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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

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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Sports Betting

Super Bowl to Offer Insights Into the Future of Sports Betting

The Super Bowl offers the first real look into how the leagues and sports betting entities will engage fans in a world where sports betting is embraced.

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Super Bowl LIII is set to be a gauge of the effects of nationwide legalized gambling.

The game will be of particular interest to a variety of sports professionals, including Irwin Raij, the co-chair of the sports industry group at the law firm O’Melveny. Raij tracks issues in the emerging betting industry and has invested in professional soccer and baseball teams.

“It’s the first Super Bowl where betting is legalized in multiple states, and there’s a lot still evolving,” Raij said. “It’s a different twist to what people have been talking about.”

NFL viewership was already up between four and five percent this season, Raij said, which he believes is in part because of the increase in sport betting legality. The viewership could rise with more interest and participation in sports betting as more states legalize the practice. Sports betting is currently legal in seven states, and Raij expects up to 12 more states to legalize the practice in 2019.

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

The Super Bowl will be an inside look at the ways the NFL is experimenting with its new possibilities. For other leagues, the legalization of sports betting might open up an avenue for new fans, Raij said. The way betting can track how different stats and plays might affect the outcome could create a more engaging game.

“Baseball has a lot of content potential,” he said. “From a player analysis perspective, maybe it fuels an engine to create a renaissance of the game when there’s a moment all the time they’re watching.”

The NFL has so long been the top draw of sports leagues, Raij said, adding it would take some time to figure out how to best monetize the opportunities presented by legalized sports betting.

A sign the NFL will take its time was its delay in signing a deal with a major gaming property. The NHL, MLB, and NBA all signed partnership deals with MGM, looking to better compile and understand gaming data.

The NFL, however, signed a more traditional sponsorship deal with Caesars. Raij likened the NFL’s approach to a gaming deal similarly to how the league has been innovative in its broadcasting rights.

As more information emerges from sports betting, the leagues can create new products and tools, Raij said, with some of the information being public, with other information remaining official proprietary data.

“There will be a lot of analytics,” Raij said. “The NHL and NBA deals are creating new data, creating official unique IP. If you’re in the NFL, looking at what they did, it’s more, ‘is there something we can create?’”

Legal sports betting won’t eliminate illegal betting, Raij said, but it will bring more bettors to the surface, both those who formerly stayed quiet and those who stayed away because of the illegality. All that data can be captured, Raij said. He also said the tools and products will need to be done in a way not to alienate those fans who chose to avoid the betting action.

READ MORE: What CBS Sports HQ Hopes to Accomplish During Super Bowl Week in Atlanta

There will likely be in the tens of millions of bettors who were previously provided no data points, he said, and the media and sponsorship value of those fans could be significant.

“It’s a know-your-customer thing; here’s a way to market to them,” he said. “It’ll be about getting to know them and incentivizing them to spend more money.”

The Super Bowl offers the first real look into how the leagues and sports betting entities will engage fans in a world where sports betting is embraced.

“We started to see those deals at the end of 2018, so I think now 2019 is the full year of planning around it,” Raij said. “I look at the Super Bowl and it is a really bold, big event that really is the beginning of the calendar year in big sports events that will set some standards. It’s naturally a big step.”

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Rovell’s Move to The Action Network Over 20 Years in the Making

In his new role, Rovell will find himself in an executive position for the first time in his career.

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You may love him, you may hate him, but there is no denying what Darren Rovell has been able to do for the sports business industry.

Not one to let trends or hot topics pass him by, Rovell’s move to The Action Network is part living out a passion and part wanting to get in on the action (no pun intended) as to what he believes is an area of the industry that will cause the most positive disruption for the foreseeable future.

“Living in New Jersey, you can’t ignore the impact of the sports betting industry. On the NJ Transit trains alone, I’ve seen three to four different book operators advertising. I’ve even had a chance to download up to eight apps on my phone which has given me a good peak into what this thing will look like at maturity.”

This isn’t the first time in which Rovell will turn his focus to sports betting content. While a sophomore at Northwestern in 1997, he saw piles of the Northwestern Chronicle, the weekly school newspaper, all over campus.

Sensing an opportunity to do something differently, he took over the sports section of the paper and turned it into a section devoted entirely to sports betting.

“No one read it (the Northwestern Chronicle) and my strategy was to change the sports section into only sports betting. Instead of other commentary, I put together a two-page spread of my picks of the week. While I was thinking more of a sports business at the time, I was very well aware of how popular sports gambling was and how it had the ability to draw people in.”

A look at his picks of the week section from his time at Northwestern. (Photo via Darren Rovell)

Like most people, leaving a good job at a company that likely isn’t going anywhere anytime soon can be tough.

For Rovell, making the move from ESPN was aided by the fact that the company’s leadership was willing to let him out of his deal, along with the fact that Chad Millman, his former boss at ESPN, had already made the move to the sports betting startup.

“Chad took the risk of going over before the repeal of PASPA and I know I wouldn’t have made the move if PASPA hadn’t been struck down by the Supreme Court. The executives who are there currently gave me faith in the product, plus with the Chernin Group being majority owners in the business and being known for best practices in the space, it was easier to believe in the company, which is key for anyone moving to a startup.”

Finding himself in an executive position for the first time, and having an equity stake in the company, Rovell will have a larger impact on the overall direction of the content being created.

The end goal? Become the number one editorial company in the business of sports betting and a very large company within the next two – five years.

Although a change of company, there won’t be much of a change from Rovell, who will still cover the sports business industry and put out content that gets people talking.

Some of that content will come from a collaboration with Big Cat, something that Rovell said will happen “sooner rather than later.”

“It will be relatively early. I will finally go on Pardon My Take.”

Going on Pardon My Take will likely be just the beginning, as Rovell pointed to the two potentially competing in a decathlon with all of the benefits going to a charity. 

“I think we will do some sort of decathlon. I think we could do a lot of PPV buys and incorporate some sort of live betting and live odds component to it. It would be insane, but I think we could even fill an entire normal track stadium with people to watch.”

Whatever your take may be on Rovell, he built a niche for himself, owned that niche, and is now benefiting from that, something not many people can do.

(*Edited: In a previous version, the it was said that the PPV event was on. The parties have confirmed with us that the event is still an idea and there is nothing set in stone from the PPV side of things.)

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