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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.

Adam White

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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.)

Adam is the Founder and CEO of Front Office Sports. A University of Miami Alum, Adam has worked for opendorse, the Fiesta Bowl, and the University of Miami Athletic Department. He can be reached at adam@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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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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