Why the NFL remains a popular bet in the United Kingdom

The NFL has seen a spike in popularity in the United Kingdom with the addition of annual games at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. AP Photo/Alastair Grant

When it comes to American sports, the NFL remains the preferred choice for bettors in the United Kingdom.

The NFL enjoyed a spike in popularity with U.K. bettors in the mid-2010s. The growth has leveled off some and the betting interest is still miniscule compared to soccer, but the NFL attracts significantly more bettors and higher stakes than the NBA, Major League Baseball and the NHL, according to multiple sportsbook operators in the U.K.

More money was bet on the 2021 NFL season with bookmaker William Hill's U.K. sportsbooks than any other season, up 5% from 2017, according to the company's head of U.S. sports, Chris Randall. U.K. betting exchange Smarkets said that betting volume on the NFL through the first three weeks of this season already equaled 48% of the total from the 2021 season, and sportsbook Sky Bet reported a 77% increase in the amount wagered on the NFL since 2017. Sky Sports, the media outlet tied to Sky Bet, broadcasts more than 100 NFL games, including Sunday's Minnesota Vikings-New Orleans Saints game in London.

The Vikings (-3, 45.3) take on the underdog Saints on Sunday at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, the first of three games in the U.K. this season. The New York Giants and Green Bay Packers play Oct. 9, and the Denver Broncos and Jacksonville Jaguars face off Oct. 30.

"The NFL London games do attract more [betting] interest," Randall wrote in an email to ESPN, "but I'd say a decent part of this is the fact they're generally on earlier in the day as a standalone event. They certainly take more than they deserve to take, based on the quality of the matchups!"

An NFL game typically attracts around nine times as much money wagered than an NBA game and 70 times as much as an MLB or NHL game at Sky Bet. The NFL, with the majority of its games starting in the early afternoon, is more suited for the time zone in the U.K. than the nighttime starts of the NBA and NHL, bookmakers say. For comparison, in Australia, the NBA is the most heavily bet sport, attracting nearly three times as much betting handle as the NFL and MLB combined, according to sportsbook PointsBet.

While the NFL trumps other American leagues at U.K. sportsbooks, it's still dwarfed by the betting interest on the English Premier League. Randall estimated that a high-profile EPL match would attract 10 times as much money wagered as the top NFL matchup on a given Sunday. He added that the betting interest in the NFL at William Hill books in the U.K. is just below "big horse racing meets, top football (soccer) leagues, top tennis tournaments, big boxing fights and top cricket and rugby leagues in the U.K."

Last season at Sky Bet, the top Premier League game of the season attracted twice as much money wagered as the Super Bowl.