The NFL’s New Game: Embrace Betting Ads, Watch the Money Roll In


Betting has long been part of the DNA of the National Football League. Two of the founders, Art Rooney and Tim Mara, were gamblers.

Rooney funded the early years of the Pittsburgh Steelers with a small fortune that he won at the Saratoga Race Course. Mara, his close friend, was a bookmaker who bought the New York Giants for $500.

For decades, however, NFL officials did everything they could to distance the league from the tens of billions of dollars wagered on its games — legally in Las Vegas, as well as offshore sports betting, in office and bar pools, and at illegal bookmakers. The NFL backed the Law on the Prohibition and Enforcement of Illegal Internet Gambling of 2006 and fought New Jersey’s attempts to allow its casinos and horse racing tracks to take bets on football games.

“We’re trying to do everything we can to make sure our games aren’t gambling vehicles,” Joe Browne, an NFL spokesperson, told The New York Times in 2008.

“We have been accused of allowing gambling because it is good for the popularity of the game,” he added. “If that’s true, we’ve wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars fighting gambling on our games.”

However, what the NFL once sold as a principled booth has recently given way to a much more pragmatic one. As football betting grew in a multibillion-dollar industry and state after state acted to legalize it, the NFL faced a stark choice: to continue fighting gambling on its games, or to embrace it in exchange for a significant cut in funding. casino marketing dollars.

And that money the league once spent lobbying against gambling? This season, the NFL is getting everything back. And then a little.

During the opening weekend, celebrities such as Ben Affleck, Martin Lawrence and Jamie Foxx headlined commercials aired during NFL game broadcasts, where bets were just a click away with a WynnBET, DraftKings, FanDuel or BetMGM account. The NFL Network first included betting lines on the ticker.

Late or not, the NFL’s embrace of gambling is, well, lucrative. Competition and industry experts expect gambling company revenues for the NFL and its teams to reach several hundred million dollars this season.

“Over the next 10 years, this will be a more than $1 billion opportunity for the league and our clubs,” said Christopher Halpin, Chief Strategy and Growth Officer for the NFL.

Just over three years after the Supreme Court passed a federal law banning sports gambling in most states, sports betting is meeting an eager audience. GeoComply Solutions, a company that uses geolocation to confirm that online gamblers are doing so from places where gambling is legal, said it processed 58.2 million transactions in the United States during the NFL’s opening weekend, more than double that. of what it has transacted in the same period. weekend last season.

“We expected high volumes, but what we saw surprised us,” said Lindsay Slader, managing director at GeoComply, based in Canada. “The level of demand in new markets, such as Arizona, indicates that consumers have been waiting a long time for the opportunity to legally place a sports bet.”

The company said the bets came from 18 US states and the District of Columbia. More states are likely to join soon.

New York has approved online betting and is in the process of determining which operators are allowed to take bets. And sports betting measures are being considered in densely populated states like California, Texas and Florida, where sports book operators spend a lot of money to gain a foothold.

“You have to look at the size of the prize,” said Craig Billings, chief executive of Wynn Interactive. “I think this will be the same market as the commercial casino industry in the US, $40 billion a year or more.”

That’s why he hired Affleck to co-direct and star with Shaquille O’Neal in a commercial, and his company has plans to spend more than $100 million on advertising over the NFL season.

“Being part of the in-game broadcast is important — it’s our most popular sport with a core audience of early adopters betting offshore,” Billings said. “It’s a gunshot you have to take.”

WynnBET is hardly alone.

Through September 9 this year, DraftKings spend on national television advertising is up 98 percent from the same period a year earlier, while FanDuel spending has more than doubled, according to estimates by research firm iSpot.TV.

According to estimates from TV ad measurement platform EDO, gambling companies spent a total of $7.4 million on ads during the first week of primetime games, 9 percent more than last year’s opening games on Thursday, Sunday, and Sunday. Monday night.

“The dollars are starting to pile up,” said John Bogusz, executive vice president of sports sales and marketing at CBS Sports.

The network saw a surge in ad interest for NFL broadcasts this year. Bogusz attributed “much” of the growth to sports betting ads.

“Generally speaking, volume has increased across all advertisers, but then there was the addition,” he said. “I think it will continue to grow.”

Dan Lovinger, the executive vice president of ad sales for NBC Sports Group, said on a conference call that the rise of sports betting “was reminiscent of when the fantasy category opened up.”

In 2015, FanDuel and DraftKings spent millions flashing commercials across the airwaves to gain a wider audience for daily fantasy games, with fans paying an entrance fee to put together rosters of real football players to play against the rosters of other fantasy players. .

The flash worked. Kind of.

The campaigns attracted customers, but also the attention of regulators and led to complaints from viewers who were fed up with the repetitive ads. Both companies spent fortunes on lawyers and lobbyists and remained intact to switch to sports betting.

The average amount of actual game action over the course of a three-hour broadcast of an NFL game is approximately 11 minutes. Halpin said the league’s internal survey found that among fans 21 and older, about 20 percent were frequent sports bettors who were mostly young and male, and another 20 percent — mostly women over 55 — were “active rejecters.” goods.

To bridge this big gap and win over the middle class, the NFL decided to limit sports betting ads to one per quarter, along with a pre-game and rest area — six in total per broadcast.

It also largely eschewed talking about odds and spreads during the biggest NFL game broadcasts.

“We must avoid oversaturating the game with sports betting talk or risk alienating fans,” Halpin said. “My mom loves her NFL, but she doesn’t want to talk about gambling.”

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