NFL should just get ahead of the inevitable and embrace sports betting

Nov 28, 2017 3:11 AM

The National Football League is facing myriad problems. Among them is the failure to embrace gambling on its games. That wall of resistance may be collapsing shortly as the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the constitutionality of the federal law that forbids single-team wagering in every state except Nevada.

As has been pointed out to me by an acquaintance whose head has to house one of the best brains in the sports wagering business, the various owners of the sports leagues have become rich because, like it or not, people can bet on the games.

A Supreme Court ruling is expected by June of next year following oral arguments to be heard in early December. The league’s failure to embrace wagering is a major factor in what many keener observers than yours truly believe are a significant number of major problems facing the NFL.

I recommend to your attention an article about these difficulties by Will Leitch entitled “Is this the End of the NFL?” It will soon appear in the print edition of New York magazine and is already online. I’ll summarize his points shortly, but he fails to mention the league’s long-standing resistance to all things Las Vegas and all things related to sports betting as the problem it continues to be.

That really should be added to any list of NFL difficulties.

When it comes to sports wagering the walls are closing in on the NFL as the Raiders re-locate to Nevada in a few years, the National Hockey League has already arrived and numerous team owners representing several leagues are taking stakeholder positions with fantasy sports companies and big data concerns designed to supply instantaneous information to bettors.

At the recent closed-to-the-public groundbreaking for the Raiders’ new home, I wonder if NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was grinding his teeth as the shovel turned the first bit of sand and dirt for the stadium?

Author Leitch notes, “There was a time, not long ago, when the NFL was the most unifying public institution we had. No matter your political or demographic persuasion, the one thing you could find to talk about with someone was football. Richard Nixon and Hunter S. Thompson bonded over football, for crying out loud.”

For those millennials reading this, those of you born in the 1980’s and 1990’s, I trust you know Richard Nixon was the 37th President of the United States from 1969 until 1974. You may not have known he was a huge football fan. Hunter S. Thompson was an American journalist and author and founder of the “gonzo” journalism movement known for its fast moving first-person participatory style (just thought I’d help).

Besides its failure to embrace wagering on its games, Commissioner Goodell, on behalf of the NFL owners, is dealing with the following, as pointed out in the New York article and capsulized by this writer with some additions of my own:

• the public perception that the league has gotten too smitten with its own self-importance;

• the oversaturation of the product with games scheduled at least three days a week all season long, causing many games to lose individual significance;

• a perceived lack of concern for player safety, especially concussions;

• a deteriorating quality of play in games that take too much time to complete;

• too many commercials and network plugs for its own upcoming programming;

• competition from the exponential national and international growth of the National Basketball Association (NBA) with its much greater popularity worldwide;

• the sluggishness to understand and meaningfully address the social concerns fomented by the recent player protests during the National Anthem;

• the high cost of attending a game that now disenfranchises many fans;

• a reliance of public funds to build new stadiums;

I’m sure you have some items you’d like to add to this list.

Perhaps observers such as myself are overdoing the bashing of a billion dollar business that, by any measurement, is immensely successful. However, we are critical of it because it’s part of the fabric of our lives.

We love it, too.

League higher ups must be concerned that these problems are the cause of weak television ratings that are down in 2017 by 5.7 percent.

Perhaps Commissioner Goodell really deserves all the money he’ll soon be making with his reported new contract with league owners worth tens of millions of dollars. If he can solve all these problems, he may be worth hundreds of millions instead.

Be sure and look at Mr. Leitch’s story just to find out more about Bob Costas. I knew something was missing from NBC’s Football Night in America every Sunday. The venerable sportscaster has gone missing from the broadcast and Mr. Leitch has a plausible theory why.

The easiest problem to solve of the ones mentioned above would seem to be an acceptance of wagering on NFL games. The NBA seems to have done it with all sorts of statements that it supports the regulated wagering on its contests.

The NFL would be wise to do the same. Do it right now. Getting out ahead of the issue by meeting it head on is usually the best course.