The NFL is warming up to gambling on their football games
There was no giant press statement issued on the NFL Network. No breaking news announcement or special briefing for the media. But calling the most surprise sneak play since the memorable Philadelphia Eagles 'Philly Special' in the 2018 Super Bowl, the NFL "unofficially" embraced U.S. legalized sports betting this week. Just don't dare ask them nor their hugely unpopular commissioner Roger Goodell to admit it in those exact words.
The NBA proactively lobbied for nationwide sports betting before PASPA (the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act) was repealed by the Supreme Court in May 2018. It was mildly followed by the NHL and Major League Baseball who joined along thereafter in support. But, not the NFL, who remained folded-armed, stubborn against U.S. legalized sports wagering since at least 2012. Still, the key question wasn't IF a change of policy was going to happen but WHEN.
More important, what took them so long? Still, no better time than the official opening of NFL football season in three weeks. This coincides with a half dozen U.S states coming on board soon with brand new sportsbooks and online wagering options.
The X's and O's
According to a press release, the NFL and Sportradar, the world’s leading provider of sports data and content, this week announced an expansion of their existing partnership, which will license the distribution of NFL official league data and content to more fans around the world.
Since 2015, Sportradar has been the NFL’s exclusive distributor of official play- by-play statistics, as well as the NFL’s proprietary Next Gen Stats (NGS) player tracking data to media outlets. The original partnership included the creation of Sportradar's research platform, Radar360, which is used by the NFL, its member clubs, and media outlets.
The renewal promises to expand upon the existing partnership, including exclusive distribution of real-time official play-by-play data and NGS data to sports betting operators in the U.S. and internationally where sports betting is legal and regulated. Official licensed data will improve the speed and accuracy of NFL data and enhance protections for consumers. In addition, Sportradar will now have the right to distribute live audio-visual (AV) game feeds to sportsbooks in select international markets.
The NFL will also use Sportradar's integrity services to monitor betting across all NFL games (preseason, regular season, and postseason). The NFL and its clubs will also have access to Sportradar's integrity education workshops and products to ensure the continuation of the NFL’s high standard for integrity.
The High Cost of Integrity
The NFL's high standard for integrity truly means 'the high COST of integrity'. And what it’s going to cost their casino and affiliate partners to use the mined data from Sportsradar. A bit of history first:
When PASPA was initially repealed, the NBA and their foresighted commissioner aggressively tried to enforce a 1% integrity fee upon associate casino partners as a tax for bettors wagering upon their game. It was met with universal denial by all parties including several legislative bodies in various states looking to legalize sports wagering. One percent was simply too much of a burden upon return on investment within a gambling segment already known for narrow profit margins.
Enter data fees as a cleverly disguised way to obtain excellent profit for the leagues with their explanation of a benefit and value. This way, the major media networks (ex: ESPN, Fox, etc.) receive a giant menu of stats and data for their sports wagering audience. The casinos and wagering outlets also receive ancillary marketing research data from the NFL (also for the NBA, NHL and MLB).
The big gray area is do any of their contract affiliates have a choice whether they do or don't want to pay for this service. Short Answer: NO. It will be the cost of doing business and likely will only become more expensive as legalized sports wagering expands throughout the States. And most certainly, will increase, as in-play wagering becomes more part of a U.S. bettor's daily habits as it's become for Europeans over the past five years.
The "protection for consumers" aspect means that the more light is on wagering trends and statistics, the lesser chance for fraud or any in-proprietary action upon the game. Ex: not simply the result of an entire game, but even a specific play to come under question. So sad we may think that Antonio Brown intentionally dropped a first down pass involving a suspicious wager pattern. Please let’s not have Instant Wagering Review added to NFL rules. Geez.
Great News for Al Michaels
What remains to be seen is whether CBS and other prominent networks that broadcast NFL football like Fox, NBC and ESPN will revamp their on-air policy on sports betting. CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus staunchly said before last season's Super Bowl that "our policy is we don’t discuss gambling information." On Tuesday, upon the NFL/Sportsradar deal he signaled a major softening of that hard line and a likely change of policy.
"We’re still talking about it," McManus says. "We have not formulated our plan yet, but it’s under discussion and we’ll have a plan, obviously, by opening day." Look for at least point spread and game total betting innuendos to creep into NFL telecasts this season. We all fondly recall legendary announcer Al Michaels teasing us late on many past 38-7 type Sunday and Monday Night Football telecasts "don’t fall asleep yet, this game isn’t OVER yet".
Only the First Quarter
All agree the NFL stands to gain the most from any sports betting partnerships and put significant pressure on affiliates. This initial deal is only the beginning and something that was waiting to happen. Like the NFL RedZone, the league will sugarcoat it with purpose to provide their fans significant ancillary information to make the game more enjoyable for all. But we all know the real reason why we came to the dance. Here’s hoping they don’t make us pay extra for it.
Glenn Greene covers the games from a betting angle every week exclusively at OSGA.com. For weekly betting insights, including previews and picks from Glenn, click here.