Shot Callers: Keith Wachtel, Chief Business Officer, NHL

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The National Hockey League, like many of America’s professional sports leagues, is adapting to the growing legalization of sports betting in the United States. With teams in Las Vegas and New Jersey, the league is in a unique position to be on the forefront of this phenomenon.

In the latest episode of Shot Callers, FOS Editor Ian Thomas chats with the NHL’s Keith Wachtel about the league’s approach to the sports betting space and the new opportunities it presents in America as well as Europe.

Edited highlights appear below:

On the current state of the NHL and sports betting (0:18)

Wachtel: “We are very happy obviously with the partnerships that we created last year. We like to call it the hat trick of sports betting partnerships. What’s great about it is they’re all a little bit different, right? I mean, anytime you have a category where you make a non-exclusive, which is not traditional in our business for most categories, you really have to find something of value for each of your partners. And we’ve been able to do that. They’re all a little bit unique in what they have, not only from the rights that they have, but also from the data opportunity that they’re going to implement. We couldn’t be happier.”

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On upcoming player and puck tracking and how it affects the league’s sports betting strategy (02:21)

Wachtel:”We realized quickly that this data is probably as valuable, if not more valuable, to the gaming operators than it is to anyone else. It’s now opened up really this opportunity that we see here because the baseline data that everyone has to access is nice, but it’s been there forever…That’s again where we see the millennials and gen z’s really engaging with you is on ‘who’s going to take the hardest shot today?’, ‘who’s going to skate the fastest?’ Those fun prop bets, but not only from a sports betting standpoint, right? Because that’s limited because of legislation, but the opportunity to partner on predictive gaming and social gaming where everybody can participate and they can participate for prizes and unique experience and things like that. So for us, that’s really where we see the opportunity with puck and player tracking.”

On opportunities to grow in Europe thanks to the betting market there (05:00)

Wachtel: “So from a global basis, we think there’s a great opportunity for us given the maturity [of legalized betting] in the European market. It’s already there. One of the things that we need to figure out, which we’re working on, is technologies that will allow foreign gaming operators to have a presence in our game broadcasts, which right now we can’t. The game broadcasts are generally feeds that are taken from a US or Canadian broadcast. We’re working on technology now that might allow an operator in Russia to be watching on a Russian broadcast and be able to see those advertisements or that brand in those games. If we can do that, I think that’s going to be a game changer for our business overseas.”

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On technology continuing to play a vital part in the league’s growth (05:58)

Wachtel: “I think our biggest opportunity to grow revenue, but also change a little bit the way that people view the game or the games being played, is through technology. I think we see it with the Apple iPads on the benches, which players and coaches universally have been have been using. The advent of our coaching application, which was introduced this year at the All Star game and now the GMs got together in Vancouver to talk about perhaps a GM app, which would provide them with something unique. So for us, I think technology is key. The reason why I think we’ve been successful is you think about the technology first, what it is that you want to do, and then you find the right partner.”