Washington Wizards fans will get a glimpse at how in-game sports betting will look later this week when NBC Sports Washington produces an alternate game telecast focused on gaming.
On Jan. 11, NBC Sports Washington Plus — the regional sports network’s overflow channel — will carry an interactive, alternate telecast of the Wizards-Bucks game — the first of eight similar games it will produce this season. Game announcers and advertising breaks will be the same as the RSN’s normal feed. But the screen will look like a cross between CNBC and ESPNews, complete with statistics, odds and point spreads that run alongside game action.
“We’ve been lucky because sports betting has rolled out in a way that has overlapped with our RSNs,” said David Preschlack, president of NBC Sports Regional Networks. “We’re trying to figure out ways to appeal to casual sports bettors to make the games more interesting. … One of the real differentiators of the RSNs business is being able to try new things in different markets.”
Initially, the betting applications will be rudimentary. A “Predict the Game” sweepstakes will involve simple questions about, for example, how many points a specific player will score in a quarter or how many assists a player will have in a half. Fans can visit NBC Sports Washington’s website to answer the questions for a chance to win $500. Ultimately, these free games are expected to give way to a system in which viewers can make bets directly through the broadcast.
“It’s the 1.0 version of where we’re ultimately going,” said Zach Leonsis, senior vice president of strategic initiatives at Monumental Sports & Entertainment, the group that owns the Wizards. “This will get more advanced. … The challenge for operators will be to make sure that the game play is supportive and not interruptive of the broadcast itself.”
The team and RSN developed the alternate feed to attract casual bettors, making the game more akin to fantasy football than hard-core sports betting.
“We wanted to give fans a little taste of what they can expect and maybe explain to them what predictive gaming is,” said Mark Friedman, director of creative services and advanced technology, NBC Sports Washington. “We want to let them know that it’s not this scary thing with a stigma associated with it. It’s fun. You can put $5 on a game and add a little bit of interest.”
Last month, Washington, D.C.’s City Council voted to legalize sports gambling, and Leonsis expects sports betting to be up and running by MLB’s Opening Day. Delaware, another state in the RSN’s footprint, also has voted to legalize sports betting. NBC Sports Washington executives believe they are best situated to take advantage of those new rules.
“We believe that we can be the hub of sports betting in our region largely on the fact that we have live games and people are betting on those live games,” said Damon Phillips, senior vice president and general manager of NBC Sports Washington. “We need to be at the center of this.”