NHL, sportsbook operators happily married

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Once they weren’t allowed to even date. Today, the NHL and the sports betting industry appear to be happily married.

Wednesday, commissioner Gary Bettman took part in a sports betting symposium at the Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas. Not only does the NHL have data and information deals with gaming entities, it permits individual teams to have sponsorships with sports betting companies.

“It’s a whole new world,” Bettman said, alluding to the legalization of the sports betting industry beyond Nevada in 2018. “It’s an opportunity to gain new fans and give our existing ones a chance to further enhance the game experience.”

Joe Asher, the CEO of William Hill U.S. and a participant in the panel discussion which included FanDuel CEO Matt King and Rush Street CEO Greg Carlin, said it’s about giving customers what they want.

“Hopefully, it’s what’s good for the fans,” Asher said. “Not everyone who is watching hockey is betting on it. But most everyone who is betting on hockey is watching it.”

To that end, Bettman is figuring sports betting will be a component in the NHL’s next television deal. The current one with NBC expires after the 2020-21 season.

“Content is king,” Bettman said. “You’ll see more shoulder programming and sports betting will be part of that.

“We think sports betting will increase viewership, which in turn will increase rights fees and increase advertising.”

King said the branding opportunities for both the NHL, its teams and the sportsbook industry can be huge and mutually beneficial.

“Fans identify with brands they know,” King said. “When you see a logo on the boards or on the ice at a hockey game, you can identify with it.”

Asher, whose company has marketing deals with the Vegas Golden Knights and the New Jersey Devils, agreed.

“I think having logos and branding in the arenas conveys a sense of legitimacy,” Asher said. “There were 18,000 people in T-Mobile Arena last night and they saw the William Hill logo each time the Golden Knights took a shot.”

The NHL was the first major professional sports league to put a franchise in Las Vegas. Bettman said it took a considerable amount of education before he and the Board of Governors decided to give Bill Foley a team.

“I always had concerns,” Bettman said about gambling as it pertained to fans attending his league’s games. “I asked, ‘What would it do with sports?’

“When we looked at Las Vegas, we were still concerned (about gambling). But the MGM was involved in the building of the arena and we had an opportunity to work with the MGM. (Chairman) Jim Murren gets a lot of credit for smartening us up.

“And when the Supreme Court ruled that it was O.K. for states to have legalized sports betting, it was no longer up for debate.”

Now, it is growing to where teams are able to have a sportsbook in their own arena. The Washington Capitals have partnered with William Hill for a book at Capital One Arena. Other teams may follow suit, depending on the laws and regulations within their state.

“Why not?” Bettman said. “People bet on their phones now. If we’re going to have sports betting in our arenas, we need the latest technology. We need to get 5G into all our arenas. We have to make it a positive experience for the fans. If you don’t want to bet, that’s fine. But if you do, you want the app to work properly.”

Bettman said the integrity of his game is not an issue right now. And that makes being married to the sports gaming industry easier to accept.

“We’re doing O.K.,” he said. “We’re not having any problems where we’re saying, ‘Whoa, we didn’t see that coming.’” 

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About the Author

Steve Carp

Steve Carp is a six-time Nevada Sportswriter of the Year. A 30-year veteran of the Las Vegas sports journalism scene, he covered the Vegas Golden Knights for the Las Vegas Review-Journal from 2015-2018.

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