LAS VEGAS — As US colleges and universities navigate the profitable waters of sports betting partnerships, there are equal parts excitement and trepidation about where the current may take them in the future.
“There are some people leaning in, some people unsure, and some people kind of leaning out,” IMG Arena Senior Director of Sales Brian Clayton said.
There was clearly no consensus among college officials and business executives at Sports Business Journal’s Intercollegiate Athletics Forum presented by Learfield at the Bellagio.
“Some people are calling it a sin category, and some people are calling it an emerging category,” Learfield Executive VP, Business Development Solly Fulp said.
Learfield represents and sells the commercial rights for 180 universities, and 50 of those schools have given the company the go-ahead to pursue a sportsbook partnership, according to Fulp.
“When used responsibly, there is no better fan engagement tool than sports betting out there.” — Matt Holt, US Integrity President & Founder
LSU and Michigan State are among the major US schools already aligned with a sports betting partner after both inked deals with Caesars Sportsbook. PointsBet has partnerships in place with Colorado and Maryland.
“The commercialization of intercollegiate athletics has reached an all-time high on a lot of different fronts,” Ohio State AD Gene Smith said. “Many of us are talking about — for the first time — doing sports betting deals. That used to be taboo years ago, and now many schools are doing that.”
The trend will continue, as will the conversations about how to harness the fiscal power of sports betting for athletic departments while keeping any harmful side effects on campus in check.
“It’s a combination of embracing where we are with sports wagering,” University of Arizona Executive Senior Associate Athletic Director Erika Barnes said. “It gives us a different revenue stream — but also being sure that we are responsible.”
Barnes likened the current revolution in college sports — still very much in its nascent phase — to the introduction of selling alcohol at college stadiums a decade ago.
“We did a little beta testing in the premium seats and then we went to the full stadium concerned about alcohol-related issues in the stadium,” Barnes said. “Now here we are, and it’s about drinking responsibly.”
She added, “Now, I think it’s about wagering responsibly and educating our student-athletes, but we can also unlock opportunities, receive data, and get information about some of our constituents that we’ve never had before.”
Sports Betting: ‘No Better Fan Engagement Tool’
More than $25 billion has been wagered legally on college sports at US sportsbooks since 2018, according to the American Gaming Association.
US Integrity President & Founder Matt Holt works with collegiate conferences, pro sports leagues, and sportsbook operators, helping to ensure there’s integrity through the company’s monitoring services.
“What we’ve seen is — depending on the sport and league — people are 12 to 18 times more likely to watch an event that they have a wager on than one that they don’t,” Holt said. “When used responsibly, there is no better fan engagement tool than sports betting out there.
“It brings in young folks and allows them to be a part of the game. Like anything, we need to make sure we have the right safeguards and monitoring in place. The people that are doing that early are reaping the benefits already.”
Holt works on the basis of 4.5 years of available data since PASPA was overturned. With the likely prospect of sports betting lounges being added in college stadiums and arenas moving forward, U.S. Integrity discovered these types of facilities “have no more heightened risk,” based on the company’s monitoring activity and alerts on potential abnormalities.
“There are no heightened integrity issues,” he said. “It’s just a revenue opportunity, and the fact that those wagers are being placed at a legal, regulated, licensed entity means that the data is available and transparent.”
As with just about anything in the complicated marriage between sportsbooks and schools, there are going to be questions on how best to integrate a sports betting lounge or retail location in a college facility.
IMG Arena’s Clayton noted some of his sportsbook operator clients are taking a wait-and-see approach on in-arena betting locations, but others are forging ahead due to the obvious bottom line. In any case, operators will always have to be careful to avoid inducements to the under-21 crowd on college campuses.
“Do you just open it up and make it (available) to all undergrads — or a big whole section — and there’s wagering taking place?” Clayton said. “I think everybody’s very much worried about that component. Do you do it in an alumni section only, so that it’s clearly above (age)? I don’t know. Will it happen? I would say yes.”