U.S. Leagues Tout Mutual Benefits To Sports-Betting Partnership Agreements

March 14, 2023
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With some operators beginning to question the value of league and team marketing partnerships, officials from major U.S. leagues remain confident in their position in the sports-betting ecosystem.

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With some operators beginning to question the value of league and team marketing partnerships, officials from major U.S. leagues remain confident in their position in the sports-betting ecosystem.

Several operators have begun to back away from some league and team partnerships, with DraftKings publicly vowing to reevaluate its portfolio of partnerships and downgrading its partnership with Major League Baseball (MLB) shortly thereafter in favor of a lower-tier deal.

Several operators also bowed out of partnerships with the National Football league last year.

However, not every operator has taken the same approach, with market leader FanDuel quickly sliding into the MLB partnership vacated by DraftKings, and BetMGM moving quickly to fill a prominent space on NBC’s Sunday Night Football broadcast that was abdicated by PointsBet.

“There's no question that there's Wall Street pressure on these operators, that you see a lot of that and public comments that are being made around marketing spend, and just sort of managing that,” said David Highhill, vice president and general manager of sports betting for the NFL, during an appearance at the iGaming Next conference in New York last week.

Still, Highhill pointed out that operators have continued to invest more heavily than ever in promotional spending for new state launches.

“We provide unique value to the operators and it's our job just like all the other leagues that we are in a very unique part of the ecosystem because we are the league and the sport that sort of drives their products as well, so it's our job to approach it as a partnership and align incentives so that they get fair value because it's not good for anyone, if it's really lopsided in terms of where the value is coming from,” he said.

“It's our job to find that middle ground and that's what we're trying to do.”

The National Basketball Association (NBA) has also taken a more active role in recent months with regulating the content of its partners, including prohibiting use of the term “risk-free” to describe promotional offers amid several state regulators banning the term and increased public criticism of the phrase.

“We design our partnerships such that they're mutually beneficial and that there's incentive to both us and the operators to continue to grow the business of betting on basketball,” said Eric Rimsky, U.S. fantasy and betting lead for the NBA.

Rimsky said the design of those partnerships allows the NBA to collaborate with operators on “new product development, new opportunities to engage the bettor in different ways.”

“What's also important, I think, to measure as part of this is finding the right balance between pushing betting on the NBA but also doing that in a responsible way,” he said, touting the league’s partnership announced last month with the American Gaming Association regarding its “Have a Game Plan” initiative.

“I think that's one of the things that we talk a lot about the league particularly, and over the last year has become even more of the utmost importance.”

Casey Brett, MLB’s senior vice president of business development, also touted the importance for leagues in the type of information that sports betting can provide beyond just a simple marketing transaction.

“It’s going to become even more relevant for us as we really start tapping into the audiences and engagement within the apps and sportsbooks themselves that benefit other sides of the business,” Brett said. “The bet slip itself is one of the most valuable pieces of information from a league perspective.

“You can tell somebody that their eyeballs are going to be on the screen, I know what state they’re in, and I have so much information I can benefit from to drive other primary aspects of my business that I don’t think this is ever going to be a situation that is just going to be a rights fee situation,” he said.

“Our job as a league is always going to try to maximize as much value from a rights fee perspective as possible, but at the same time, this is an industry that has so many additional benefits as part of our fan ecosystem that establishing those mutually beneficial paths towards growing the business is going to be something important for us.”

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