Growing popularity of women’s sports is resulting in increased betting, but not salaries

Interest in women's sports is growing, but players are still underpaid compared to their mail counterparts.

Women's sports are getting more fans and more betting handle

For the longest time in the betting industry, women’s sports were not even considered as betting options unless a customer requested it. When I first covered the online industry, Intertops was the first company I saw that offered betting on women's sports. The bets were for tennis and women’s soccer and the head bookmaker of Intertops at the time told me that it was only to appease a few European customers who wanted it. He told me the company was lucky to get one bet on a woman’s game for every 500 bets they took in on a men’s game. The head bookmaker said they only had a handful of bets from American and Canadian customers on women’s soccer, but there was enough betting interest in Germany, England and other European countries to continue offering odds.

Women’s soccer really wasn’t even on the radar in the U.S. until 1996 when it was introduced as an Olympic sport at the Atlanta games, where the U.S. won the gold medal and received great accolades from the country, but that success didn’t translate to interest in the sport.  That started to change with the 2019 World Cup in France when the U.S. beat the Netherlands 2-0 and there was general excitement in the country about the sport. Sportsbooks in states that legalized betting before the World Cup said they were quite surprised at the number of bets that were placed on the U.S. team at that time and betting on women’s soccer has only grown since.

Betting has increased on all women's sports

It's not just soccer where interest in betting on women’s sports has increased. In its early years the WNBA had next to no betting and analysts attributed this to lack of TV time and lack of statistics on WNBA players, which handicappers rely on to help decide whether to place a bet or not.WNBA  betting salaries But in recent years TV time has grown and the league received a lot of exposure with the Brittney Griner incident where she was held captive in Russia for marijuana possession and was exchanged in a prisoner swap by Joe Biden for a hardened Russian criminal. That incident apparently resulted in many people who never watched a WNBA tuning in to find out more about her and the league. And this year the league received a great deal of interest when Caitlin Clark signed with the Indiana Fever after raising eyebrows for her unprecedented scoring figures in the NCAA, playing for the Iowa Hawkeyes. BetMGM reported that betting on WNBA games was up more than 40% in 2023 compared to 2022 and this year bets have been almost 150% higher, most likely as a result of Clark’s joining the league. No doubt the regulation of sports betting in more states also helped grow that figure.

Without question, however, the highest growth in betting for women’s sports was on March Madness. FanDuel, BetMGM, DraftKings and even some offshore sportsbooks said that the amount of betting on this year’s March Madness for the women’s tournament was unprecedented. In the games where Clark played, betting was off the charts and the game between LSU and Iowa was said to be the highest bet game of any sport on that day, including the NBA and NHL. A spokesperson for BetCaesars said that when betting on March Madness for women’s sports was first offered after the repeal of PASPA, betting on men’s games was as much as 20 times what it was on the women’s games despite both receiving TV time. But in 2024, the amount was far closer. Aside from being a good product, many who bet on the WNBA and women’s team sports say that they are truer to form than the men’s games and as a result are easier to handicap.

As for other leagues, women’s hockey was just started this year with the Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL) and attendance for the games has been impressive. Average attendances have been as high as NHL games and in cities like Toronto, Boston and Minneapolis (which won the league title this year), almost every game was sold out. Betting apparently has been slow on the PWHL, but a contact at Bet365, which offered the product to its customers in Ontario, said that the bets were very high for the finals and games involving Toronto. Betting on Olympic team sports for women has always been good but the sportsbooks are expecting unprecedented bets for this year’s Olympics in Paris for women’s soccer, basketball, volleyball and the team portion of the other individual sports.

Individual sports are also seeing increased betting with LPGA golf betting reportedly up by almost 40% in 2023 compared to 2022 and no doubt Nelly Korda’s success this year, which is approaching Tiger Woods’ success in his heyday, will grow that number even more, since U.S.  bettors love to bet on American superstars. Tennis betting for the women’s game has reportedly not increased much since no Americans are dominating and unlike the Men's game, where Novak Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz have separated themselves from the rest, the women’s tennis players are all taking turns defeating each other and bettors like some certainty when placing wagers.

Las Vegas Aces pay bonus Conventions and Visitors AuthorityWith the rise in popularity and betting on women’s sports, also comes scrutiny. The WNBA is investigating the Las Vegas Aces over a sponsorship deal that would see each Las Vegas Aces player receive a $100,000 bonus from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority for this year and 2025. The league is trying to determine if this was a way to circumvent the salary cap, which the Authority denies, saying they are paying them for name and likeness which will be used for merchandising, the same rule that allowed NCAA teams to pay players without actually paying them and jeopardizing their amateur status. It’s uncertain how this will play out, but it does bring light to how little women athletes are still paid compared to the male counterparts.

Pay disparity

The average WNBA player makes just under $150,000 per year compared to the average NBA player who makes $10 million per year and the average NWSL player makes just over $57,000 per year compared to well over $500,000 for Major League Soccer players and over $250,000 per year for European women soccer players. And PWHL players only make an average of $55,000 per year compared to almost $3.5 million for NHL players. Moreover, purses for LPGA tournaments are a fraction of those for men’s tournaments, including LIV. The average LPGA player makes under $200,000 compared to over $1.3 million for PGA players. However, as an individual sport, the salary will vary greatly based on success. These differences in salary are also pronounced not just because of the growing popularity of the sport including betting, but also because the leagues are benefitting from betting. FanDuel is the official sportsbook partner of the WNBA and BetMGM is the official partner of the LPGA Tour and both leagues get quite a bit of money from the sponsorships. It doesn’t appear that the NWSL or the PWHL currently have sportsbook partners, although it seems only a matter of time before that happens. The question is whether the players will see any personal benefit, if they do.

Apparently, that is the primary reason that the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority decided to give the bonuses to Aces players. They Authority says that live sports helps grow tourism for the city and the women have the right to reap some of that revenue from that tourism. There is no question that the Las Vegas Golden Knights and Las Vegas Raiders have helped build interest in the city, but because the salary caps for the NFL and NHL are so high the city feels no obligation to top-up player salaries. And there is no reason to prop up the salaries of NASCAR or F1 drivers who helped get Las Vegas in the news. In fact, salaries in some women’s leagues are so low that many players say they have no choice but to work other jobs in the off season to make ends meet.

Equal pay for Olympic athletes

It should be noted that in 2022, Congress passed the Equal Pay for Team USA law that requires players who play for the country in the Olympics and other competitions to get the same salary as men for sports, but since these tournaments happen very infrequently it doesn’t affect pay for regular jobs. Olympics Womens sports equal payPlus, for competitions like the World Cup any payouts are based on the finishing position and the reward is almost all provided by the governing body. As an example, the majority of money paid to U.S. athletes in the World Cup was the contest prize from FIFA. The team itself only provided $10,000 to each player per game played as a stipend, compared to other countries who provide hundreds of thousands of dollars as stipend for playing for their country. Reports say that German soccer players get $475,000 USD from the government in addition to the money they win from FIFA. And of course, only the cream of the crop gets to play for the national team and those players usually have sponsorship deals anyways and don’t need the money. For the majority of Aces players, they will never see a dime of money from Olympic or World Cup wins so the $100,000 bonus from Las Vegas will go a long way.

So, there is no question that interest, attendance and betting on women’s sports is growing. But who is profiting from this new interest? Women players will probably say it’s not them and if they are getting the same attendance as their male counterparts then they should get the same salaries. It’s an argument that has been going on for decades in all businesses, but the players have a point. When the topic came up on a local TV station one of the commentators said that women players will get the same salaries when cities have hundreds of thousands of people attending parades for winning the WNBA championship like they do for teams that win the NBA championship. Is that misogynistic or the truth? The answer isn’t clear, but one thing is certain. If women’s sports continues to grow in both attendance and betting, the players deserve to get more, it’s only fair.

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