While the English Premier League race is essentially a fait accompli with Liverpool six points from clinching its first top-flight title since 1990, there is eagerness and optimism across sportsbooks in the United States for the league’s impending return, starting with next Thursday’s doubleheader of Aston Villa facing Sheffield United and Manchester City playing host to Arsenal.
Within the U.S., the Premier League has grown in popularity in recent seasons, aided by both increased television exposure and the expansion of legal sports betting in multiple states across the country. When play kicks off next week, at least eight states will be able to offer some form of mobile sports wagering. And as retail sportsbooks resume operations after meeting COVID-19 protocols and guidelines for reopening, more options for bettors will be available.
Also helping whet bettors’ appetites for the Premier League has been the return of the German Bundesliga, which has given sportsbooks a boost in terms of high-quality live sports offerings.
“The Bundesliga [since resuming]has been comparable to the NBA regular season handle, there has been a significant increase in handle to previous seasons,” said Andrew Mannino, the sports content manager at PointsBet USA. “The desire is there, bettors are interested in high-level sports.
“We expect [betting interest]to be greater,” he added about the Premier League for the remainder of the season. “The Bundesliga has increased their handle, and the Premier League draws more interest in the states. We expect a significant increase and we’re seeing interest from bettors across the board.”
Schedule format change expected to boost interest
In order to complete a regular season that results in a minimal impact on domestic and European play for 2020-21, the Premier League has spread its schedule for the final nine set of matchdays. Thirty-two league matches are scheduled between June 17 and July 2, with no more than five matches on any one day.
As a result, 11 days have three or fewer matches, which gives sportsbooks the ability to ramp up the volume of in-match offerings, knowing those matches will draw increased viewers.
“In-play betting is the sort of thing that lends itself well to soccer,” Mannino explained. “There’s no stoppages, it’s always exciting and something going on. We’ve done work to expand in-play offerings to include more rapid resulting bets. For higher-end matches, there will be totals bets every 10 minutes so bettors can consistently get that quick return on investment throughout a match.”
“You usually see more recreational dollars — not big bets when games are spread out,” added Kevin Hennessy, director of publicity at FanDuel. “If there is a steady cadence of games it just spreads out the handle, but it can lead to more interest being paid to lesser games, especially if on TV.”
Top-four drama a key selling point down the stretch
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the Premier League for more than three months — Leicester City’s 4-0 thrashing of Aston Villa on March 9 was the last match played — there was a substantial amount of jockeying for the top four spots this season compared to years past. Leicester City, whose 5,000-to-1 fairy-tale run to the title in 2016 remains the stuff of betting legend, has hovered in the Champions League spots all season, while promoted Sheffield United and upstart Wolverhampton have been on the fringes of European spots throughout the term.
UEFA, soccer’s governing body, added a layer of intrigue in February by slapping a two-year Champions League ban on two-time league champion Manchester City for breaking rules regarding Financial Fair Play and refusing to cooperate in investigations involving the alleged rule-breaking. City currently is second in the standings, but if the Court for Arbitration of Sport in Switzerland upholds the ban, the fifth-place team in the Premier League would then qualify for the Champions League should City finish in the top four.
That is currently Manchester United, but with the fourth- through ninth-placed teams — including London clubs Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, and Arsenal — separated by just eight points, there will be plenty of intrigue on a daily basis as the teams slug it out for those financially lucrative spots.
“The top four in the EPL is one of the most exciting things now,” Mannino said. “Man U, Arsenal, Tottenham are teams that can legitimately get it. [Also] Man City’s interactions with the Champions League, and if their appeal is not upheld and then there’s a shot at the fifth spot. More intrigue.”
While it does not have the handsome payout of the Foxes from four seasons ago, PointsBet did report someone made a small bet on Sheffield United qualifying for the Champions League at 250-1 odds in December and then added a second wager last month at 14-1.
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