Alliances between sporting teams, leagues and organisations, and betting companies in the US are on the ‘cusp of something extraordinary’, according to industry leaders speaking at SBC Digital North America.
Kicking off the discussion on the ‘It’s a team sport – the role of sports organisations in the sports betting ecosystem’ Nuvei-sponsored panel, Kuljeet Sindhar, Senior Director, International Fantasy and Gaming at the National Basketball Association (NBA), explained why the league was a trailblazer for legalised sports betting.
“We became early adopters as the first need to call for legalisation and regulation of sports betting in the US as a way to protect the integrity of sport and show that transparent betting market,” Sindhar began.
“One of the other things that I think is fundamentally changing the way that fans are consuming the sport with sports betting is how we’re integrating this into the live game. With the NBA Bet stream, we have created an alternate telecast on our lead platform, our direct-to-consumer platform on NBA TV, where we talk about the game through a betting lens.”
However, the values of integrity must underline all commercial activity between the sports and gambling industries, with the NBA placing ‘authenticity’ at the heart of all of its partnerships and sponsorship deals.
“Ultimately, what we want to do across the NBA ecosystem is provide the authentic NBA experience through whatever lens our fans are viewing the game. From our perspective the integrity of the game remains and will always be the most important thing. And with the advent of the digital age we recognised that the perceived threats to our game through sports betting were taking place with or without legalised, regulated sports betting in the US.
“Once we took that view we became early adopters as the first league to call for legalisation of regulated sports betting in the US as a way of protecting the integrity of sport and having a transparent betting market.”
By contrast, the National Football League (NFL) took a more ‘thoughtful approach’ to the acceptance of sports betting partners and sponsors, as Jeff Fernandez, Vice President Business Development and Ventures, New York Jets, highlighted.
Fernandez said: “It started with the integrity of the game, and the brand and the reputation of the league and of the clubs was of high priority and fan engagement and then eventually, the idea of the concept of commercialisation. From a club perspective, we’ve had maybe a little bit less opportunity in the short term, but this is a long game.
“It goes back to this idea of protecting the brand and the concept that a viewing experience or a fan experience could potentially stunt or affect the passion that people have for the game. When they went through the early stages and did all those kinds of focus groups, they started identifying that there are a lot of active rejecters of legalised sports betting.”
“So, to jump in too quickly into incorporating that into a game, it’s naturally going to bring up questions about integrity as we’ve talked about, and people would maybe tune out,” Fernandez added. “I think the league has historically taken a very phased approach to any kind of category, whether it was state lotteries back in the day or spirits or alcohol.”
And whilst the relationship between operators and teams presents a ‘significant opportunity’ from a viewership perspective, according to Robert Davidman, Partner at Slapshot Media and panel moderator, similarly, other sporting organisations have also approached the sports betting category with a modicum of caution.
For instance, NASCAR’s Managing Director of Sports Betting, Joseph Solosky, suggested that the stock racing series has carefully considered the ‘gateway of steps to sports betting’, as opposed to diving head first into the industry.
Joining the discussion, Mustafa Abdul-Hamid, CEO of Boost, emphasised the importance of separating ‘church and state’, with the former basketball player crediting data leaders such as Sportradar for playing their part in providing insights into sports betting for clubs and leagues.
Establishing a difference between the multi-faceted definition of integrity, he added that ‘data integrity’ and ‘integrity and authenticity’ can also take on different meanings.
“From my seat, you’ve got to look at all these different stakeholders that are part of the game,” he noted. “I think data has played a big part in this technology and over the last five decades, that’s been very hard to do but now with technology, it makes it a lot easier to create that firewall between the two things and transparency. It not only gives the league some confidence, but it creates a whole environment, because the whole thing is about participation – it’s not just about the transaction. It’s about the ability to participate in the game right from fantasy sports to sports betting and now we even see NFTs.”
The aspect of sports storytelling and the narrative behind a particular game or fixture was also pinpointed by Abdul-Hamid as the key to unlocking new audiences from an engagement stance.
“You’re trying to create this relationship with the player, with the coach and with the game, and make everyone feel that they’re sitting right next to Steve Nash and the Brooklyn Nets. When they can see and understand the game I think it changes everything. So, bringing everyone into that story is important.
“There’s automation and automated data storytelling, and then there’s the other side of this stuff that’s not automated and you see younger audiences, Gen Z, and what’s happening on social – short video clips and highlights – but if you can bring this experience together, this is why esports is winning right now is because it’s participatory.
“And there’s a way to cut that storytelling piece on the other side, and there’s different experiences on the OTT stream. You all run media, production and storytelling businesses right and the story is just around sports. So, finding a way to tell that story, whether it’s data driven or whether it’s just whether it’s you know anecdotal or this experience tying those two things together, is how you capture the raw emotion of sport.”
The Industry experts were speaking on the Leaders in Sports Betting Track sponsored by Sportradar at SBC Digital North America, which runs from June 9 to 10, 2021. Get your free ticket by registering at https://sbcevents.com/sbc-digital-north-america/