Why The Cy-Hawk Game Cancellation Is Devastating News For Iowa Sportsbooks

Written By Derek Helling on July 15, 2020

The Big Ten Conference, which includes the University of Iowa, has taken steps to limit the spread of COVID-19. As a result, there will be no Cy-Hawk game this year between Iowa and Iowa State.

However, if the Iowa Hawkeyes do have a football season this fall, they will only play other Big Ten opponents. Regardless, Iowa sportsbooks will feel the loss of the most popular in-state sporting event of the year.

What the Cy-Hawk game means for IA sports betting apps

It’s hard to quantify exactly how much betting handle the last iteration of the Cyclones versus Hawkeyes football game represented for sportsbooks in Iowa. September 2019 was the first full month of legal sports betting in the Hawkeye State.

At that point, most Iowa sports betting apps currently operating were not yet live. That included national brands DraftKings and PointsBet. During the last Cy-Hawk game, both were only retail sportsbooks.

Statewide handle for September 2019 totaled more than $38.54 million. Monthly reports from the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission do not break down handle by sport.

Regardless, PointsBet Director of Communications Patrick Eicher says the retail sportsbook in Burlington “took a lot of action” on the game last year. Eicher also said PointsBet took a few wagers on the previously scheduled game already this year.

He surmised that action on the contest would be much greater if the game was more imminent. Eicher said PointsBet would refund any wagers on this year’s game once the Big Ten releases a revised schedule.

In a state where the closest thing to professional sports is minor league baseball, Iowa and Iowa State football and men’s basketball games are enormously popular at sportsbooks.

That’s why the worst may be yet to come.

More lost games equals more lost revenue for IA books

The keyword in the Big Ten’s decision was “if.”

No one should consider any fall sports happening at Iowa or Iowa State this year a foregone conclusion.

That situation will depend on the COVID-19 pandemic not only in Iowa, but also in other states where Big Ten and Big 12 teams play. Other conferences, like the Patriot League, have already announced wholesale cancellations and postponements of fall sports.

If losing only the Cy-Hawk game is a blow for Iowa sportsbooks, losing an entire college football season would be devastating. Again, without clear numbers from last year, it’s hard to determine just how much.

Just as is the case for the decision-makers in each conference, there are variables hard to control for when placing a value on a season’s worth of college football games for Iowa sportsbooks. There are a few known quantities, however.

From September 2019 through January, Iowa sportsbooks averaged $52.33 million in handle. College football was ongoing during those months.

Of course, there were many other sports contributing to the totals. What makes it especially difficult to ascertain the value of college football is the lack of similar numbers outside of the college football season to compare that average to.

February is one such month, but that’s a poor control sample. The Super Bowl inflates handle substantially. Moving forward, the COVID-19 pandemic played a significant role in shuttering Iowa retail books and the sports they set bets upon, so those numbers aren’t of much use either.

Inevitable conclusions for what may lie ahead

Given the increased number of online wagering options, handle for the college football season could have been greater this year. That may have especially been true in January after the state’s in-person registration requirement expires.

Several months of experience in the market likely has made retail sportsbook operators savvier in Iowa as well. It’s likely many of them had promotions planned around college football.

Iowa sportsbooks are already looking at lowering expectations because of the Big Ten’s announcement. Every successive announcement that signals a further loss of games tempers those forecasts even more.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a lead writer for PlayUSA and the manager of BetHer. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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