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Volume 25 No. 194
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William Hill Adds First League Deal With NHL Pact

William Hill, the first sportsbook to sign team sponsorship deals (Golden Knights, Devils), today will add its first league deal and take on the designation of “official sports betting partner” of the NHL. It is a significant step for the sportsbook, which had eschewed league sponsor deals even as competitor MGM Resorts Int'l locked down four of them (NBA, NHL, MLB and MLS). William Hill becomes the NHL’s third sponsor in the category, joining MGM and FanDuel. The deal, which a source said is for two years, is valued in the low seven figures annually.

The pact does not include the purchase of official league data, a requirement that the NBA and MLB have demanded from potential league and team sponsors in the category. Key assets for William Hill include exposure on NHL.com in states where sports betting is legal, as well the ability to market to the NHL’s fan database. The deal also includes escalators on that media spend that could make it worth more to the NHL as sports betting becomes legal in more NHL markets. William Hill CEO Joe Asher said of the NHL, “They’ve taken a very progressive approach to sports betting and how to work with operators. Through them understanding how we were viewing it, we got there. For us, it’s all about what value we can get out of the opportunity vs. the money we’re spending."

NHL Chief Revenue Officer & Exec VP/Global Partnerships Keith Wachtel also pointed to the distinctions between the three sportsbooks that have signed league deals (MGM, FanDuel, William Hill). Wachtel: “Like a lot of the operators, they want to be part of this. We are finding cost-effective commercial opportunities on a short-term basis. We’re doing that because we don’t want to go too far out. And the operators want to see what it’s about.”

Execs from the NHL and William Hill started discussions not long after the Supreme Court ruled that states could legalize sports betting last May. Asher said those talks gained momentum in January, after he ran into Commissioner Gary Bettman at a Golden Knights game during the annual Consumer Electronics Show.

Asher said that an impediment to a William Hill deal with the NBA or MLB remains the requirement that the sportsbook purchase and use official league data to settle bets, and the impact of that additional expense on top of the cost of league and team sponsorships. “I’m 100 percent open to league deals,” Asher said. “I’ve got a lot of respect for some of the folks in the other leagues. It’s hard to pay attention to sports and not be a fan of Adam Silver and the position the league takes on so many issues. But, the concept of a royalty or whatever you want to call it, I don’t think that works. Same with the requirement that we buy their data.” He added of properties pushing for royalty fees, "This deal with the NHL made sense. It’s a lot better than being told you should give somebody a quarter point of the handle for nothing. With this deal, you give them money and you get value. That’s the way it ought to work.”