Ever since the beginning of boxing as a sport, people have been betting on it. No live boxing event is complete without the usual assortment of bookies, touts, and punters at the arena. You see it all the time in movies involving this fine sport.
Perhaps the clearest indication of the links between boxing and gambling can be found in Sin City – Las Vegas. Most of the high-profile boxing matches tend to take place at Vegas. Take Floyd Mayweather for instance – more than a dozen of his top-billed fights have taken place at the city, with 10 of them at a single venue – MGM.
But the love for boxing is not universal in the gambling world. While huge Vegas casinos love it, the online counterparts have largely ignored the sport when it comes to sponsorships. There is a clear reason for these contrasting approaches, and it has everything to do with money.
To understand, we need to take a look at the evolution of boxing in Vegas.
Las Vegas was not always the center of boxing. In the early part of the 20th century that honor went to New York on the East Coast. Madison Square Garden and the Yankee Stadium were the main arenas in the 1940s and 50s.
But with the arrival of TV and sponsorship money, the sport soon lost its way. Boxing at the grassroots level stagnated in New York, and corruption and scandals soon hung like a cloud over the sport.
Las Vegas at this time was a far cry from the glistening metropolis we see now. The casinos were in their infancy and looking for ways to pull the crowds in. Along with movie stars and stage shows, boxing seemed like a natural fit.
And the casinos started paying big money in the sixties and seventies to hold bouts involving big stars like Sonny Liston, Floyd Patterson, George Foreman, and finally, Muhammad Ali himself. Boxing was here to stay.
Big casinos like the MGM and Caesars’ are always on the lookout for two types of gamblers –
Unlike stage shows, boxing matches can bring in both these types of crowds to Vegas. And the early promoters of casinos as boxing venues knew all about this. Casinos like MGM continue that tradition down to this day, with the industry and the city benefiting each time a major title event is held in Vegas.
Take Mayweather for example – a single bout involving this champion boxer brings in a reported $100 million to the city of Vegas in terms of business. And this over and above what the MGM makes on it, which is estimated in the tens of millions.
Huge casinos like MGM, Caesars, The Wynn, and the Venetian all have massive war chests that can be used to sponsor big stars like Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquaio. It is a sound investment they can afford, with the promise of big returns.
The story of online casinos and sports betting is still in its infancy in the US. Given the ban on sports betting that stayed for more than two decades, there was never a market for the online industry in the States. But that is changing, thanks to the recent Supreme Court rulings.
But for a fair comparison, we will have to head across the Atlantic to the UK and European online casinos. Especially in England, online casinos have had a massive impact on sports sponsorships. At the moment, virtually half the teams in the upper levels of English club soccer are sponsored by betting brands.
Over there, soccer stars like Cristiano Ronaldo, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and Neymar Jr. have all been associated with betting sponsorships from time to time. But boxing has never had the pull of soccer in attracting online casinos.
In fact, it is the sport’s rival, Mixed Martial Arts or MMA, which has had more success in attracting high profile betting sponsors. UFC and its stars like Conor McGregor have been associated with brands like Parimatch and Poker Stars in recent years.
Several factors work against boxing when it comes to online casinos. Over the years, boxing has never grown as a mainstream sport. While frequent fears about its decline are blown out of proportion, it is quite clear that there is some level of stagnation, unlike in other sports like soccer.
Betway is one of a very select few that tend to sponsor every sport.
Let’s put it this way – boxing continues to draw a dedicated section of fans and punters, but that group is not expanding. Online casinos are looking for sports and stars that have a mainstream pull across the market. In all markets outside the US, soccer has that global reach.
For maximum visibility, boxing simply does not cut it for online casinos. They have to rely on other avenues to maintain their profit and bring in new players. There is also the historic issue here in the US itself. Perhaps one of the biggest markets for boxing in the world, it has been hampered by the ban on online casinos and sports betting.
If there was one place where casinos could have made money by sponsoring boxing stars, it is here in the United States. But the legal situation made it impossible until 2018. There are winds of change in the US market at present. More and more online sportsbooks are making an entry into states like New Jersey.
Vegas Casinos are also investing heavily in the new US sports betting industry. Online brands could soon start getting involved in boxing. But even in the US, the sport has to compete with the big leagues – the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, and the MLS.
We might see online casinos in the US start to sponsor boxing stars shortly. But given the popularity of other sports, they will continue to get more visibility and investment than boxing. The sport is not in terminal decline or anything, but it is the way of the world at the moment.