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WNBA star Caitlin Clark appears to have sparked a betting spike for women's sports

The former Iowa star, who began her professional career Tuesday with the WNBA's Indiana Fever, is the subject of intense interest from gamblers.
Betting on women's sports is soaring, and appears to be sparked by Caitlin Clark's success.
Posted at 10:05 PM, May 15, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-15 22:05:06-04

Led by fascination with basketball star Caitlin Clark, interest in — and betting on — women's sports is surging.

Clark, who made her professional debut Tuesday with the WNBA's Indiana Fever, helped generate record-breaking levels of viewership and wagering on the NCAA women's basketball tournament, and money is pouring in from gamblers eager to bet on her pro career.

But that's only part of the story, according to sportsbooks who say they expect increased betting on numerous women's sports.

They expect strong wagering on this year's Olympics, where the U.S women's basketball team has won seven of the last eight gold medals, and where its women's soccer team has already shown the ability to attract strong betting interest as well.

“There's a great opportunity for it right now, so why not throw gasoline on the fire?” asked Meghan Chayka, cofounder of the hockey analytics firm Stathletes. “Not just March Madness; it's all-calendar. It's an obvious way to diversify your fan base.”

Johnny Avello, director of sports operations for DraftKings, said, “There is more star power in women’s basketball than ever before.”

“Ticket prices, media attention and even preseason betting are all up, as this new era of stars gets ready to enter the league," he said. "The WNBA has been steadily growing for the last couple of years, and we are very excited for what should be an excellent season.”

DraftKings took 3 1/2 times more bets on this year's women's college basketball tournament than in the year before, and nearly four times as much total money was wagered on the games. At BetMGM, the amount of money bet on WNBA futures, predicting things like the eventual champion or most valuable player, is up 175% this year.

Donna Orender, former president of the WNBA and a former college All-American and all-star pro basketball player, said the league's success, and that of women's sports in general, have been a long time coming, and betting is one validation of that success.

“That money represents engagement," she said. ”If people are betting, they are engaging. That is healthy for a sports league.”

She was one of numerous panelists at the recent SBC Summit North America conference who predicted 2024 will be a record-breaking year for women's sports in many aspects, including popularity, TV viewership and betting activity.

“People are so interested in (Clark), and we've leaned into that,” said Syd Harris, director of brand and content for the online gambling company Betway. “We know people are watching and betting on women's sports. If someone comes in amid the excitement of March Madness, how do you continue that?”

The answer, many of the country's top sportsbooks say, is to offer the same kinds of bets on women's sports that they do for men's. Most were offering numerous performance-based bets, called proposition or “prop” bets, on what Clark would or would not accomplish in her first professional game Tuesday night. (She struggled in that game, scoring a team-high 20 points, which was under the betting total, but turning the ball over 10 times and making only 4 of 11 3-point attempts, which surpassed the betting line).

Although she is tied for third in terms of betting odds to be this season's most valuable player, Clark is the runaway choice of bettors, according to BetMGM, the official odds provider for The Associated Press. They say 68.1% of total bets and 74.5% of all the money wagered on the MVP is coming in on Clark at +1000 odds. That means a $100 bet would win $1,000.

Three games involving Clark's Iowa team — versus LSU in the Elite Eight, Connecticut in the Final Four, and their championship game loss to South Carolina — were the most bet-on women's events ever, said Seamus Magee, BetMGM's trading manager.

Women's soccer also stands to do well this year in terms of interest, viewership and betting, many observers say. The U.S. women's national team has been popular with viewers for decades through their run of Olympic success and dominance in Women's World Cup play.

Jennifer Matthews, a FanDuel vice president, said one of the most watched and bet-on Olympic events is the women's hockey final. And during last year's Women's World Cup soccer tournament, FanDuel ran a promotion with a female-owned coffee roaster aimed at helping viewers stay awake in the middle of the night to watch live matches on the other side of the globe.

Craig Mucklow, vice president of trading at Caesars Sportsbook, said U.S. women's teams have been popular with bettors in recent Olympics and World Cup tournaments.

“The success of Team USA over the years, and being the better of the two national sides, pushed tremendous interest into other women’s sports,” he said. “Add the interest in Caitlin Clark to the mix, and we expect this to continue throughout the summer of tremendous sporting quality in women’s sports.”

There are signs bettors are taking more of a sophisticated approach to women's sports instead of treating them like a novelty. On Fanatics Sportsbook, bets on Clark's Fever to finish the season with under 21.5 wins have drawn the most money of any WNBA futures bet, spokesman Kevin Hennessy said.

Orender, the former WNBA president, said it is gratifying to see women's sports being more widely embraced.

“It's about time!” she said. “Finally, the world is saying, ‘We see you, and you have tremendous value.’”