When talking about the most popular sports in the UK, you wouldn’t necessarily expect to hear basketball being mentioned. However, the sport has gathered some momentum over the last five years or so and is steadily rising in both participation and spectator numbers.
With this growth in popularity comes the increase in bets placed on the sport. Go to any main bookmaker online and you won’t struggle to find basketball betting among the array of sports to choose from. So, is basketball the next big betting market in the UK? We take a look at how UK basketball has gotten to where it is today and where it could go in the future.
Basketball in the UK has had a rather checkered past. Established in 1987, the British Basketball League (BBL) saw rapid growth in the early 1990s, most likely due to the rising popularity of the NBA in the UK, with Hall of Famer Michael Jordan coming to prominence in the sport and inspiring a generation to get involved in the sport.
For the next decade, basketball in the UK saw healthy progression, with record attendances and commercial sponsorship deals to even rival football, with the likes of Budweiser, Peugeot and Playboy all attaching their brands to the new venture. It looked as though basketball was going to be the most popular pastime besides football betting in the UK – that was until the early 2000s.
The new millennium saw a change in fortunes. ITV Digital, which was set to become the biggest subscription based sports channel in the UK, collapsed. The BBL were due to receive more than £21 million pounds in TV revenue as a result of the deal, but missed out on the essential funding. This led to multiple BBL teams such as Essex Leopards, Birmingham Bullets and the Manchester Giants pulling out of the league, with some franchises folding completely under the financial strain.
It’s taken a long time for basketball in the UK to recover. After sell-out crowds at Wembley Arena in 2012 and 2014; the 2015 BBL play-off finals took place in front of record crowds at the 02 Arena in London. Since then, franchises have continued to develop their facilities and build the necessary foundations for the sport to once again rise to prominence in the UK. The hard work that the BBL and the franchises have put in over the last decade looks to be coming to fruition, as Leicester became the first British basketball participant in Europe for 11 years when they played in the Basketball Champions League and the FIBA Europe Cup in the 2018/19 season.
With basketball in the UK now looking back on the rise, it would be no surprise to see an increase in the amount of bets placed on the sport as a direct result. An indicator that online bookmakers are taking the sport seriously can be seen when looking at the amount of markets that are on offer. It’s not just match outright odds, you can now bet on handicap, or ‘spread’ markets, winning margin and total match points to name just a few.
A recent study by the UK Gambling Commission estimated more than £14 billion is spent on gambling in the UK. Maybe it’s time for basketball to get a bigger piece of that pie.
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