ational Hockey League (NHL) Commissioner Gary Bettman explained why he switched from opposition to support of sports betting business, even emphasizing it can help grow the league’s audience, during his participation Wednesday at the Sports Betting Symposium (SBS) of the Global Gaming Expo (G2E) Las Vegas. He shared a discussion panel with industry leaders Joe Asher, CEO of William Hill US; Greg Carlin, co-founder and CEO of Rush Street Gaming; and Matt King, CEO of FanDuel.
“In a fragmented media marketplace, you’re going to see more and more shoulder programming, and sports betting gives you an opportunity to tell more stories,” Bettman said, as reported by Las Vegas Sun. “From a league standpoint, we think sports betting will increase viewership, which should be good for rights fees and advertising revenue.”
The NHL’s 10-year television broadcast rights agreement with Comcast — owners of NBC and NBC SportsNet — expires after the 2021-22 season. In negotiations for the next broadcast agreement, how to integrate sports betting content will be part of the conversation. “I have more than a sense that some of the discussions are going to be on how our broadcasts can be integrated with a sports betting app or experience,” Bettman said.
According to Bettman, the NHL has evolved in recent years with its thinking on sports betting and the ways that wagering can help grow its audience. In 2017 the league brought the first major professional sports franchise to Las Vegas — Vegas Golden Knights.
Other leagues hesitated over the years because Nevada at the time was the only state with legal sports betting, and league governing bodies worried that games could be compromised. But, as Bettman and others quickly learned, the sports betting industry in Nevada is heavily regulated and secure. And, as the commissioner pointed out, the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling last year on the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), which served as a prohibition for state-sponsored sports betting outside of Nevada, changed the landscape drastically.
“Whether or not I thought sports betting was a good idea 27 years ago, none of that really mattered once the Supreme Court ruled,” Bettman said. “Intellectually and emotionally, I always had the concern about what it would do to sports. There’s nothing wrong with horse racing, but we’re something different.”
With the door open for widespread sports betting, Bettman said it became the NHL’s “obligation” to use it to help engage as many fans as possible. “It was no longer subject to debate, so we had to just get with the program,” he said. “Before the Supreme Court ruled, we had put a team in Las Vegas. We were the first sports league to do that. We began to have a relationship, for other reasons, with MGM, and (CEO) Jim Murren gets a lot of credit for, at that time, smartening us up.”
MGM became the NHL’s official wagering partner in 2018, and Bettman welcomed William Hill’s recent agreement with Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis to open the first sportsbook at a U.S. professional sports venue at Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. The arena serves as the home for the Washington Capitals hockey team and Washington Wizards basketball team. “Now all the other leagues are saying, ‘Let’s go to Las Vegas, what a great idea,’” Bettman said.
“Marks and logos are real easy things to get operational quickly,” FanDuel CEO Matt King said, according to AmericaJR. “To convey a sense of trust to the user that’s going to be a good experience for them. For these partnerships to be successful long term, there’s a lot of work that goes into it on both sides to figure out what’s going to be the best thing for the fan. There’s really cool opportunities that open up. If we work in partnership with the league, over the next couple of years, you’ll create a truly differentiated user experience.”
With the rise of mobile sports betting, comes the need for better cell phone bandwidth and coverage. Therefore, the commissioner and executives are working with carriers such as Verizon and AT&T to implement 5G mobile technologies inside their stadiums and arenas.
“We have a different set of technology issues,” the commissioner told the audience. “Collecting data, puck-and-player tracking, scaling that across 31, about to be 32, buildings, creating data points that these guys will figure out. Secondly, we’ve got to get 5G into all of our arenas. If mobile betting is going to be done in real time, by thousands of people at the same time, our buildings have to have the capacity to handle those transactions. That’s an essential element of making the fan-customer experience as viable and as carefree as possible. Part of what we all have to do together is make it a positive experience.”
“There has certainly been a rush to sign partnerships from our perspective,” said Rush Street Gaming CEO Greg Carlin. “We’re going with a regional approach. We’re really close with three leagues. We’re being very cautious and want to make sure the value is there. For example, our deal with Wells Fargo Center. We had our opening night game. They did a great job with getting our name all over the place. Frankly, I was a little disappointed with the amount of signage we have. We need to rethink our message and how are we driving players.”
William Hill U.S. CEO Joe Asher said: “Not everybody that’s watching hockey games is betting on them. The consumer is what matters. We’re all trying to come up with ways to acquire customers, keep them engaged and give them a good experience. The NHL, in this case, the brand, the logo means something to consumers. Same with the NBA and certainly the other leagues as well. Anything to engage customers and interact with them is what this is about. If you go to a Golden Knights game, right behind the net, where the Golden Knights shoot twice, there’s a William Hill logo.”