More People Are Betting on Women’s Sports. Is That a Good Thing?

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So far, 2024 has shaped up to be an incredible year for women’s sports. And one surprising indicator of how much more attention is being paid to college-level and professional women’s teams is the fact that betting is on the rise in this arena. Compared to the first 16 games of last season, the amount of WNBA bets over the first 16 games this season was up 415 percent on FanDuel, a representative for the company told PS over email. As a result, sports betting apps like FanDuel and DraftKings say they’re investing in women’s sports like never before.

“We have a significant partnership with the WNBA, we have more options to bet [on women] on our platform than ever before, [and] we have a specific tab on Caitlin Clark,” says Jennifer Matthews, the vice president of brand strategy for FanDuel, a sports betting company. “The results of people betting more is . . . more partnerships.” (“Partnerships” between sports leagues and companies like FanDuel often involve mutually beneficial cross-promotion and an infusion of cash into the league. )

Meanwhile, for NCAA women’s basketball, DraftKings has seen “14 times year-over-year growth” in terms of money coming in from bets (referred to as “handle”), says Stacie McCollum, the sports betting company’s vice president of content. “The South Carolina vs. Iowa NCAA women’s basketball game was the most-bet on women’s sporting event on DraftKings, ever,” McCollum says. She believes this increase in betting is due, in part, to our collective love for specific players like Angel Reese and Caitlin Clark. It’s also thanks to increased air time for women’s sports on channels that are easy to find and at times that make sense for viewers. Because of this, DraftKings’ network is also launching a show specific to women’s sports.

Many speculate that this kind of investment might mean more money being funneled into leagues known for underpaying athletes. (Case in point: Caitlin Clark’s starting WNBA salary was $76,535, while the World Cup-championship-winning U.S. women’s soccer team battled a lawsuit for equal pay for six years, ultimately settling.)

People with money on a game are more likely to tune in and pay attention, notes Val Martinez, founder of Betting Ladies, a sports betting “community for women.” In the world of sports, eyeballs tend to translate to money, and betting sites have a lot of the latter, with Goldman Sachs predicting that sports betting will become a $45 billion business “when the market is mature.”

Though neither FanDuel nor DraftKings’ spokespeople could speak directly to how betting on women’s sports could lead to higher salaries, McCollum did say, “In general the more investment that’s made in this space should yield greater opportunity for women on the court or on the field-of-play to grow their salaries.”

She adds: “It’s kind of that circular connection in terms of the viewership piece, more money, the investments, the more kinds of sports bets that are placed here, and the advertisers coming in.”

Anyway, you may be thinking, “More money going into women’s sports — sounds good!” But, it’s not that simple. “You have to define what you mean by ‘good’ and for whom,” says Mark W. Aoyagi, PhD, co-director of sport and performance psychology at the University of Denver Graduate School of Professional Psychology.

To paraphrase Ralph Waldo Emerson, sometimes, money costs too much.

Experts Featured in This Article:

Jennifer Matthews, the vice president of brand strategy for sports betting company FanDuel.

Stacie McCollum, vice president of content at sports betting company DraftKing.

Val Martinez, founder of the sports betting “community for women” Betting Ladies.

Mark W. Aoyagi, PhD, co-director of sport and performance psychology at the University of Denver Graduate School of Professional Psychology.

Elizabeth Ward, PhD, a clinical psychologist specializing in sports psychology and adolescent girls and women.

More Money, More Problems?

The cash attached to betting may feel sweet, but it comes with strings. “Of course, the sports leagues are going to say this is great because it’s bringing in tons of additional revenue to the sport. But for the players, it’s just another stressor,” Dr. Aoyagi says. In part, that’s because sports betting may drive mistreatment of the people playing the game. In fact, one in three high-profile athletes receive abusive messages online from people with “betting interests,” the NCAA said in a release last week.

“Players get horrific — in some cases life-threatening — messages on social media, even if their team wins,” Dr. Aoyagi says. He claims this is largely because of prop bets, essentially side wagers on parts of the game that have nothing to do with the final score. For instance, you might bet on whether a certain player will score a specific number of points in a game. “Whether they have a good game or a bad game individually — win or lose — no matter what happens, somebody is losing money on a bet and is pissed off,” Dr. Aoyagi says. “If a player has a great game, somebody’s mad and messages them. If they have a bad game, same thing.”

Women athletes may already be more vulnerable to harassing messages than men. Research from the European Women’s Lobby found that women are 27 times more likely to face online harassment across continents, which we constantly see play out in various areas, from reality TV to politics. Women’s basketball student-athletes receive about three times more threats than men’s basketball student-athletes, the NCAA statement said.

Although more women seem to be betting these days, with Martinez of Betting Ladies saying that research from 888Holdings found that “in 2021 more than 4.6 million US women joined sportsbooks betting apps, a growth rate of 115 percent compared to 2020,” 2022 research from the Pew Research Center shows that most bettors are men. (FanDuel and DraftKings declined to share the gender demographics of their clients.) Assuming it’s largely men betting on women athletes, “there’s going to be a nuclear explosion of problems when you bring in the gender dynamics and misogyny,” Dr. Aoyagi says. “And it’s going to be messy.”

Several efforts have been made to stop prop bets, particularly on student-athletes, including through legislation in North Carolina. And while it may be difficult to stop someone from sending a dick-ish DM, some betting companies say they are doing what they can to address the problem.

In an email statement, a FanDuel spokesperson told PS: “FanDuel supports mental health initiatives for both athletes and our customers.” They added that they recently created “a partnership with Kindbridge Behavioral Health Services to offer self-excluded players with direct access to comprehensive mental health assessments and group support services. It started as a pilot program in New Jersey and Ohio and is set to expand later this year.”

What to Know Before You Place a Bet

While some companies have been known to refer to sports betting as entertainment, it is a form of gambling. Many people can bet without it impacting their lives negatively, Dr. Aoyagi says, but for a certain subset of people, it can lead to problems.

Both FanDuel and DraftKings’ spokespeople note that they have systems in place to help people “game responsibly.” “We provide customers with tools including deposit limits, spend limits, maximum wager limits, and player activity statements — which are similar to a bank statement — that can also be used to help make sure you play within your budget,” FanDuel’s spokesperson noted. McCollum from DraftKings notes that they have technology in place that can not only help with behavior like excessive spending, but also that could detect integrity issues (like if someone is winning a lot and possibly rigging games).

However, Elizabeth Ward, PhD, a clinical psychologist specializing in sports psychology and adolescent girls and women, says she’s skeptical about how well these betting app tools actually work — especially since they’re controlled by the system making money from bettors. “You know what they say in Las Vegas: the house always wins,” Dr. Ward says. “If someone is relying on these tools alone to stop them from betting too much, I’d say they should keep in mind that the house would likely win in this circumstance too.”

Dr. Aoyagi recommends people set overly cautious limits for themselves. “See how easy it is to adhere to those limits,” he says. “If the first week with those limits, you bet $25 and the second week you say: ‘Oh, I lost that $25 so I have to do $25 more this week,’ that’s worth noting. If you start to make justifications, then you probably know you’re on a path that’s going to be more problematic for you.”

(Interesting side note: In this arena, women bettors may be slightly more responsible than men. “Women were 50 percent more likely to set a budget for their gambling activities compared to men,” Martinez says.)

Dr. Aoyagi also suggests checking in with how you feel after spending time on these apps. Do you feel angry or emotionally upset when you lose? What do you do with those feelings? It’s worth keeping a journal or a log in your Notes app to see how you’re feeling during and after betting. Consider shaping your behavior based on how you feel, and cutting back on betting time if needed. (Also, if you’re thinking of DMing an athlete something vile, first, write it in that journal instead, and then try to unpack why betting is making you feel such intensity).

If you’re someone with an addiction history in your family, Dr. Ward suggests being cautious about or staying away from betting completely. She also recommends finding other ways to engage over sports, whether it’s hosting a watch party or attending a game IRL with your besties. If there’s anything good about the normalization of some forms of sports betting, it’s that some forms can be social (say, if you’re doing a fantasy league with your friends), so it can be fun to find ways to recreate that camaraderie — without putting money on the line.

As the world of sports betting continues to fuel women’s sports, there will be winners and losers. And while there’s still a lot we don’t know, as Dr. Ward says, we know who likely won’t lose: the “house.”

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