How popular is sports betting on MMA? Colorado is giving us a glimpse.
The state, which releases betting data on second-tier sports, unlike Nevada and New Jersey, began sports betting on May 1. That month, MMA was front and center as the first major U.S. sports organization to get back in action amid the pandemic. The UFC jumped through many hoops to get there.
In May in Colorado, the sport generated about $1.7 million in handle, trailing only table tennis’ $6.5 million.
Ouch or no big deal?
Table tennis beat out MMA in handle
The UFC had four fight cards that month, three in Florida and one in Las Vegas. Table tennis matches were much more frequent, so on a per content basis, the UFC was far ahead. Still, it’s not a great look for the MMA leader to trail a sport like overseas ping pong, a sport virtually unknown to the average U.S. sports fan.
Here’s a look at MMA handle this summer and its share of the overall Colorado betting handle.
The biggest star to fight during those three months was welterweight Jorge Masvidal, but he was a last-minute replacement in a title fight against Kamaru Usman. The UFC and its media partner ESPN didn’t have much time to promote the bout, and handle likely suffered in Colorado and elsewhere.
Still, the UFC had some of its bigger names compete during the three-month period, including Dustin Poirier, Justin Gaethje, Tony Ferguson, Robert Whittaker, Tyron Woodley, Amanda Nunes, and Darren Till. None of them moved the betting-handle needle dramatically.
What the data tells us about the sport
The UFC had no competition from Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, or the National Football League in May, June, and most of July. However, that appears to have meant little in terms of wagering activity on MMA.
MMA handle grew while its share of the overall Colorado betting handle fell.
It appears a rising tide lifts all boats, with the UFC betting handle actually growing as other sports started to return. Bettors have more reason to log onto their sports betting app(s) when there is more sports content to consume. At sportsbooks, the UFC didn’t benefit from other popular sports being off air.
The relatively meager UFC wagering handle does also speak to Colorado’s market being in its infancy with only a handful of books and ramp-up time needed to make consumers aware of the legal product. However, there was pent-up demand for wagering in the state and with many people stuck at home, mobile gaming was often touted as a way to pass some of the quarantine time. Furthermore, the handle illustrates how much MMA is driven by stars, just like PPV buys show. But a star isn’t quite enough, the fight needs to have high stakes and drama, and the rest of the card must be interesting to fans.
McGregor’s fight in January
In the U.S., the most popular fighter remains Ireland’s Conor McGregor, but his star power is waning to some degree, due to relatively recent losses and a lack of activity. He’s fought inside the octagon just twice since 2016 and likely won’t fight again until 2021.
Still, his fight in January against Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone remains the most heavily bet UFC fight in 2020. UFC 249 on May 9, which was headlined by the Ferguson vs. Gaethje main event, could be the most heavily bet UFC card to date this year due in part to pent-up betting, but July’s UFC 251, which featured Masvidal and two other title fights, could have easily overtaken it.
“On overall handle, the UFC 249 card ended up slightly outperforming Conor McGregor’s return to the octagon in UFC 246,” PointsBet Director of Communications Patrick Eichner told US Bets in May. “Those two events have blown every other UFC event to date out of the water, with handles comparable to a full weekend’s worth of NBA games.”
UFC 249 was full of other high-profile fights, while UFC 246 was top heavy with the promotion electing not to bolster the main event with other fan-friendly fights. McGregor and Cerrone carried the card.
The UFC is a weekend sport, while the NBA, when running at full steam, is a daily sport.
Sportsbooks typically see the vast majority of UFC betting the day before or the day of the fights.