*Image from CalvinAyre.com
Ifrah Law founding partner, Jeff Ifrah, weighed in on the battle over bets in a recent newscast for ESPN’s “Outside the Lines.” During the program, Jeff observed that major league sports are getting accustomed to the idea of legalized sports betting: “They are willing to recognize regulation; they’re willing to recognize the legality and it seems to indicate that they are willing to ignore the whole integrity of the game issue.”
The ESPN program, and its related piece, “Betting on the Come,” provided analysis of the sports leagues’ projected take on U.S.-based sports betting, quoting Jeff along with other industry experts such as Commissioner Silver and Nevada state Sen. Mark Lipparelli (the former leader of the Nevada Gaming Control Board).
A few of the recurring themes voiced by Jeff and others included (1) the significant amount of revenue the sports industry is losing out on to illegal and offshore sports betting operations, (2) the growing and inevitable desire of sports fans to be able to place wagers, and (3) the recognition that the technology and data analysis that goes hand-in-hand with modern wagering can actually promote game integrity.
Going Where The Money Is
Jeff noted in the interview that sports betting is “a critical part” of major league sports’ future revenue: “They can’t ignore that.” The program identified estimates that sports betting is a $400 billion a year industry in the U.S. alone, and that illegal sports betting out measures legal betting by some forty fold. With such staggering numbers, it should be no wonder that much of the sports industry would want to partner with the sports betting industry and tap into this revenue stream.
Listening To The Fanbase
Regardless of Commissioner Goodell’s opposition, fans are trending towards wagers. They increasingly see wagering as an integral part of sports entertainment. The uptick in sports fans’ interests, coupled with technology’s ability to provide an outlet, makes for an opportunity the sports industry shouldn’t want to deny. Jeff noted: “You’ve got a potential captive fan base that’s watching games on their phones. And how are they watching those games? Some of those games are being live streamed through the betting apps that they follow because they want to wager while they are watching the game.” More generally, the ESPN program pointed out that sports betting and gambling have become widely accepted. Especially since the growth of fantasy sports, it’s very common for fans to bet on games. This reality is hard for the major leagues to ignore.
Issue Spotting On The Field
“The integrity of the game issue” as an argument against sports betting seems to be dying, according to Jeff and others. One of the overarching reasons major league sports have historically fought against legalized sports betting is the concern that betting will corrupt the game and encourage cheating and game-fixing. But coordination with sports betting can actually help to ferret out such problems. Silver has stated that his league’s relationships with gambling companies [who can provide real time data analysis] help the NBA look for signs of “irregularities, just like the New York Stock Exchange can monitor insider trading.” If betters have to register in a regulated space, and their bets can be seen in real time, it will be easier to flag—in real time—problems like match-fixing.
Holding Their Hand Close? Hedging?
The inevitability of sports wagering and the staggering revenues it yields are especially compelling reasons for rational sports industry stakeholders to support the legalization of betting in the U.S. There are signs that this is the future major league sports are vying for, whether or not stakeholders will fully admit it. As the ESPN program pointed out, the leagues are investing in companies with strong ties to sports betting. For instance, the NFL has partnered with (and become a stakeholder in) Sportradar US, an American subsidiary of Switzerland-based Sportradar AG, which provides sports data to bookmakers in Europe and Asia. The NBA recently invested in FanDuel, which later acquired numberFire, a daily fantasy and sports betting analysis provider. And MLB recently partnered with Sport Integrity Monitor, whose parent company sets odds for foreign bookmakers.
Jeff noted these investments show that sports leagues are no longer truly adverse to wagering: “If you take an equity interest in a company that’s running lines on the games that your teams are playing, then you must have gotten over that issue.”
Regardless of what’s going on in the background, in the foreground these days are conflicting messages, such as major league’s opposition to legalized sports betting in New Jersey (a lawsuit is currently pending in federal court). Perhaps the leagues are trying to hold their hand close, as state attorneys general across the country are looking into the legality of daily fantasy sports. Perhaps the leagues are merely hedging their bets by their investments. In the end, if it’s a numbers game, we suggest you put your money on Silver.