NFL will be bullish on betting soon enough as it enters a brave new lucrative world
There is no shortage of those about to cash in after sports wagering was legalized
The NFL backed the losing argument in the recent Supreme Court ruling on legalized sports wagering at the statewide level, and did so at the same time several prominent owners had gone deep investing in the daily fantasy boom and while casinos continued to pop up more or less across the street from numerous NFL stadiums and while owners overwhelmingly supported the Raiders moving from Oakland to Las Vegas.
So does anyone really believe the league won't be among those benefiting from this court ruling soon enough? I'd never bet against it! (Excuse the pun. Couldn't help myself).
Follow the money.
That always applies in these cases, and while the NFL will be very careful with its public statements and outward stance on this new era in gambling – especially in these murky days as individual states interpret and apply the ruling and begin formulating plans – I can guarantee you there are already plenty of forward-thinking, high-revenue owners with dollar signs in their eyes.
Bottom line is there is no shortage of entities about to cash in on this brave new world – betting houses both domestic and abroad, pro sports leagues and owners, casinos, potentially race tracks, the states themselves, and broadcast networks as one would expect higher ratings and a wave of betting ads to flood the marketplace the way daily fantasy commercials once did prior to regulation. Don't think for a minute that once these floodgates are truly open that the men who run this league won't be doing the same. With so many outside operations about to profit from the NFL's product via legal gambling, this is certainly a time for the league to be obsessed with protecting the "integrity" of its games, as the NFL made clear in its public statement after the ruling early this week. But it's also going to be very much about ensuring they get their piece of an ever-growing pie.
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Comparing the NFL to the NBA
"You have to give (NBA commissioner) Adam Silver a lot of credit for the way his league prepared for this and how well positioned they are right now," said a high-ranking official with one NFL club. "They're going to be ahead of us in the short term because of the work they've already done knowing this was going to become a reality.
"The feedback we're getting from our league office so far is basically just to be patient and let them digest the ruling and see what comes from Congress (in terms of national legislation that might apply to individual state gambling regulations). That's not what's going on with the NBA right now. And that's not going to stop some states from taking bets before our season opens."
The league's official statement, lest you missed it from the other day, read: "The NFL's long-standing and unwavering commitment to protecting the integrity of our game remains absolute. Congress has long-recognized the potential harms posed by sports betting to the integrity of sporting contests and the public confidence in these events.
"Given that history, we intend to call on Congress again, this time to enact a core regulatory framework for legalized sports betting. We also will work closely with our clubs to ensure that any state efforts that move forward in the meantime protect our fans and the integrity of the game."
League sources said that the NFL has been paying attention, privately, to what the NBA has been doing. The NBA has been very upfront about its desire to take 1 percent of the cut from all money wagered on its games as a royalty or "integrity tax" or whatever you want to call it that would allow such money to be funneled back into keeping the games fix-free, or so the theory goes.
It's only a matter of time before the money starts flowing in, whether or not the NFL ever gets that 1-percent cut. You can't watch a soccer match in Europe without seeing gambling-house ads all over the place -- next to the pitch, all over the uniforms. The competition between William Hill and Ladbrokes and the rest is cutthroat, and they'll want signage and suites at NFL games, given how much interest there will be in betting on these games.
The in-stadium experience
In many stadiums in England you can place your bets right at the stadium, and I can't help but wonder if we see that at some point here as well. Think about what those rights would go for. The NFL has spent a considerable amount of money on its Next Gen Stats initiative for years, hoping that data like how fast a receiver ran or the angle at which someone caught a pass or the velocity of a pass might spice up TV broadcasts. It's been cumbersome at best in that domain, but what if that proprietary data became part of in-game gambling, with those bets having to be made through the official betting sponsor of the NFL? Which player will cover the most ground on a given Sunday? Who will catch the highest pass? Hmm.
The league is constantly trying to incentivize the in-stadium experience. What if certain bets can be made only through an app that works only at an NFL stadium? Maybe there is a way to find particular in-game prop bets that are available only to season-ticket holders. The possibilities are lucrative.
"Remember how heavy (Robert) Kraft and Jerry (Jones) got into the daily fantasy stuff," the high-ranking team official said. "You're going to tell me that guys like that aren't already coming up with ways to cash in from this?"
Indeed, while the NFL has long played the morality card with its statements and words, the deeds are a little different. You could stumble out of a Ravens or Steelers game – to name a few – and into a casino located almost in the stadium parking lot. And if those entities become free to take bets, you're going to tell me there's not a way for the teams to get their cut? We're going to have a Super Bowl in Las Vegas at some point. Who are we kidding?
NFL and NHL in lockstep
Check out what NHL commissioner Gary Bettman had to say on CNBC Wednesday morning when asked about the ruling. His league had seemed more or less in lockstep with the NFL as this Supreme Court decision hung in the balance, and he is clearly hoping that Congress adopts a "one-size-fits-all" set of regulations that would apply nationwide – as is Roger Goodell – but knows that might not be the case.
"We may have to deal with 10, 15, 20 states all doing their own thing, which would make life a little more complicated," Bettman said. "But in terms of creating more interest and opportunities for states, for the federal government, for casinos and people who take bets, and for sports leagues, while the future is uncertain I think there is a fair amount of opportunity if it's done right …
"There is going to be a need for data access to our game, and our trademarks, the video of our games, so there are things, if you are going to run a successful sports book, that you are going to need from us, not just the NHL, but all the leagues, and from our standpoint we want to make sure it's done right."
Bingo. Sounds a bit like the first stage of a negotiation with those betting houses, eh? At the appropriate time, of course. Bettman also noted the "brave new world of prop bets" that is likely to explode as a result of this ruling and then went on to talk, unprompted, about an NHL initiative that to me sounds an awful lot like Next Gen Stats (which just so happen to be distributed league-wide to all teams beginning in 2018).
"We are in the process, from a technological standpoint, of working on what we call Puck and Player Tracking," Bettman said. "So the amount of data we can create in the course of a game that currently, now, you can't pull out of the game as efficiently, once we get that in place that will create bonus opportunities as well."
If the NHL, which will generate a fraction of the gambling pull that football will rake in this country, is already thinking along these lines, don't think for a second that the powers that be in the NFL aren't quietly doing the same thing. There's gold in them there hills, and the owners will get their hands on plenty of it in one fashion or another.
I'm not sure we'll see betting parlor ads on NFL jerseys in the immediate future – I could see them plastered all over NBA game-day attire in the 2018-19 season – and I'd suggest there will be an air or some sort of moral authority from the NFL that will prevail for quite some time. It will be made all so clear that they were dragged kicking and screaming into this, and fought it till the bitter end, but spending big bucks to lobby against this might not be the way to go. It was only a matter of time before this country caught up to the more mainstream gambling culture in Canada and Europe, and the rich will most definitely be getting richer in the years to come.
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