NFL's biggest change in 2019 likely won't be on the field, oncoming gambling wave will change how football's consumed
The owners and the league are embracing it and it's going to mean big money for the NFL
The biggest game changer in the NFL this offseason will not have anything to do with rule changes or instant-replay alterations or health and safety or expanding the game abroad or any of the usual buzzwords or issues. It will have little to do with the actual game at all, but everything to do with the finances of football moving forward.
It is the onset of legalized sports gambling. It is the welcoming of casino and online betting money – now, no longer taboo – which owners believe could be a dramatic boom to the already robust bottom lines of NFL teams. By the start of the 2019 season the way football is consumed could be radically different that anything we have come to know, with point spread and over/unders becoming a normal part of the mainstream football parlance. Your viewing experience at home may be filled with commercials from any number of national and international betting houses, in the way that FanDuel and DraftKings once dominated football advertising. It may be impossible to escape the oncoming gambling wave.
It is all on the way, if not by Week 1 of 2019 then surely not that long after. The owners want it. The league wants it. It is coming, and it is going to be huge.
"The owners see this as the next horizon," said one league source with knowledge of the groundswell of support. "They see this as the next biggest revenue stream after the television contracts. They believe this will be worth billions to the league."
To that end, the league's Sports Betting Committee has been meeting on Fridays all season, with conference calls between owners and key league officials taking place to update the progress being made on the various hurdles that still must be cleared before the NFL is ready to make this leap. Specifically, there are technological matters that must be resolved before the league launches into this brave new world. It will be a vital topic in key ownership meetings this offseason. It is being viewed as a massive fiscal game-changer.
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You don't have to be Sherlock Holmes to follow the clues here. The NFL recently announced a major sponsorship with Caesars Entertainment as the first official casino of the league. A team is coming to Las Vegas and various owners have already entered into their own sponsorship agreements with various casinos as well. As of yet there is no official sports betting house of the league, and no official betting platform of the league, but that is coming, too, and it is a major initiative at the league office and with this Sports Betting Committee.
If the NFL is going to embrace this inevitability, and profit greatly from it, then there is no room for error. Once the league has an official gambling portal and preferred game-day gambling houses, well, the information systems involved need to be airtight. If potentially millions of people are going to be making bets in real-time on various occurrences and propositions, then the system used for real-time information gathering must be precise. If someone is betting on whether the next play is a 15-yard completion, or a sack by a certain player, then that tracking system used to produce the official outcome needs to be correct immediately. You can't have a scenario where the league is doubling back days later to change this play or that play.
And that is a large part of what the committee is working through. It's about determining which model works best, and which companies to takes bids on for the contracts and which partners to align with. There is the matter of the league's proprietary Next Gen Stats, which tracks every type of player movement possible; the access to that will be more valuable than ever now, and there are also opportunities to have a platform where fans can bet on who ran the fastest route or threw the hardest touchdown pass, etc. There will be a steep price to be paid for the use of official NFL logos and team nicknames and other copyrighted and protected materials.
While there is no going back now, after the Supreme Court decision last year began to open the floodgates at the state-wide level, the NFL is going to be uber-judicious about ensuring the official stats and information provided by the league are accurate and dependable. The league also knows that if it does fully embrace gambling that it will also have to alter language in the contracts with its various broadcasting partners as well, with it making little sense to have gambling vernacular still forbidden.
I spoke about this at length on today's episode of The Pick Six Podcast. You can stream the convo below but do also download the show to your podcast app of choice to hear me every week discuss the big stories in football with Will Brinson.
The NFL's partnership with the Alliance of American Football will be a potential incubator for much of this tech and real-time data. The NFL will test and examine which real-time stats work best and use that season to work out the kinks and make further determinations about getting ready to launch on a much wider scale.
And the league and its lobbying arm will continue to push the federal government for certain standards and regulations before it green lights anything. The NFL and the other major pro sports leagues in this country are pushing for legislation to protect the leagues and combat the thrust of illegal off-shore betting.
But make no mistake, the owners are driven to see this through at this point. They know that for decades so many other entities have been profiting from gambling on their product, and now they are on the precipice of cashing in, themselves, in ways that would have seemed unimaginable even a few short years ago. With roughly seven months until the 2019 season kicks off, I wouldn't discount the chances of seeing a seismic change by next September. It's a matter of when, and not if.
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