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Volume 20 No. 46

Leagues and Governing Bodies

NFL owners could vote as early as this week on allowing casinos to advertise in NFL stadiums, team publications and on club radio broadcasts, sources said, a move the league has long resisted out of fear of being seen as close to gambling.

The league has been studying the issue, and it’s among the planned discussion topics for this week’s NFL annual meeting in Palm Beach, Fla. A team source said he expected a vote, though as of the middle of last week, the subject had not been set for one.

NFL officials declined comment.

Several restrictions would apply to any potential deals — most notably that the casino could not have a sports gaming book. A casino also would not be able to use team logos in its advertising.

The sector would be one of the first new sponsorship categories the NFL has opened in several years that previously had been off limits to teams. NFL clubs could generate more than $3 million annually in spending from casinos, experts said.

The Cardinals’ Gila River deal (top) doesn’t mention a casino, as is done in other sports.
“The category should be in the $2.5 million to $3.5 million range [per club],” said Lou Imbriano, the former chief marketing officer of the New England Patriots who now runs sports marketing firm TrinityOne. “It’s in every other sport basically: Baseball has had it for years, the NBA [has it].”

Part of what is driving the decision is a perceived inequity within the NFL that some teams, because of their proximity to Indian reservations, have been allowed to sign deals with tribes. While those sponsorships have not been for casinos, team sources said it was obvious to consumers that the reservations had gambling.

The Sycuan Tribe sponsors the San Diego Chargers; Oneida Nation sponsors the Green Bay Packers; and the Gila River Indian Community sponsors the Arizona Cardinals. Until last season, the Miccosukee Tribe sponsored the Miami Dolphins, as well.

Yet a team like the New Orleans Saints, whose stadium is on the same street as a Harrah’s casino, cannot take any dollars from that company other than for tickets and suites.

The NFL several years ago allowed team sponsorship deals with scratch-off lotteries, a decision that for some clubs has proved a financial boon. Traditionally, though, the league has forcefully tried to distance itself from gambling, even going so far as to prevent Las Vegas from running a tourism spot during the Super Bowl.

Other leagues allow casino advertising. In MLB, teams with such deals include San Diego (Sycuan), Boston (Foxwoods Resort & Casino), the New York Yankees and Mets (Mohegan Sun Resort) and Los Angeles Dodgers (Caesars). NBA clubs with deals include Boston, New York and New Jersey (Foxwoods); Phoenix (Casino Arizona and Gila River Casinos); and New Orleans (Harrah’s).

As for the NHL, the league since 2009 has held its annual awards dinner and show at The Palms in Las Vegas. The 2012 show is set for the Wynn Las Vegas.

In Arizona, where there are nearly two dozen casinos, Gila River Casinos is a partner of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Phoenix Coyotes in addition to its deal with the Suns. For the Cardinals, however, the relationship is with just the Gila River Indian Community tribe.

In New England, Connecticut-based Mohegan Sun sponsors the Mets, is home to the WNBA Connecticut Sun and title sponsors the Mohegan Sun Sports Bar at Yankee Stadium. Massachusetts-based Foxwoods has its deals with the Red Sox, Celtics, Knicks and Nets, and a new casino could be coming to the region, as well. Las Vegas developer Steve Wynn has been working with Patriots owner Robert Kraft to bring a gambling complex to a site near Gillette Stadium. While that project appears to have stalled, there are Massachusetts casino proposals in Milford and Suffolk Downs as well.

The idea of NFL clubs drawing dollars from casinos is a subject that generates a range of responses across the industry. According to recent poll of senior-level executives across sports (see Page 14), 23 percent of respondents said that they expect NFL teams to be allowed to pursue casinos as sponsors within two years; 28 percent said they expect to see that authorization come for NFL clubs in three to five years. But 27 percent of the respondents said NFL teams will never be granted the opportunity to pursue casinos as sponsors.