Have Sports Viewership and Sports Betting Been Impacted by the Pandemic?

The latest data from The Harris Poll dives into sports viewership and sports betting, and whether the pandemic has had a large impact on these activities.

Overall, weekly and daily sports viewership has not changed drastically even with the pandemic. Pre-pandemic, 57% of Americans watched sports games or events on a TV, phone, or computer at least once a week, and 19% watched at least once a day. Currently those numbers see little change at 56% and 20% respectively.

However, betting on sports increases viewership and enjoyment among sports bettors. Currently, 86% of sports bettors watch a sports game or event on a TV/phone/computer at least once a week, and 47% watch at least once a day. 63% of these sports bettors agree that they watch sports games and events more often since they started betting on them, while 73% enjoy watching sports more if they have bet on the outcome. 4 in 10 sports bettors (40%) even say one of the reasons they started betting on sports was to make watching a game more exciting.

Sports betting has yet to become widespread among Americans, and while the most popular market is (unsurprisingly) men, there are other markets where sports betting has taken hold. Overall, the most popular forms of gambling for Americans are the lottery (31%), scratch cards (30%), and slot machines (24%). A total of 18% of Americans engage in sports betting, broken down by athletic sports such as football, boxing, and soccer (13%) and horse racing (8%). When looking only at American men engaging in sports betting, the number jumps to 26%, compared with only 10% of women.

Nevertheless, young women may present a new market opportunity; 17% of women aged 18-34 engage in sports betting (athletic and horse racing) compared to 9% of women 35-44, 6% of women 45-54, 12% of women 55-64, and 4% of women 65+. Also, those in households with children (30%) are nearly three times as likely to bet on sports (athletic and horse racing) as those in households without children (11%).

With the COVID-19 pandemic has come an increase in sports bettors, and advertising from legalized gambling companies may have played a role in this increase. 41% of sports bettors say they first started betting on sports within the last year, and 34% started betting on sports during the COVID-19 pandemic (within the last 1-9 months). 61% of sports bettors agree that they have seen more ads of online betting and gambling since the COVID-19 pandemic started. 22% of sports bettors say one of the reasons they started betting on sports was because they saw an online ad, and 29% because they saw a TV ad.

Sports betting isn’t just about making money; many Americans bet on sports because those around them do, too. Even though money may not be the only reason they bet, sports bettors still see sports betting as a skill-based activity that can yield a lot of money. The top reasons people started betting on sports were to make money (42%), to make watching a game more exciting (40%), and because their friends were doing it (39%).

And sports bettors feel good about their odds:

  • 65% agree that sports betting has more to do with skill than luck.
  • 66% agree it is possible for them to win a lot of money from sports betting
  • 60% agree that sports betting is a less risky form of gambling because they have better odds of winning.

Compared to sports betting, fantasy sports is a more popular form of gambling among Americans, with 29% having participated in fantasy sports compared to the 18% who engage in sports betting. While the majority of Americans (71%) agree that fantasy sports is a form of betting/gambling, fewer fantasy sports players (63%) agree with this statement. That being said, sports bettors are actually more likely to agree that fantasy sports is a form of betting/ gambling (78%), and 67% of them have played it before. In fact, fantasy sports may be a gateway to sports betting. 69% of sports betters say they became interested in sports betting after participating in fantasy sports.


Additional Key Findings:

  • Sans horse racing, 20% of men engage in betting for sports such as football, boxing, and soccer compared to only 7% of women.
  • Americans aged 35-44 bet on sports (athletic and horse racing) most often at 26% compared to 23% of those aged 18-34, 19% of those 45-54, 12% of those 55-64, and 6% of those 65+.
  • Nearly half (47%) of all sports bettors place a sports bet using an online sports book like DraftKings or FanDuel. This is the most common form of sports betting, followed by betting among friends or family (46%).
  • Women, especially, were more likely to have started betting based on whether they knew other sports bettors. Nearly 2 in 5 women sports bettors started betting on sports because their friends did (39%) or because their family members did (37%, compared to only 24% for men).
  • Sports loyalty doesn’t appear to be a huge concern for sports bettors. Only 26% of sports bettors started betting to support their favorite teams, and 70% agree they would bet against one of their favorite teams for the chance to win a bet.
  • Despite the desire to make money, most sports bettors (74%) place $100 or less on an individual sports bet.
    • Generally, men bet higher amounts than women, placing a median of $91.50 on an individual sports bet compared to a median of $50.00 for women.



This survey was conducted online within the United States by The Harris Poll on October 23-26, 2020, and on November 6-9, 2020, among 2,022 U.S. adults ages 18 and older. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online. For more information on methodology, please contact Dami Rosanwo.

Download the full data here.