A new report by Nielsen suggests that the NFL could make billions of dollars from legalized sports betting in the United States, in the form of improved ratings and ticket sales as bettors pay closer attention to the league.

Nielsen NFL sports betting
A report from Nielsen suggests that the NFL could make billions annually if legal sports betting spreads across the United States. (Image: Wayne Parry/AP)

The report, which was commissioned by the American Gaming Association (AGA), was created after fans were surveyed on how their behaviors might change in the face of regulated betting.

Increase Ratings Worth Far More Than Integrity Fees

If legal sports betting were ever to spread nationwide, the Nielsen report suggests that the NFLs media rights fees could increase by as much as 18 percent, while ticket sales could get a six percent bump and sponsorship could be boosted by seven percent across the league.

Put that all together, and a fully mature, 50-state US sports betting marketplace could be worth as much as $2.3 billion a year for the NFL.

The league may never see a benefit nearly that large in the real world. Its unlikely that sports betting will ever be allowed everywhere in the country, as some states have no interest in expanding into sportsbooks or other forms of legalized gambling.

But even a small fraction of that amount represents a lucrative opportunity for the NFL. Perhaps most significantly, these indirect benefits appear to be much larger than anything the league could hope to collect from integrity fees or the sale of official league data to betting operators.

So much time has been spent on talk over integrity fees, said AGA senior vice president of public affairs Sara Slane. We think these numbers are conservative and show that the league is frankly tripping over dollars to pick up pennies.

NFL Ratings Down, But Cause is Disputed

Increased television ratings would be welcome news for the NFL, as those numbers have been dropping in recent years. But while nobody disputes that the league is capturing fewer TV viewers as of late, the reasoning behind this trend is the subject of intense debate.

Those who are opposed to NFL players who have protested by kneeling during the national anthem including President Donald Trump point to the ratings decline as a sign of a boycott that is having an impact on the league. Theypoint to raw numbers, which show that average regular season viewership for NFL games has fallen from 17.9 million in the 2015 season to 14.9 million in 2017. That represents a precipitous 17 percent decline in just two years.

On the other hand, many have pointed out that television ratings in general are down by similar amounts, with average viewership for the four major broadcast networks dropping 15 percent over the last two years as well. Sunday Night Football remains the most popular prime-time television broadcast for viewers 18-49, with Foxs Sunday afternoon NFL broadcasts remaining the most-watched show overall.

Several states have legalized sports betting in the wake of the Supreme Court decision which overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA). So far in 2018, sportsbooks offering a full range of betting options have opened in Delaware, New Jersey, Mississippi, and West Virginia, with Pennsylvania expected to start offering sports betting this fall.