Alliances make strange bedfellows

A few years ago, the news of a professional sports franchise signing on to an agreement with a sportsbook could have caused a corner of the Internet to freak out. Even a couple of months ago, such developments were at least still novel and intriguing.

Today? They aren’t yet a dime a dozen, but these relationships are quickly becoming a common currency in the sports business world.

Just last week, PointsBet announced agreements with the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts and Chicago Bears that will put team logos, marks and other intellectual property within the book’s arsenal to increase brand visibility while offering special promotions and using unique digital assets. DraftKings extended its already existing daily fantasy relationship with MLB’s Colorado Rockies to sports wagering.

PointsBet inked similar deals with the Detroit Tigers and the NBA’s Indiana Pacers earlier this summer, along with the University of Colorado in Boulder and a sweep of many Kroenke Sports and Entertainment properties (the Denver Nuggets, the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche, a National Lacrosse League squad, activities at the Pepsi Center indoor arena and across the group’s Altitude media platforms). DraftKings has other agreements with the New York Giants, Knicks and Rangers, the Chicago Cubs and several sports leagues at large.

All the while, dozens of FanDuel prop bets for each hole of the Payne’s Valley Cup golf exhibition featuring Tiger Woods, Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose were emblazoned among widescreen television shots of the Ozarks in southwest Missouri.

Everywhere you look? Maybe not yet. But such deals are in most consumers’ peripheral vision.

“By engaging in deals like these, we are giving our players a more authentic feel,” said Ezra Kucharz, DraftKings’ chief business officer, in an email to Gaming Today. “It’s part of the fan experience, and we are always looking at new ways to improve this on our platform.”

For PointsBet, another layer of that authenticity resides in giving consumers a personalized experience at the hyperlocal level, said Patrick Eichner, the company’s director of communications. The brand integration draws an initial trust, and then the company’s personally operated technology and bettor-forward focus swoops in to do additional vital work.

“Having the ability to truly cater and personalize our platforms not on a regional basis, but a state-by-state basis, leans into the interests of local sports fans,” he said. “We can position ourselves as the book that has a national product and the large-scale brand trust but one that also understands the local bettor. These partnerships certainly complement those efforts.”

The agreements are a key to strategic spending, Eichner said — the right deals at the right times and in the right markets. Kucharz emphasized that another element of authenticity involves a legal trust in individual jurisdictions. Bettors prefer legal markets not only because of trustworthiness, but because of an ability to work with teams and leagues in an official capacity, he said.

Such synergy has been apparent on both sides of these agreements from where Matthew Holt sits. The founder and CEO of U.S. Integrity, which monitors gaming integrity nationally and provides fraud prevention services through contracts with numerous sports leagues and sportsbook operators, said he believes these arrangements are occurring more frequently because the rollout of sports wagering across more of the U.S. the past couple of years has been largely successful, providing an easier entry point into the space.

The timing of the coronavirus pandemic has expedited this process, too.

“(COVID-19) put a lot of what people were doing on the shelf, not just in terms of lost revenue,” Holt said. “Sometimes, when a bunch of games or other events are canceled, it gives a chance for people to work on projects they didn’t have time for in the past. Suddenly, more deals get done, with lost revenue playing a big part in that.”

Additionally, a state with strong integrity regulations in place opens up parties to more easily enter into these agreements, Holt said. He cited the University of Colorado example as perhaps the most notable example. The state, he said, possesses a data sharing mandate that allows it access to pieces of information such as live odds and line moves.

“Because of that, everyone in Colorado feels secure. The leagues feel secure, everyone watching feels secure, and so do the regulators,” Holt said. “And what we’ve seen is that strong regulation leads to growth in the interest of the product.”

Holt drew a comparison to how an increased regulation of data sharing in the e-commerce and financial services world helped instigate a proliferation of stock trading in the U.S. On the sports wagering front, such normalization could eventually extend into seeing things like betting kiosks in more professional and even collegiate stadiums, among numerous other examples.

“Mostly, consumers may benefit from the fact that, ‘Hey, no college thought betting would be safe enough in this marketplace, but with the regulations that have been put in place, now they think it is.’ It could lend to consumers who may be a bit wary to say, ‘This is probably good enough for me, too,’” Holt explained.

Once that foundation has been normalized, Holt hypothesized that another side effect could be proliferation of betting-focused broadcasts of professional sporting events. A telecast that includes odds overlaid from a variety of books and includes commentators updating odds regularly and describing how plays affect in-game odds of an event has already occurred on a small stage, Holt said. Multimedia platforms such as VSiN are gaining sway in the U.S. landscape, and cable behemoths such as ESPN are developing programming specifically to the wagering world.

Publishing sites are partnering with sportsbooks, as well, with CBSSports.com linking with William Hill and the NBC Sports Group aligning with PointsBet. The time is coming, Holt said, when broadcasts will be offered from both traditional stances and gaming-focused ones.

“It’s safe to say that these things are more than just in the works,” he said.

To that end, Eichner said the NBC partnership is part of mainstream development of legal wagering within the U.S. sports culture.

“This partnership attaches us not only to (NBC’s) consumers, but for prospective partners, it brings validity and awareness to the brand,” he said. “PointsBet’s growth story becomes a little more front-and-center, and down the road, it makes your brand that much more enticing.”