooks and major broadcasting companies can influence the growth of smaller markets.
For the NWSL, television exposure might be trending in the right direction. In 2020, the NWSL sealed a new media rights deal, and the league’s viewership grew by 476%, though part of that was likely due to the fact they returned from COVID earlier than other leagues.
This year, the NWSL Championship match will be aired for the first time ever in primetime. CBS and its streaming service Paramount+ will air the match, and fans can also watch internationally on Twitch.
Sportsbooks have to be sure they’ll get enough public action to make offering new markets pay off.
“It comes down to liquidity,” Walker said. “When we don’t get a lot of play on a certain event, it comes down to sharp players only, which isn’t good for [the sportsbooks].”
Walker is a huge fan of women’s sports himself and believes it’s just a matter of time before more fans turn their attention to betting on women’s soccer.
For larger sportsbooks, though, adding a small league doesn’t affect ROI so significantly. Major national sportsbooks have the opportunity to open smaller markets, which could impact visibility for the NWSL.
Then there’s another question: Are sportsbooks, broadcasters, and merchandisers leaving money on the table? The answer seems to be yes.
One study found that the sports industry at large was losing as much as five years’ worth of revenue on women’s sports because fans were being driven to alternative places to buy, watch, and engage.
Several sportsbooks pointed us to the fact that the sports betting calendar is packed this time of year with the NFL, MLB playoffs, NHL, and the NBA starting up next week.
According to Pullen, smaller, younger leagues can fall through the cracks when oddsmakers are putting lines together. Smaller leagues also get less attention from sports bettors during busy times of the year.
“A lot of the handle depends on what’s going on in the sporting calendar,” Pullen said. “The highest bet-on women’s league is the WNBA because there are not a lot of other sports going on. With Major League Baseball, the handle on that plummets once football starts.”
Another issue is data. We’ve written on Gaming Today about how women’s sports suffer from a lack of rich data. The lack of data affects oddsmakers’ ability to put up more markets like player props and player futures. We likely won’t see any of those more niche bets available for the NWSL playoffs.
The MLS has more player performance stats than the NWSL, with stats on its website filtered by General, Passing, Attacking, and Defending, and dozens of statistics on each player. For the NWSL, only general performance stats are easily available. For club stats, the NWSL’s website has about one-fifth the amount of data compared to the MLS.
According to Walker, this lack of data exists on the oddsmaking side, too.
“Our problem is information,” he said. “We rely on data feeds, and right now we don’t have that for women’s soccer.
“As somebody who follows that league, I can understand being dismayed that we don’t book that league, and yet we have 500 props on an NFL game. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it has to do with the ability to get information.”
Pullen says the data is getting better but needs to improve for the individual player markets.
How Much Do Leagues Stand to Gain from Sports Betting?
Sports betting has become a huge source of revenue for the major leagues. A Nielsen study in 2018 projected that the NFL would gain $2.326 billion from sports betting, from an increase in revenue from fan engagement and from gaming-related revenue such as sponsorships, advertising, and product fees.
That study had the following projections for other major leagues:
MLB – projected $1.106 billion
NBA – projected $585 million
NHL – projected $216 million
As of January 2022, the NFL had gained nearly $1 billion just through partnerships with DraftKings, FanDuel, and Caesars.
The NWSL would likely stand to gain considerable revenue if it became popular among sports bettors and leveraged partnerships with sportsbooks. Increased revenue for the NWSL should lead to better outcomes and salaries for players.
According to an article from The Athletic, “About 75% of [NWSL players] earn under $31,000 a year, which is more than $15,000 below the median income for women in the U.S.”
Tori Huster, President of the NWSL Players Association and a midfielder for the Washington Spirit, told The Equalizer in 2020, “We are a pro league, and therefore if it’s something other pro leagues are doing, we should be as well. The more eyes on the game, the better it will be for us long-term.”
The Future is Bright: “It’s Just a Matter of Time”
We spoke with Pullen on Wednesday after Caesars Sportsbook became the first of the major sports betting operator to post NWSL playoff odds. He expressed optimism for the future of the sport and said popularity takes time.
“When a new league starts up, whether it’s women’s, men’s, or any sport, and they want to put odds out, you tell them it’s a long process to get a lot of action,” Pullen said. “It takes time to build up the betting handle. It’s a long road, and there’s no real timetable for how long it will take.”
Pullen points out that even the NFL has grown exponentially over the last four years since sports betting was legalized.
“We used to only have props on the Super Bowl, but now you have props on every single game,” he said. “It’s changed so much. It’s night and day different.”
When it comes to soccer, even men’s soccer has taken years to get traction in the US sports betting markets.
“Going 20 years back, you could hardly bet on any soccer,” Pullen said, “but it’s slowly grown over the years. It takes a long time to get people to be interested in betting on a new market. It’s baby steps. So we start with the main markets, and then, depending on how big the league gets, what we offer will get bigger as we go on.”
One thing Pullen promised: “Next season, when the NWSL starts, we’ll have futures odds out before the season starts.”
NWSL Playoffs Stats & Schedule
The first round of the playoffs kicks off Sunday, Oct. 16, at 5 p.m. ET.
NWSL Playoff Teams
1. OL Reign (11-4-7, 40 points, +13 goal differential)
2. Portland Thorns (10-3-9, 39 points, +25 GD)
3. San Diego Wave (10-6-6, 36 points, +11 GD)
4. Houston Dash (10-6-6, 36 points, +8 GD)
5. KC Current (10-6-6, 36 points, 0 GD)
6. Chicago Red Stars (9-7-6, 33 points, +6 GD)
NWSL Playoff Schedule
- Sunday, Oct. 16, 5 p.m. ET – Houston Dash vs. Kansas City Current
- Sunday, Oct. 16, 10 p.m. ET – San Diego Wave FC vs. Chicago Red Stars
- Sunday, Oct. 23, 5 p.m. ET – Portland Thorns vs. winner of San Diego/Chicago
- Sunday, Oct. 23, 7:30 p.m. ET – OL Reign vs. winner of Houston/Kansas City
- Saturday, Oct. 29, 8 p.m. ET on CBS and Paramount+
International viewers can watch on Twitch /NWSLofficial2.
AP Photo/Ashley Landis