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    Who Will Win Big at Super Bowl LVI: Bengals, Rams or Sports Betting Fans?

    UNC doctoral students are going all in, researching the motivation behind the ever popular sports betting industry. Their goal is to find out what motivates people to place a bet and if the gamble is financially sound.

    Above from the left: UNC graduate students Yohan Lee, Tyler Hajek, Logan Schuetz

    It’s been an unpredictable NFL season and the playoffs were no different. To the surprise of many, veteran quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers with the Green Bay Packers and Tom Brady with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were knocked out in divisional playoffs as their opponents scored game-winning field goals with just seconds left on the clock.

    And the Cincinnati Bengals, a team that has never won the coveted Lombardi Trophy, will be competing in the big game for the first time in 33 years when they take the field against the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LVI on Feb. 13. 

    While diehard fans are getting ready to watch the showdown between the Bengals and Rams this weekend, dusting off their favorite dip recipe and making sure their lucky socks are clean, many others will be preparing by keeping their eyes on the sports betting odds.  

    “It’s become so commonplace now,” Tyler Hajek said, a doctoral student in the University of Northern Colorado’s Sport and Exercise Science-Sport Administration program. “There are advertisements with sports betting promotions all over the place.” 

    The American Gaming Association estimated back in September that a record 45.2 million Americans would place some kind of wager on the 2021 NFL season, up 36% compared to the 2020 NFL season. That increase is attributed to higher fan enthusiasm as well as the expansion of legalized sports betting, which the AGA anticipated would have the largest increase over the 2020 season by 73% with 19.5 million people placing a bet online. 

    Hajek has been researching different aspects of sports betting as a graduate student at UNC. In October, he went to Las Vegas to present research at the Sports Marketing Association’s annual conference with fellow doctoral students Logan Schuetz and Yohan Lee, and associate professor in the School of Sport and Exercise Science, Yoon Tae Sung, Ph.D. The group’s focus was sports betting partnerships among various professional teams. 

    Now, Hajek is shifting his research to explore the financial impacts of betting and find out what motivates people to place a bet. 

    “There are two overarching motivations making people want to gamble; maximizing profits, so earning money, as well as an entertainment factor,” Hajek said.  

    Though he is an NFL fan aligned with the Minnesota Vikings and is well-versed in the many different forms of sports betting; parlays, over/under, point spreads, moneyline, Hajek doesn’t participate in the activity himself. 

    “It’s so volatile, so up and down,” Hajek said. “There are live bets, which distinguishes it from other forms of gambling where a new bet can pop up in the second or third quarter of the Super Bowl. They even have a bet on what color the Gatorade will be at the end of the game when the winning team typically drenches their coaches with it.” 

    That’s why Hajek is interviewing and surveying sports bettors, particularly at the college level. He’s trying to find out what the draw is, how people first get involved and what approach they use. 

    “I’m finding people that participate in it perceive some sort of ownership over it because they can prepare and research it beforehand,” Hajek said. “They can look up different sports teams, follow their favorite players and learn what the trends are or how people are performing.” 

    There’s also a relational component involved. The graduate students learned that if individuals are watching games in social settings where more people are taking part in sports betting than not, it adds motivation for others to join in because they don’t want to miss out. 

    Along with learning why people pick up their phone and bet on which player will score the first touchdown, Hajek is also interested to find out whether various states profit from the exchange.  

    “I’m looking into secondary data for the financial impact portion to see what states produce from sports betting, what their tax revenue is and how much each state and entity holds, and I want to relate that into what the overall income is,” Hajek said. 

    In 2018, legislation changed allowing all states to regulate sports betting. Now, more than half of the nation has legalized it including Colorado.  

    “The state-wide financial impact varies from month to month with the different sports seasons going on. So, imagine when the NFL season is over there’s probably less betting that takes place,” Hajek said. 

    For his dissertation, Hajek will focus on the financial aspect of sports betting. With sports betting becoming more and more popular, he and his classmates want to continue to explore the industry after they graduate this year.  

    “It’s similar to streaming services, when they first came out it wasn’t very accepted and now it’s very normalized,” UNC Doctor of Sport Administration student Logan Schuetz said. “Sports betting is now everywhere.” 

    As far as who will win Super Bowl LVI and what fans should bet on, both say it’s a toss-up. 

    “My heart says the Bengals and the underdog story since they haven’t won a Super Bowl yet, but my brain says the Rams,” Schuetz said.  

    One thing they can guarantee; the unknown will draw in a huge number of participants turning to sports betting on Sunday. 

    - written by Sydney Kern

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