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Sports betting advertising has already hit the airwaves in Massachusetts, with sportsbook ads and promotions on both radio and TV. But how much advertising is too much? 

“It’s a balancing act,” Massachusetts Broadcasters Association Executive Director Jordan Walton told the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) Monday during a sports betting advertising roundtable in Boston. “Most, if not all, broadcasters have internal rules as to how many spots for an industry an advertiser can enter next to each other. So I would hazard to guess that most of our broadcasters would continue to follow (those rules) so that you don’t have an MGM, a DraftKings, and a FanDuel spot running back to back.

“To annoy a viewer or listener to the point where they change the channel is exactly the opposite of what our broadcasters want to do,” said Walton. 

It was the kind of reassurance that the MGC is searching for as it looks to prevent saturation of the Massachusetts sports betting advertising market in advance of a late January retail launch and mobile launch in March.

Mass. Law Prevents Ads ‘Disruptive’ To Sports Viewers

Making sure that sports betting advertising isn’t disruptive to viewers and radio listeners is a concern of MGC Chair Cathy Judd-Stein. She said the commonwealth was hit hard by cannabis ads after marijuana legalization in the Bay State. She said sports betting advertising could be more intense.

“I have a real fear that we will be inundated once we stand up sports wagering in a way that Massachusetts may not be prepared,” she said. 

But Monday’s discussion went deeper than any one commissioner’s fears. Massachusetts’ 2022 sports betting law requires that the MGC create regulations that prohibit “any form of advertising, marketing or branding the commission deems unacceptable or disruptive to the viewer experience at a sports event.” 

Broadcasters offered some comfort that there are guardrails in place to prevent exactly the kind of deluge that state lawmakers and Judd-Stein want to ward off. 

Even if Massachusetts licenses 15 or so mobile sportsbooks – as allowed under its sports betting law – local broadcasters only have so much room for advertising. New England Sports Network (NESN) CEO Sean McGrail told the MGC his network limits sports betting advertising to four gaming operators per pro broadcast. 

“We’ve done that very proactively,” breaking ads into different commercial pods to prevent overloading viewers, McGrail said. 

According to Boston 25-TV General Managed Todd Brown, “You won’t see an over-saturation in high-profile sports events on local broadcasters.”

MLB, Other Leagues Look For Balance

As for the leagues, they have limits, too. Marquest Meeks, VP and Deputy General Counsel at MLB, said pro sports leagues don’t want to turn off bettors or non-bettors with an onslaught of ads. 

draftkings, betmgm adds (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Massachusetts sports betting regulators are mindful of a potential onslaught of sportsbook ads (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Meeks said MLB limits ads to 10 per broadcast, including four pre- and post-game ads and six in-game ads – each no longer than 30 seconds. Two additional messages are allowed if they focus on responsible gaming, he said. 

“The goal here with legalizing sports betting and putting it into a regulatory space – and what flows from that is all the transparency we cannot get in an illegal market – is we have to permit enough advertising so that the legal, regulated sportsbook can draw customers away from that illegal market,” said Meeks. “(We want to) achieve that goal and make sure we’re striking that balance.” 

Responsible Gaming Also a Concern

Responsible gaming isn’t limited to additional messaging, either. According to AGA (American Gaming Association) Vice President Casey Clark, responsible gaming should be part of any sports betting advertising. 

Clark, who also participated in Monday’s roundtable, said consumer trends show that 51 percent of consumers last year saw more responsible gaming content last year than they did the prior year. 

MGC Commissioner Brad Hill seemed pleased to hear that broadcasters recognize the need to keep the market free of heavy-handed advertising as the commonwealth edges toward putting multiple sportsbooks online in coming months. 

“The concern that I have … we could potentially have up to 15 companies doing business here in Massachusetts. I would think they’d all want to do some sort of advertising. But I think I’m hearing that … you would never do three (ads) in a row or four in a row and, more importantly, you wouldn’t have space to do that if given the opportunity,” Hill said today. “I’m pleasantly surprised by what I’m hearing.” 

About the Author
Rebecca Hanchett

Rebecca Hanchett

Legislative Writer
Based in Kentucky's Bluegrass region, Rebecca Hanchett is a political writer who covers legislative developments at Gaming Today. She worked as a public affairs specialist for 23 years at the Kentucky State Capitol. A University of Kentucky grad, Hanchett has been known to watch UK. basketball from time to time.

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