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Volume 22 No. 19
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MLS strikes deal with MGM

The Red Bulls, based in New Jersey and one of two teams in the league to play in a state that has already legalized sports betting, are positioned to take advantage of the deal.
Photo: getty images

MLS has signed a four-year partnership with MGM Resorts International to be the league’s first official sports betting partner.

The deal, which does not provide exclusivity in the category, will give MGM Resorts access to enhanced MLS data for fans and sports betting customers. MLS and MGM will also jointly develop a free-to-play game that is expected to be released later this year.

In addition to receiving the standard tenants of a league-level sponsorship with MLS such as activation at major events and integration into league digital and social channels, as well as field-level signage in nationally televised matches, MLS and MGM Resorts will work to bring soccer events and other activations to Las Vegas. MLS Deputy Commissioner and MLS Business Ventures President Gary Stevenson said those events could range anywhere from league business meetings and the draft to esports or other special soccer competitions. It could also include events or matches that involve other Soccer United Marketing partners. Stevenson declined to comment on the financial terms of the deal.

Timeline of major sports league gambling sponsorships

 

NBA

July 31, 2018
MGM Resorts International

NHL

Oct. 29, 2018
MGM Resorts International

MLB

Nov. 27, 2018
MGM Resorts International

NFL

Jan. 3, 2019
Caesars Entertainment

MLS

March 2019
MGM Resorts International

“Sports betting has the ability to engage new fans in the sport, and provide existing fans with deeper engagement,” Stevenson said, noting how intertwined sports betting and soccer is around the world outside of the U.S.

Scott Butera, MGM Resorts International president of interactive gaming, said that compared to betting around other professional sports in the U.S., “the base is clearly smaller than the other sports, but we see the potential for growth as much higher. No one has really promoted soccer in the betting world here yet.”

Butera said the company will work closely with MLS to build that out. Beyond the free-to-play game they will create, MGM Resorts will promote MLS in its Play MGM mobile sports betting app, and will utilize MLS branding across a range of its offerings in the U.S.

The new national partnership will likely also have an impact on local sponsorship. Stevenson said the league’s commercial committee is discussing alterations to league guidelines that could open the door for teams to sign partnerships with sports betting companies and allow them to be jersey sponsors. MLS rules have barred that sort of advertising.

“Our clubs are looking to be very aggressive in this space, so we want to give them an opportunity to grow their fan bases and realize revenues around it,” Stevenson said. He characterized those discussions as “happening as we speak; this isn’t a next-year kind of thing.”

Two MLS teams play in states where sports betting is legal: the New York Red Bulls, who play in New Jersey, and the Philadelphia Union. The Red Bulls have been in discussions with sports betting companies regarding naming rights to their stadium as well as other team-level partnerships, industry sources said. Philadelphia has also had discussions with sports betting companies regarding its stadium naming-rights deal, which is with Talen Energy but expires after the 2020 season.