Major League Baseball players have the right to negotiate promotional and endorsement deals with sports betting companies under the newly ratified collective bargaining agreement.
Previously, only the league and teams could enter into business relationships with sportsbooks and gaming companies. The new CBA allows players to enter into deals typically framed in the sports betting industry as that of “brand ambassador.” In those roles, athletes and former athletes lend their name and likeness to advertising campaigns, and also may make appearances at promotional events for the sportsbook.
Earlier this month, Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers became the first active athlete from one of the four major professional leagues in North America to sign a deal with a sports betting company. The reigning Most Valuable Player in the NHL, McDavid signed on as a brand ambassador for BetMGM Sportsbook. Sports betting is poised to change dramatically in Canada when privately-owned sportsbooks launch in the market on April 4.
MLB and the Major League Baseball Players Association finalized the CBA on Thursday, a move that required approval from team owners and union representatives. The CBA will govern the game of baseball for five years, through 2026.
What Brand Ambassadors Might Mean for Baseball
So far, as legal sports betting has spread across the United States, many sportsbooks have made deals with former football players and celebrities. Former quarterbacks Drew Brees and Peyton and Eli Manning have ambassador deals of their own: Brees with PointsBet and the Mannings have arrangements with Caesars.
Former Red Sox slugger David Ortiz, who was recently elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, has signed with FOX Bet, where he promotes that sportsbook brand in his role as a commentator on Fox Sports Baseball broadcasts.
But with the new CBA in place, active baseball players may ink marketing deals with sportsbooks.
Superstars like Mike Trout, Fernando Tatis Jr., and Shohei Ohtani are among the marketable players who might attract a sportsbook. If sportsbooks target the Ottawa market in Canada, they may look at a player like Vladimir Guerrero Jr, who stars for the Toronto Blue Jays.
Brand deals between sportsbooks and active baseball players will mean even more exposure to fans from betting companies, who already have a blanket presence in the game. Many regional television networks are now under the Bally’s brand, and sportsbook commercials are played frequently during pregame and game broadcasts.
The 2022 season will be the first with legal online sports betting in New York, which means fans of the Mets and Yankees will continue to be inundated with advertising from sportsbooks on TV, radio, and online (along with the associated promo offers).
“The game is changing, and [sports betting] is all over the place now. It’s not going away and the league is making money, so why shouldn’t players have the right to do the same?,” a former MLB manager told Gaming Today.
In a news conference Friday, Bruce Meyer, senior director of the MLBPA, said the CBA “allows players to profit from their names and likeness in new ways.”
The allowance for players to have deals with sports betting companies is in stark contrast to a time when MLB briefly suspended former stars Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle from association with the game in the early 1980s for taking jobs with sports betting companies. Then-commissioner Bowie Kuhn said of Mantle’s role as a greeter to gamblers that a casino was “no place for a baseball hero and Hall of Famer.”
The sportsbook endorsement provision in the new CBA comes just days after the NFL announced Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley has been suspended for a year for gambling on league games.
Could Sports Betting Advertising Appear on Uniforms?
The new CBA also permits advertising on player uniforms for the first time, prompting some questions:
Will MLB allow a sports betting company to be one of those advertisers? Or will the league keep sports betting advertising to broadcasts and in-stadium, but off-the-field in nature? How would players respond to sports betting advertising being on the uniforms they wear? How would a player who opposes betting respond?
MLB Still Has Rules in Place Against Betting
Whether an active professional baseball player signs with a sports betting company or not, rules have not changed regarding gambling in the game. MLB players, coaches, managers, umpires, and officials in key positions with teams and leagues are prohibited from betting on baseball in any way.
Each spring, all players in the major and minor leagues are required to attend a meeting that addresses the prohibitions on gambling. Also, the league’s security office has the authority to investigate gambling-related issues.
MLB has removed many barriers previously in place between the game and sports betting companies, but remains ostensibly vigilant in safeguarding the integrity of baseball.