The three-time WNBA champion Phoenix Mercury was recently presented a deal that was too good to pass up.
It was an Arizona sports betting offer from Bally’s Sportsbook, which signed a 15-year partnership with the franchise on July 1, the first such deal for an American professional women’s sports team.
Mercury COO Vince Kozar told BetArizona.com that the deal, which is reported to be worth $66 million, came down to a matter of fit between Bally’s and the franchise.
“Bally’s turned out to be the operator that was just absolutely the best fit for us,” Kozar said. “We know that market access is important to them. Its important to everyone who wants to be in this state now that sports betting is legal. But it was more than that.
“It was their focus on diversity, equity and inclusion. It was their desire to be the very first company to do a deal like this with a women’s professional team. So, it really was just a great fit from top to bottom.”
BetArizona.com commissioned a survey on sports betting in Arizona and it showed interest will be high in the state when the legal market goes live.
BRIGHT PRESENT FOR WOMEN’S SPORTS
The value proposition at play with a deal like the one Kozar and company struck is multifold, according to Daniel McIntosh, a senior lecturer in Arizona State University’s marketing department.
McIntosh said partnerships like the one between the Mercury and Bally’s make perfect sense on several levels.
“You look at the individual teams, and for them, it’s another revenue opportunity,” McIntosh said. “Especially post-COVID, when they didn’t have enough people in the seats. And so, then you really start to look at it from the gambling provider’s perspective. What are they getting out of this?
“These companies are in a war for market share. FanDuel is competing with DraftKings, who are competing with Bally’s and Barstool, etc.”
WOMEN IN SPORTS BETTING
McIntosh also touched on the fact that the Bally’s-Mercury deal opens up the largely untapped female sports betting community.
According to HPL Digital Sports, 33% of all bettors are female, which is up 5% from the firm’s survey in 2020.
Additionally, a survey conducted by PointsBet Sportsbook of betting around the Tokyo Olympics found that 60% of Olympics betting action was on women’s competitions, versus 40% on the men’s side.
Olympic sports, like soccer (85% women’s vs. 15% men’s); beach volleyball (70% women’s vs. 30% men’s); and water polo (65% women’s vs. 35% men’s) were among other contests that saw similar trends.
Of all Olympic sports, only 5 vs. 5 basketball (90% men’s vs. 10% women’s) saw the men’s side draw greater betting interest than women’s competition.
Kozar said he believes that level of interest in women’s athletics is sustainable moving forward, with professional teams like the Mercury being forebearers.
“We are really excited to be the first. But we’re looking forward to not being the only one,” Kozar said. “This was a really great opportunity for us and for Bally’s. But really, what it represents more broadly for women’s sports is pretty spectacular.”
McIntosh touched on a similar topic to Kozar, describing the Bally’s dealas a no-brainer for both sides, given the growing emphasis on women’s professional sports in America.
“Historically, when we think of the world of sports and sports marketing, we’ve also suffered from the same issue — we have targeted and skewed heavily male,” McIntosh said. “And then, within the last 10 years, there’s been a renewed emphasis on both women’s sports and female fans.
“... So, I see it as potentially one of two ways: one, an inexpensive way to get access to the brand-new Arizona market, or to a unique way to differentiate yourself in the market to go after this female demographic that's largely been untapped.”
A BOLD NEW ERA IN ARIZONA
Kozar sees the adding of legalized Arizona sports betting apps as a game-changer for sports like women’s basketball, as it allows people to create new ties to teams.
“What I think is so exciting about sports betting is that you don't have to be, you know, a huge fan or a huge follower of any specific team to really get engaged with it and really enjoy it,” Kozar said. “I've never worked in the NFL. But as a fan, I see so many people, so many friends of mine, who maybe don't have an allegiance to one specific team, but who love playing fantasy football. So, they live and die every week with their fantasy football team.
“They're watching 15 games at a time, you know, they're engaged with whatever, you know, platform, they're playing fantasy football on ESPN, or Yahoo or CBS. And so, you're bringing more folks into the fold, who maybe haven't been day one, fans of the league. So that's what I think is really exciting for us to really just broaden the scope of folks who are perhaps paying attention.”
Another exciting element about legalized sports betting for Kozar is the ability to give fans of the team in-game additions, such as prop bets on a contest’s quarterly over/under, as a way to boost engagement, which is a win-win for all involved.
“There really are different ways to be engaged with sports betting with women's teams in these properties,” he said. “And so, we've seen that success across men's sports. And I think it's really exciting to see women's sports be a part of that as well.”
Above all, Kozar said the Mercury have done their research and wholeheartedly believe there is an ever-growing market share of fans that are interested in sports betting and in WNBA basketball.
For Kozar and the Mercury, the name of the game is building a bridge to WNBA fandom for outsiders and strengthening connections with longstanding fans of the team.
He said he believes the team’s deal with Bally’s is the first step in that process, with sports betting serving as the front door to the franchise.
“When you look at the data, a third of all bettors are women and really, what that means is a third of the bettors on men’s sports are women,” Kozar added. “But when you sort of broaden the circle of what people can bet on. Not just the teams, but it's players who they're familiar with that, as well as matchups, rivalries, things like that. When you broaden that circle, I think you broaden the opportunity for participation.”