Billionaire Stephen Ross has invested in the sports gambling startup the Action Network, yet another move by a National Football League (NFL) owner to capitalize on the growing trend of legal sports betting.
Ross’s RSE Ventures invested in the digital media network as part of a $17.5 million fundraising round that closed earlier this year, Action Network Chief Executive Officer Patrick Keane said, Bloomberg reports. RSE’s involvement wasn’t made public at the time, and the Action Network isn’t listed as an investment on the RSE website.
“As more and more states legalize sports betting, we believe that a new media company will emerge to service this sector, one that best integrates data and content,” said Matt Higgins, RSE’s co-founder and CEO. “The Action Network has a unique blend of imaginative content creators and data miners. It’s a compelling combination that’s translating to impressive growth in subscriptions.”
Other Action Network investors include the owners of the Chicago Cubs and an owner of the Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Devils.
“For the Action Network, it’s affirming to our strategy to have all four of the major U.S. sports as investors,” Keane said. “To be able to call on the counsel of these kinds of owners is super-helpful to the company.”
NFL owners long opposed the spread of legal sports gambling, citing fears that it would jeopardize the integrity of its $15 billion enterprise. Following a Supreme Court decision last year to strike down the federal ban, the league’s stance has softened.
Over the last 12 months, the NFL has signed its first-ever casino partner, and a wider deal with Sportradar AG to distribute its data to gambling operators in the U.S. and abroad. The NFL has been an investor in Sportradar since 2015.
In that span, individual owners have also made moves. Team such as the Dallas Cowboys and New York Jets have signed their own deals with casinos and sports betting operators. Kraft Group, which owns the New England Patriots, was an early investor in DraftKings, which is now a licensed operator.
Ross, chairman and majority owner of real estate giant Related Cos., purchased the Miami Dolphins about a decade ago. The team has been less involved in the gambling ferment, and sports betting remains illegal in Florida. Last year, the team tweeted urging Floridians to vote no on a ballot initiative that would have made it harder to legalize sports betting statewide. The team also opposed the initiative through a $500,000 donation from a sod farm registered at its stadium.
Action Network was launched in 2017 by Chernin Group, led by media mogul Peter Chernin. The company is looking to be a one-stop shop for sports bettors, offering podcasts and news from its stable of about 30 reporters and editors, while paid subscribers get access to betting-market trends and other analytic tools.
The $17.5 million round, which was announced in February, was led by Fertitta Capital, the private equity firm formed by the former owners of UFC. Other investors included Blackstone Group’s David Blitzer, co-owner of the 76ers and Devils; the owners of the Cubs; 6721 Capital, a fund formed by sports marketing executive Casey Wasserman and the investment banking firm Code Advisors; and Bitkraft Esports Ventures, the world’s first esports-specific venture capital fund.
The NFL stands to profit more from widespread legal sports betting than any other U.S. league. A 2018 study by the American Gaming Association and Nielsen found that the NFL’s projected revenue boost was $2.33 billion, more than double that of the next closest league, and four times the NBA’s opportunity.