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 dgers 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
“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
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
“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