Gaming operators competing for shares of the emerging sports betting market are flooding the airwaves with commercials featuring all-star casts. Retired athletes, and a few actors, have garnered lucrative roles as brand ambassadors.
Jamie Foxx, Marshawn Lynch, and Wayne Gretzky are brand ambassadors for BetMGM. Drew Brees promotes PointsBet and actors J. B. Smoove and Patton Oswalt are part of Caesars Sportsbook’s multi-million-dollar ad campaign. Shaquille O’Neal reps for WynnBet and Jerome Bettis touts BetRivers.
What’s missing? The Abby Wambachs, the Lisa Leslies, the Chris Everts, the accomplished, retired women athletes with loyal fan bases.
“You can count the dominant women in the space on one or two hands,” says Stormy Buonantony, the lead host of My Guys in the Desert, a national sports betting program on the VSiN network. “But even that is exponential growth, I feel, from 10 years ago. So, it is growing, it’s changing.”
By most estimates, women account for a little more than 50% of all gamblers. Depending upon the source, women comprise anywhere between 23-30% of all sports bettors.
Siska Concannon, vice president of marketing for Penn Interactive, thinks those estimates are high. Especially since the content around sports and sports betting is “incredibly male-focused,” Concannon says. “And I would even argue it’s not simply male, but arguably white male-focused.”
“It’s not just in sports betting operated marketing material,” Concannon adds, “but in content, in commentary and commentators, what is on prime time from a sports perspective. It’s the subtle use of the masculine vernacular, it’s the imagery used in advertising, it’s the major players in media being relatable to a very narrow market.”
And because of the language, marketing and voices dominating the sports betting landscape, Concannon argues, diversity suffers.
“Because we’re overwhelmingly positioning white men as the credible source, anything that doesn’t look like that is not as trusted,” Concannon says.
Sara Slane, a gaming industry strategist, agrees that men are more likely to be sports bettors than women.
“But that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be compelled by a female brand ambassador,” Slane says, founder of the gaming consulting company Slane Advisory. “And if you are looking to attract other women, or women as consumers, it makes sense to branch out a bit and diversify your portfolio of brand ambassadors.”
When Jessica Welman was writing content for poker outlets including Bluff Media and WSOP.com, she noticed some women were reticent to play in late-night poker games. Especially after a successful night, flush with cash, there were legitimate safety concerns.
“You have a lot of money on you, you’re feeling really uncomfortable and unprotected, and there are these weird hours,” says Welman, director of content marketing at Bally’s Interactive. “It’s hard to feel safe all the time.”
A sense of uneasiness, Welman thinks, also contributes to a reluctance to embrace sports betting.
“It’s not the same thing,” Welman says, emphasizing that the situations are analogous, not similar. “But I think women in general women didn’t grow up with the same kind of gambling in their lives as men did. There weren’t as many opportunities for them.”
One way to foster sports betting among women is to engage them at comfortable and familiar venues. In June 2021, Bally’s announced a sponsorship and sports betting deal with WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury. It’s the first agreement of its kind between a gaming operator and a women’s professional team in the U.S.
The partnership, Welman says, is beneficial in multiple ways.
“You probably are going to get more female bettors,” Welman says, “but you’re also going to give these incredibly talented women a platform to be seen and be part of the sports betting landscape.”
Stormy Buonantony was hired as the full-time host of VSiN’s flagship drive-time show, My Guys in the Desert, in late August 2021. Prior to that assignment, Buonantony had been a part-time host for VSiN, which was purchased by DraftKings in March 2021.
Since taking over for veteran broadcaster Brent Musburger, Buonantony has tried to provide clear explanations for new listeners about moneylines and parlays, while not dumbing down content for longtime listeners. She’s heartened by the responses from listeners, who have overwhelmingly embraced her.
But despite current gigs as a rinkside reporter for the Vegas Golden Knights and as a sideline reporter for college football broadcasts on ESPN, her bona fides are sometimes questioned.
“All of a sudden somebody decides they’re going to quiz you on every little detail,” Buonantony says. “There’s no need for that in 2021. It’s just a weird and different thing. So, I do think there’s a bit of internal pressure, whether it’s being put on you or you’re putting it on yourself, to be better and to study harder and be as knowledgeable as possible so you’re never caught off guard or tricked about something.”
Women have made inroads into sports betting in the last few years. In addition to Buonantony, Siska Concannon cites Sarah Spain (ESPN), Jane McManus (Deadspin), Megan Nunez (Barstool Sports), Kayce Smith (Barstool Sports) and Kelly Stewart (who was fired by ESPN for questionable tweets but is employed at WagerTalk and Barstool Sports) as highly credible women in the sports betting commentary space.
“They are shouting very loud,” Concannon says. “But they’re definitely not enough. And I think that these women particularly have had to face both conscious and unconscious bias in their careers, and despite that, have been insanely successful.”
Concannon believes increased support for and acceptance of women in sports betting can increase female participation in the space. But for that to happen, a cultural shift among all stakeholders needs to occur.
“There would be more (women) if we start to force that shift,” Concannon says. “Not just as hosts on sports panels, where the women are the mediators between men on either side, but letting them get to the real heart of the matter.”