March Madness Betting Boom: Shifting Demographics Presents Untapped White Space for Advertisers

Industry tailwinds are leading to a surge in gambling, and changing what the typical gambler looks like.

The NCAA March Madness tournament seems to possess a supernatural ability to get even the most ambivalent consumer to fill a bracket and religiously follow every game.

Women’s NCAA viewership exploded this past season, ultimately eclipsing the men’s March Madness Final. Meanwhile, the number of women placing bets has been increasing each year, growing about 9% between 2021 to 2023; the percentage of men, however, dropped approximately 4% during the same period, according to new insights from Attain.

The accessibility of online gambling — and the marketing that accompanies it — is driving new customers to place bets on college basketball’s biggest tournament. Accessibility of online betting platforms, increased legalization, and the variety of bets that can be placed are likely expanding what a typical bettor profile looks like. This shifting landscape offers marketers a prime opportunity to reach diverse and engaged audiences, especially as more networks broadcast women’s sports.

James McNamara, VP of video investment at media buying agency Canvas Worldwide, emphasizes the emerging market opportunity: “We've certainly been talking to clients about [women’s sports] in terms of it just being a white space,” McNamara tells The Outcome. “Now that more networks are offering it and people are tuning in, it just gives you an opportunity to tap into new audiences, to establish new brand partnerships, and associations that weren't available a couple of years ago.”

A Changing Game

While most brands and verticals are shifting more ad dollars into digital, the gambling industry appears to be bucking this trend. In 2023, the industry spent more money on linear TV than all other formats combined. Steve Green, executive VP and GM of performance revenue at Fluent, explains the strategy to The Outcome: “Linear TV puts brands directly in front of sports fans, capitalizing on live broadcasts to drive deposits and bets in real time. While measuring the direct impact of Linear TV ads can be challenging, their ability to build brand awareness remains unmatched.” 

McNamara adds, “You buy an NFL spot and you're getting 17 million people seeing your spot all at once. You don't get that with digital.”

Despite this emphasis on traditional media, DraftKings has not abandoned a sophisticated digital strategy. All three of its founders come from VistaPrint, which is essentially a performance marketing firm dressed up as a printing company, according to President and Co-Founder Matt Kalish.

The next challenge for DraftKings and other major platforms is maintaining their top standing, as stated by DraftKings CEO Jason Robins. “One of the most competitive industries in the world,” says Robins.

Looking Ahead 

Today, bettors are likely to be younger, male, single, home owning, college educated, and earning over $75,000 a year, though with every passing year the demographics skew more female and lower income, according to Attain data. Additionally, there are more than 40 online sportsbooks operating in the US. DraftKings and FanDuel each hold around 30 percent market share; BetMGM holds 20 percent, and the remaining 20 percent is divided among smaller players.

Ad spend in the gambling category dropped in 2023 as the frenzies surrounding state-level legalizations plateaued. Nevertheless, DraftKings still expects its business to grow 20-30% this year. This suggests that data-driven advertising, when executed correctly, has become more efficient, as evidenced by statements made in DraftKings' latest earnings report. Leaders like DraftKings are also buying other online gambling platforms to diversify their business, aiming to attract younger consumers.

With industry giants like ESPN and even Disney entering the space, the strategic focus is broadening the gambling demographic and improving customer experiences through technological innovation. 

“How do you create new things that haven’t existed before,” DraftKings’ Robins said at the Global Gaming Expo. “How do you bring new players in by making it a less intimidating experience, a little bit more user-friendly to a casual player who doesn’t know what minus 150 means?”

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