Today’s guest columnist is Ross Fruin, CEO and founder of GridRival.
There has never been a better time for U.S. sports betting. Over 100 million Americans in 32 states are now able to place a legal wager on their favorite sporting pastimes, with more states likely to legalize in the coming months and years.
The American Gaming Association estimates that nearly $8 billion was put down on Super Bowl LVI, and over 17% of American adults planned to wager sums predicted to be over $3 billion on this year’s March Madness. Sports teams across all major leagues boast official sportsbook partners, while live odds are now commonplace during game broadcasts across multiple different sports.
However, there is one significant sector of the sports market whose fans are being poorly served by the sports betting industry: motorsports. This is an astonishing miss, especially as the tide of motorsports popularity continues to rise, thanks in large part to Formula One, and the ongoing growth of IndyCar and the iconic Indy 500. In fact, the whole month of May is a showcase not only for Indy racing, but for the entire sport.
According to The Guardian, overall ratings for the 2021 F1 season increased 40% in the U.S., putting the series’ popularity at an all-time high in North America. The Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in March was the most-watched cable TV F1 broadcast in the USA in a quarter of a century, with a 60% increase in viewership from the second race of 2021.
The Guardian also notes that F1 added 73 million fans last year across the globe, which can be attributed in part to marketing efforts including the Netflix series Drive To Survive.
For IndyCar, the viewing figures for the first three races of 2022 were the highest since 2003, up 34% from 2021, with the Long Beach Grand Prix being the most watched edition of that race in NBC Sports history going back to 2009, even going up against the Masters at the same time slot.
MotoGP, meanwhile, continues to be a global behemoth, particularly in digital broadcasting: The championship’s official YouTube channel has nearly 5 million subscribers and over 1.6 billion views.
The growth of motorsports viewership across multiple series correlates nicely with the rise of U.S. sports betting. Therefore, one might expect the gaming industry to see Formula One and its ilk as a significant opportunity.
Unfortunately, this isn’t quite the case.
While the likes of NFL and college basketball are riding the wave of legalized sports betting, motorsports remains neglected, to a large degree, by sports betting operators. Race series do not have visibility on the navbars of popular betting websites, while broadcasters tend not to take advantage of the kind of in-play bets that have enhanced the fans’ experience in other sports. This is even more bizarre when you consider that the combination of split-second driver decision-making and potential technical issues makes motorsports perfectly suited to in-play betting.
This raises the question: Why has the betting industry failed to adequately cater to such a large fanbase?
Let’s start with motorsports fans. They are not like fans of other mainstream sports. Their relationships with the racing series they follow tend not to be binary, and feelings towards teams aren’t usually rooted in emotional factors like the city they represent, or embittered rivalries they hold with other teams. There’s a nuanced appreciation of the drivers, the idiosyncrasies of the tracks, engineers, team management, the strategies deployed, and the sheer beauty of the adrenaline-fueled drama that can unfold. Perhaps the industry has not yet found a unique enough approach to reach this very demanding fanbase at an effective scale.
It’s also true that the sport often puts up a barrier to entry for bettors. Elite race teams keep much of their data closely guarded for obvious reasons—“giving it away,” as they see it, could give rival teams competitive advantages. The race series themselves also show little willingness to open up their data—but it is this data that could help fans make more informed betting choices, and give traders more confidence in creating markets that motorsports fans would be attracted to.
NASCAR, however, has broken down this barrier, developing direct relationships with sportsbooks to help ensure fans have a place to engage with real-money gaming platforms. This hands-on approach to solving the key technical challenge of bringing motorsports betting markets to sportsbooks is encouraging.
Sports betting, by its nature, is esoteric and has a relatively steep learning curve. It might be compared to trading options in terms of the attention required and the need to “know the market.” If racing is to reach a betting audience at scale, a new approach is needed for enthusiast fans that is quickly digestible, while also being fun.
Creating such an approach is challenging, however, when there are few traders who know the sport well enough outside of F1 and NASCAR to build a compelling product and increase the handle. Without a large existing handle, motorsports stays low on the operators’ priority list. Hence, we have a “chicken and egg” problem.
What’s clear is that at a time when sports betting operators are rushing in every direction to acquire customers, motorsports represents an untapped market. GridRival was founded as a response to the lack of sports betting opportunities and fantasy games in the market, and has already attracted a user base of nearly 200,000, an audience that grew by 50% in March 2022 alone. GridRival proves that motorsports fans want a platform that is unique and specifically for them.
The sports betting industry may not have fully realized the potential of motorsports, but the continuing growth of this discerning fanbase will soon make it impossible to ignore. Motorsports fans want to deepen their engagement with the series they love, and betting is a proven way to do so. Ignore the gearheads at your peril!
Before founding GridRival, the only fantasy sports platform dedicated exclusively to motorsports, Fruin co-founded the digital media buying firm Searchlogic.