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NHL and MGM Partnership Just Scratching the Surface of Sports Betting Potential

The league hopes to drive fan engagement with creative opportunities even in states where sports betting isn’t legal.

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The NHL has spent a lot of time in Las Vegas the past decade, allowing the league to take a lead in innovative partnerships with sportsbook operators.

The NHL’s official sports betting partnership with MGM Resorts International is the latest fruit of the time spent in Nevada, but it’s just scratching the surface for what could lie ahead, said league EVP and Chief Revenue Officer Keith Wachtel.

The league has had its award show in Las Vegas for nearly a decade, along with several years setting up the Vegas Golden Knights and the team’s improbable run to the Stanley Cup Final.

“The benefit of the Golden Knights was to see the opportunity with sports betting as it relates to hockey, which is fourth of the big four sports,” Wachtel said. “Once we saw the path, we spent a lot of time talking to operators of what it is that would make sense.”

The league’s announcement of its partnership with MGM followed announcements of the Vegas Golden Knights and New Jersey Devils partnerships with William Hill. The Devils are also partnered with Caesars and FanDuel.

The NHL also announced a partnership with FanDuel this week as the league’s official daily fantasy sports partner.

The non-exclusive deals with the NHL both offer unique and exciting possibilities — and a few more could be in the works.

SEE MORE: William Hill and NJ Devils Bring Sports Lounge to Prudential Center

“The new sports betting landscape presents a unique opportunity for fan engagement utilizing technology and data that are exclusive to our league,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in the MGM partnership announcement. “Fan engagement, technological advancement and innovation are paramount to our progressive approach and will be at the forefront of everything we do.”

There is hope the partnerships will lead to greater engagement and help grow the sport’s fan base, even in states where sports betting isn’t legal. The league will share proprietary data with MGM, which could help drive prop bets and social gaming.

“We do believe there is a market for sports and NHL fans to participate in social gaming around the entire country,” Wachtel said. “Where sports betting is legal, sure, place a bet. If not, why not have the same experience, but while playing against friends, and playing for tickets, merchandise, and trips to the Winter Classic or Stanley Cup.”

The results of growing engagement and the fan base through these partnerships aren’t known yet, of course, but Wachtel and the rest of the league’s executives are optimistic as fans involved in sports betting or fantasy sports are more likely to be involved, even in games with no rooting interest.

SEE MORE: How the Golden Knights Landed Their Sportsbook Partnership with William Hill 

Wachtel said the NHL is progressive, as the league has also changed the regulations to allow for teams to work with betting partners, even in states where sports betting isn’t quite legal. He pointed to legislation in Illinois, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Wachtel said the league doesn’t want to limit the partnership opportunities for teams, the league or broadcast partners.

“We’ve evolved our regulations so that all of our clubs can participate for advertising and marketing,” he said. “The Chicago Blackhawks are a huge draw with strong fan base loyalty. Gaming operators might want to secure dasher board space at this point in time, so when it becomes legalized, there’s brand recognition.”

MGM’s place as the NHL’s official sports betting partner is the company’s second such deal, as it signed on as the exclusive partner with the NBA during the summer.

“Combining MGM Resorts’ world-class sports betting operations and technology with the NHL’s top-level competition, iconic brands and cutting-edge data will further transform the rapidly growing sports betting marketplace and solidify our position at the forefront of the industry,” said MGM Resorts Chairman and CEO Jim Murren.

Pat Evans is a writer based in Las Vegas, focusing on sports business, food, and beverage. He graduated from Michigan State University in 2012. He's written two books: Grand Rapids Beer and Nevada Beer. Evans can be reached at pat@frntofficesport.com.

Sports Betting

March Madness Wagers Expected To Cross $8.5 Billion According to AGA

American Gaming Association and betting industry execs expect record amounts of action on this year’s March Madness, demonstrating fan engagement potential.

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Photo Credit: Kareem Elgazzar/The Cincinnati Enquirer via USA TODAY NETWORK

As tens of millions of Americans turn away from work over the next few days, nearly as many will be making bets on who’s going all the way this March. More than 47 million Americans will wager $8.5 billion on the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament and much of it isn’t legal.

The huge amount of dollars riding on the tournament is placed by more than double those who bet on the Super Bowl, according to Bill Miller, president and CEO of the American Gaming Association, who released the study with those findings on Tuesday.

“There’s no question there is more interest among the general population on March Madness,” Miller said. “We know people want to bet on this.”

READ MORE: The Growth Has Only Begun For U.S. Sports Betting

The AGA survey found 57 percent of Americans said games would be more entertaining if a team they’d bet on is in the Final Four. Miller believes the NCAA knows betting on the game is a fan-engagement tool.

The huge amount of teams in March Madness and their related alumni make the betting opportunities especially attractive, said Kenny Rosenblatt, founder and president of Arkadium, an interactive content creative firm.

“It opens up the betting pool to more casual bettors,” Rosenblatt said. “They’re loyal to their alma maters.”

But it’s not just alumni. March Madness historically sees a lot of betting action, even in Europe, said Ian Bradley, Chief Strategy Officer at SBTech. Bradley expects the numbers to explode this year in the first NCAA Tournament since the Supreme Court overturned The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992, or PAPSA, last May.

“In the U.S., particularly the likes of Las Vegas, it will be massive,” Bradley said. “In the states with online sports betting, like New Jersey,  the timing of events and broken up nicely so customers get a nice schedule throughout the day. It will be very big.”

The survey found 40 million people will place friendly wagers in office pools or online contests, with more than 149 million brackets submitted and $4.6 billion on the line. Another 18 million people plan to bet $3.9 billion in sports books, online, with bookies or a friend.

Of those 18 million people, the AGA survey found 2.4 million will bet illegally with a bookie and another 5.2 million will bet online, likely illegally on an offshore site. While it stands to reason bettors prefer to know their bets will fall under the umbrella of consumer protections, Miller said it appears more bettors don’t know they’re betting illegally in their jurisdiction. Either way, it’s a blow to longstanding regulatory efforts. 

“We’ve long focused our effort on eradicating the illegal betting,” he said. “We’re making progress against those goals, but these results indicate we still have a lot to do.”

The bets are only set to grow in the coming years, as eight states have already legalized sports betting, with more likely to come. In January, AGA found of the $1 billion in sports wagers, more than half came outside Nevada. Twenty-two more states have active legislation to legalize sports betting.

Nevada, and Las Vegas, in particular, is likely to remain a hub of activity as bettors will make their way to the city for the resorts and entertainment options regardless of betting options, Bradley said. As betting opens up in more states, however, he expects sports betting will continue to migrate toward mobile options, much like it already has in Europe. Overseas betting is 70 percent on mobile, a direct inverse of U.S. betting, where about 70 percent of bets are placed in physical sportsbooks.

But the greatest shift of all could be toward in-play betting options which feature constantly updating lines and odds.

“It will take a bit of time to adjust,” Bradley said. “But I’m sure it goes similar to Europe. The U.S. TV coverage is amazing, the access to sports is amazing, so the in-play betting is a big opportunity.”

READ MORE: Super Bowl to Offer Insights Into the Future of Sports Betting

Unlike the classic model of pregame match betting, in-play betting options will allow real-time bets on whether a team will win after any point in the game as well as small prop bets, like if a basket will be scored on the next possession.

Just as having money riding on a match helps increase engagement among fans, Bradley believes the ability to constantly be engaged in new and enticing bets throughout a game will only further a fan’s commitment to a sport.

Miller agrees the ever-evolving American betting landscape already enhances the fan experience and will continue to do so in the future. According to the AGA’s data, sports bettors are younger, more diverse, more educated and wealthier than the average sports fan. Further engaging with that demographic could be lucrative for many parties.

“It’s a wildly popular entertainment option,” he said. “Implications go beyond revenue, but increasing the fan experience to offer new ways to interact with content.”

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Sports Betting

The Growth Has Only Begun For U.S. Sports Betting

With more states legalizing sports betting, teams, leagues, media companies and sportsbooks have plenty of growth opportunities in front of them.

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Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Legalized sports betting is here and the sports business landscape has already begun to shift accordingly.

Since the overturning of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PAPSA) by the U.S. Supreme Court last year, seven states have regulated sports betting, with three more on the cusp and another 31 states with more than 100 total bills in movement. The revenue potential for leagues and teams is enormous, not only through direct action but also trickle-down benefits tied to increased fan engagement.

“It will be a game-changer,” said NHL senior senior vice president of business development and global partnerships David Lehanski at a panel at South by Southwest. “There will be a lot of growth, so there is real scale for a league to monetize and leverage. We think all of that will come, but it’s hard to predict what it means to the leagues and one of the hardest things to do is temper the expectations right at the beginning.”

READ MORE: NHL and MGM Partnership Just Scratching the Surface of Sports Betting Potential

Unsurprisingly, the major sports control the majority of the market. All of the Big Four leagues have entered agreements with sports book operators, with the NHL, NBA and MLB partnering with MGM and the NFL dealing with Caesars. Football is king , with 35 percent of all betting action going towards the NFL and NCAA football, said Dan Shapiro, William Hill US vice president of strategy and business development. Basketball runs second at 30 percent and baseball clocks in at 20 percent. NHL trails with approximately 5 percent while the rest of the sports make up the remaining portion. That leaves a very small slice of pie for everyone else, and Shapiro predicts it will be an uphill climb for other leagues to mount a true challenge.

“The four major sports are very liquid markets,” Shapiro said. “It’s tough to gain that traction to really have betting markets, but we welcome innovation and we’ll put it on the board as long as it’s a league that monitors and has standards and protections.”

Yet perhaps the most important question regarding legalized sports better isn’t where or on what, but how. In the U.S., for instance, 70 percent of betting is done before play starts. But according to David Sergeant, the vice president of sports betting innovation at iGaming Ideas, the reverse is true in other countries with legal betting. And considering regions like Great Britain have a 60-year head start on legalized gambling, the U.S. may ultimately follow someone else’s lead versus blaze its own trail.

If that’s the case, get ready for plenty of mobile activity. In Europe, where betting is legalized outside the United Kingdom as well, between 75 and 90 percent of betting is done on mobile phones according to Laila Mintas, chairwoman of the Bet.Works advisory board. Mintas also expects major media opportunities to come to the table. Some companies, like ESPN and CBS Sports, already are producing original content. The sponsorship windfall could be massive.

“They have a user base and they know their customers,” she said. “For them to add sports betting to an audience that already is there is interesting. Even a big one, like Amazon or Facebook, must be looking at getting into the space or monetizing somehow. I think that’s coming.”

So, too, are workarounds for potential corruption. The involvement of players, coaches and referees in sports betting has been an age-old fear in sports. Mintas believes it’s a valid one, too, and referenced multiple European examples of players getting blackmailed. The U.S. is not immune, either, with former NBA referee Tim Donaghy being a recent prime example

READ MORE: VSiN Aims to Alter Sports-Talk Content As Sports Betting Takes Hold

The way around it, Mintas said, involves having a solid system in place with educational resources for players in case they are approached and placed in a compromising situation. Regulating the industry can also help make it more transparent and maintain integrity for teams, leagues and the sportsbooks, Shapiro said.

“The notion betting makes sports more in danger is counterintuitive,” he said. “There’s billions being bet offshore, bring that into the sunlight. Providing full transparency seems to be the way to monitor and prevent issues with integrity.”

The opportunities, however, dwarf the concerns. Expect to see much more growth in the months ahead.

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Sports Betting

VSiN Aims to Alter Sports-Talk Content As Sports Betting Takes Hold

The mission of VSiN is to offer insight beyond commentator opinions and inform bettors on how various aspects of the games might affect outcomes.

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Photo credit: VSiN

Always on the periphery of the sports industry, Brian Musburger knew the mainstream sports media outlets were ignoring a large segment of the audience.

Believing sports betting legalization was inevitable, Musburger felt it was time to launch a media company focused on sports wagering, so in 2017, Vegas Stats & Information Network, or VSiN, was launched. Musburger’s inclination was right and a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in May 2018 made sports betting legal nationwide — and now states are gradually changing their laws.

Eight states have fully legalized sports betting, with 30 more with at least some talk of legalization.

Musburger even likened the stigma of sports betting to that of marijuana.

“We’re thrilled with how things have developed and the position we have now,” Musburger said. “Just about everybody participates in an NCAA pool or wagers on the Super Bowl, but no one wants to talk about it.”

The mission of VSiN is to offer insight beyond commentator opinions and inform bettors on how various aspects of the games might affect outcomes. Musburger believes VSiN is elevating the idea of sports-talk media and makes the content more interesting to every sports fan — not just those wagering with money on the line.

READ MORE: CBS Sports HQ Places Its Bets on Sports Betting Show

“People thought we were crazy, but now they see it’s a more intelligent form,” Musburger said. “It’s not two guys yelling at each other about who’s the best point guard of all time; there’s no utility to that. I learn stuff every day in the types of content we’re creating.

“What we’re talking about is thought-provoking and enlightening, not necessarily things I’d associate with sports talk.”

Musburger brought on his uncle, legendary broadcaster Brent Musburger, but also wanted a lineup of contributors who aren’t traditional broadcasters. He wanted true experts in sports, those who are authentic and knowledgable, not just polished broadcasters, to help the audience learn something new every time they hit the airwaves.

The border between sports betting and the professional leagues has eroded quickly, as all big four leagues signed partnership deals with gaming companies — NBA, NHL, and MLB partnered with MGM, while the NFL went with Caesars — and more media companies are already thinking about the future of how in-game betting plays into broadcasts.

Being based in Las Vegas gives VSiN a solid foundation in the capital of gambling and provides the contributors an inside look at the industry. Musburger said there’s been the negative stigma and fear of gambling interfering in sports. Instead, he said no entities have more invested in clean contests than the gaming companies.

“The folks setting the lines and running the books, they don’t want anything negative happening,” he said.

But the professional leagues easing barriers to the betting industry will open a floodgate of advertising. With perceived approval from the leagues to support content about sports betting, Musburger said there will be few better opportunities for mainstream advertisers to reach men aged 21-54.

“A lot of media companies will be chasing the advertising dollars coming into this,” Musburger said. “All of them need to have content. People will battle and spend a lot of money to bring those customers and bring in those relationships. It would be foolish to ignore this audience.”

READ MORE: Super Bowl to Offer Insights Into the Future of Sports Betting

VSiN has 24/7 content on SiriusXM and fuboTV, as well as its website and apps. It also has one-minute updates on more than 100 radio stations and syndicated analysis in newspapers like the New York Post and Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Musburger said more streaming deals are in the works. For the Super Bowl this year, VSiN aired a 24-hour pregame show and discussed hundreds of prop bets. The network also broadcast a “bet cast” during the game.

Content is fed to consumers in a variety of ways, and Musberger said one of the more astounding stats to him is consuming video through devices at 27 minutes at a time.

“We’re thrilled with how we’ve grown in two years,” he said. “We had the benefit of being a new media company and our goal is to allow the consumer to take in our content in whatever method is most convenient to them.”

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