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Volume 25 No. 28
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Sports Betting Fallout: NFL Will Now Shift Focus To Gambling

NFL was long resolute in its belief that legal sports gambling would be a threat to its integrity
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

The NFL is "shifting its focus to how gambling can help stanch the erosion of its audience -- and grow its sport to even greater heights," according to Andrew Beaton of the WALL STREET JOURNAL. The NFL was "long resolute in its belief that legal sports gambling would be a threat to its integrity." However, the arrival of legal gambling "comes at a moment when the NFL’s grip on the American public is weakening." Following the approval of the Raiders' relocation to Las Vegas last spring, league execs "set out to fully understand what legal gambling would mean." They met with sports betting industry execs to get a "comprehensive look at all aspects of bookmaking, regulation and protecting the league’s integrity." From all of that, the league’s presentation to owners this past March "focused on the potential to grow the game in key demographics, and in particular, two potential growth targets: younger fans and foreign audiences." A source said that NFL officials believe the gambling proposition will be "more appealing for younger fans -- and more lucrative to the league, when they sort through the legalese and license video to gambling platforms." Meanwhile, the NFL is "approaching the topic differently than some of its peers."  While MLB and the NBA have been "lobbying various states" for an "integrity fee" on bets, the NFL has been "more focused on licensing data to legal bookmakers." The hope is that sports books will be "legally required to use official, league-provided information" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 5/16). ESPN's Don Van Natta Jr. cited a source as saying that the NFL is "opposed" to an integrity fee and will likely make that feeling "public in the coming days or weeks." The league "just doesn't think an integrity fee of 1% is in anyone's interest." It does not work "from a political perspective," as no organization "wants to be seen shoveling money at leagues and billionaire owners" ("OTL," ESPN, 5/15).

SHOW ME THE MONEY! THE ATHLETIC's John Middlekauff wrote the NFL "stands to prosper the most, mainly because football is the most heavily bet upon sport." The "fervor and overall consistency in which people bet the NFL is unmatched during the fall." One team president indicated the league is "all over this." Middlekauff noted the other 31 team presidents are "thinking like this as well." Middlekauff: "Cha-ching! That’s how the NFL works. The owners are true capitalists. Willing to make money off anyone, anytime. Always ready to pounce when a new revenue stream becomes available. Why couldn’t the NFL have a sports book at its stadiums?" (THEATHLETIC.com, 5/15). ESPN's Scott Van Pelt said once the NFL "abandons all the pretense that gambling's awful and follows the lead of the other leagues," it "will embrace it." Van Pelt: "Especially is they're making money off it" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 5/15).

EVERYTHING IS IMPORTANT: THE MMQB's Peter King writes there is "no question there are some benefits for the NFL," and the league is "excited about the money potential, to be sure." They also are "excited that fans who might not otherwise be engaged in an inconsequential Cleveland-Cincinnati game in Week 15 would be engaged if they could put some money on it" and are energized "about potential TV-rating hikes for all games." However, the "operative word" among some people in the NFL is "caution." There is just "too much they didn’t know yet." The NFL is going to "figure a way to put some insurance policies in place, but insurance policies are not going to stop every chance of a Pete Rose story happening" (SI.com, 5/16).

PERFECT TIMING: In DC, Thom Loverro writes under the header, "NFL Catches Life Preserver With Legalized Sports Betting." The NFL has been "reeling from one series of body blows after another." Legalized sports betting can "put the brakes on all of this, and the NFL knows it." It can, at least for a while, "drown out the noise that has put football on the defensive, as fans play with their new shiny toy -- legalized sports betting." Loverro: "Don’t be surprised to see sports betting opportunities in NFL stadiums -- perhaps right in your seats -- from winners and point spreads to all sorts of prop bets" (WASHINGTON TIMES, 5/16).