Sports betting and content creation often go hand-in-hand when intertwined in conversation, with the two developing a mutually beneficial relationship in recent years.

Speaking at this week’s Betting on Sports America – Digital on a panel entitled ‘The changing relationship between Sports and Betting’, which was sponsored by SportsContentCo, panelists discussed how betting operators can grow sports franchises through partnerships, whether it be the English Premier League (EPL), the National Football League (NFL), the National Basketball Association (NBA), golf or even lesser-recognised sports such as lacrosse.

Christian Henze, Head of Strategy at the Premier Lacrosse League, earmarked betting sponsors as an ‘unbelievable opportunity’ for the newly-formed division, which launched its inaugural season in 2019. The league debuted its ‘bubble tournament’ during the COVID-19 pandemic, which significantly increased engagement levels in the sport.

He explained how betting streams can enhance the league’s video-related content: “One thing that we’ve really been noticing is the popularity and growth of streaming. With streaming comes technology that allows for customisation, whether that’s multiple different broadcasts or different things that you’re seeing. That then provides a really great growth opportunity for sports betting to evolve in a natural way.

“We were one of the first sports back and one of the first team sports that people can bet on, which I think certainly helped us, Professional lacrosse hasn’t been as popular as NCAA historically and with not a lot going on, we’ve grabbed a lot of interest from people who love NCAA lacrosse but haven’t given professional lacrosse a chance.

“We were starting to kind of key up our conversations with betting operators right as the pandemic was hitting and we’re probably on the far end of where people are with broadcast integration, having live betting lines featured on broadcasts for all of our day arcs. Our last two games that we had betting lines feature for all of our games.”

Panel host and former SVP of the American Gaming Association (AGA) Sara Slone explained how the AGA has helped the likes of the Premier Lacrosse League to boost their revenue and content streams.

“I do get contacted quite a bit by newer entrants, and not necessarily new but sports that are looking to have betting on them in the US, and they’re looking for guidance as they approach the regulatory process and of course, the partnership with the gaming operators.

“Especially during COVID when all of a sudden sports started shutting down and the operators were looking for content then. For the big four sports, it’s a no-brainer for gaming operators to strike deals with the team and the league, but for the other sports it’s a little bit harder,” she said.

HB Sports and Entertainment’s Chief Commercial Officer, Adam Davis, concurred that his firm’s rivals are not betting operators but social media platforms and applications. He also emphasised the need to ‘educate’, but added that there is an enjoyable element to the relationship between betting and sports, which can enhance the experience of watching a team play, whether it be the Philadelphia 76ers or Crystal Palace FC, both of which the conglomerate has agreements in place with.

“I think eventually we have to get to a place where we can directly engage our fans on betting opportunities with the operators because the challenge is the competition and I’m not competing for DraftKings dollars with Chris or Christian. What I’m competing against is Google and Facebook.

“I think that’s the hard thing because sports teams are fantastic at launching brands and launching affinity within our fan bases, but ultimately for all these operators, they need conversion and they need people playing on their platform.

“I think this is so great for sports because of engagement. This is fun entertainment, this isn’t taboo. It isn’t people putting up their house, it’s people who are putting $10 on the team on a game and it becomes their favourite passion point for the next two hours or the next shot or whatever. So I think that the scale becomes by education.”

Golf was also allowed to resume amid the coronavirus crisis due to the non-contact nature of the sport. The PGA Tour’s Vice-President of Media Business and Development Chris Wandell suggested that the pandemic had ‘accelerated’ the organiser’s plans but insisted integrity remains at the heart of sponsorship agreements with betting operators.

He implied that operators can enhance the ethics of the game, citing partnerships with sports data and technology company Genius Sports and IMG Arena as examples.

“We start with our principles being integrity first, fan engagement and development second, and commercial gain third. While we think there is a significant commercial opportunity for The Tour, we want to make sure that as things develop outside the US first and then in the US, that there is no corruption in our sport.

“Official capturing data for golf versus almost every other sport under the sun is one of the most complicated things you can imagine because we’ve got 144 guys playing 18 holes across four days and hitting golf shots at different times. 

“We did a deal with Genius Sports from an integrity perspective and they’ve been our partner for a couple of years, monitoring employees like me, our player base agents and anybody that’s connected to our game to make sure there’s no impropriety going on. 

“Secondly, we did an excellent America deal with IMG Arena to distribute our official data product which really facilitates the most accurate shot by shot in play opportunity for betting both data and some live streaming video.”

Looking to the future, Wandell reaffirmed his belief that the relationship between operators and sports teams should be focused on the ‘product experience’, creating a service that will ‘resonate’ with sports fans.

“Regardless of the sport, most of this engagement is going to be on a phone or tablet, and to create a really compelling experience, everybody thinks of Netflix when you watch your favourite app on a connected TV because the experience is really good,” he continued.

“I think that you can take that experience on your phone and deliver a much richer experience in terms of speed, flexibility, easy to deposit and take out money, as well as engage with the product. In our case, it’s video highlights, the IMG product that comes with a lot of rich data and that flexible user experience that is going to make a difference to sports.”