In his final conference round-up from G2E, Scott Longley reports on the NBA’s aims for sports betting and how the importance of mobile tech in building viable wagering markets for individual states cannot be ignored
Fostering innovation in betting and generating a truly authentic product for the sport’s fans was one of the central reasons for the NBA to take a non-exclusive data route according to league’s head of fantasy and sports gaming.
On a panel at the Sands Convention Centre on the last day of G2E 2019 discussing the approach to partnerships between the leagues and betting operators/suppliers, Scott Kaufman-Ross, senior vice-president and head of fantasy and gaming at the NBA, said the league had approached its data deal “differently” from other deals.
The NBA signed up to data distribution deals with both Sportradar and Genius Group and had subsequently announced significant partnerships with William Hill, FanDuel and MGM.
“We didn’t go exclusive because (the non-exclusive route) fosters innovation,” he told the audience.
“We know a lot of our fans are choosing sports betting as a way of engaging with our brand. We want partnerships with all the licensed operators, to create a much more authentic product. We had the opportunity to create a lead role.”
He added that that would bring differentiation from the offerings available on the offshore market. “Fans want an authentic experience,” he said.
Kaufman-Ross also suggested that the greater amount of partnerships with operators over official data provided an integrity angle as well. Taking a more circumspect line than was expressed earlier in the week by Gary Bettman from the National Hockey League (NHL), he suggested that “one of the benefits of a legal market is the transparency.”
“But sports betting doesn’t come without risks and that is why partnerships are important,” he added.
He added that sports betting content should also be looked at in moderation. “We need to think about sports betting content as a pull rather than a push,” he said. “It might not be the primary focus. There needs to be that balance so that it is not too front and centre.”
Still, also on the panel was Mike Morrison, vice president of business development at ESPN which is in the process of setting up a dedicated, state-of-the-art Las Vegas-based broadcast studio, a first for the station.
He noted that “it feels like (sports betting content) has always been there” in its broadcast content because it “allows you to tell a different part of the story.”
He added: “It is super exciting. The angles that come out of this. It appeals to the broader fan. This is a fast developing space.”
Keeping it mobile
The rollout of mobile betting was the subject of the last panel of the week. David Briggs, chief executive from GeoComply – which has been showing all week the extent to which its technology can track players in real-time – pointed out that unless states were willing to allow mobile betting they would be leaving a lot of the potential market untapped.
Pointing out that in markets such as New Jersey and Pennsylvania the percentage of revenues now generated by mobile was reaching 70%, he said that the only obstacle to it being the dominant channel for sports betting in the US was regulatory.
“Where there is an impediment – such as in-person sign-up or perhaps less advanced in-play offerings – (the regulated sports-betting revenues) just disappear. It is pretty much the whole market – you can’t ignore it.”
Pointing to the arguments put forward by many opposed to sports-betting on the potential for cannibalisation of land-based gaming revenues, he said there was no proof in any market that this has ever been the case.
“I have yet to see any impact,” he said. “I think the reality is that there is no data to support that argument. It is more a question of what stakeholders want to get out of this business. Having a monopoly on land-based will work for a casino. But (from a states’ perspective), if you don’t go mobile, you will be at 5-10% of the market opportunity and you will only take back a fraction of the offshore money.”
He noted that particularly in states where there was a neighbouring state with mobile betting, the chances were that the customers would find a way to travel in order to place a bet.
“If you have neighbouring states with mobile, then all that tax paying money will go elsewhere,” he said. Echoing comments from former new Jersey Governor Chris Christie earlier in the week about New York sports-betting customers travelling over the George Washington Bridge in new York to bet in Newark, he said the “patchwork quilt” of sports-betting regulation “makes no sense.”
“New York has left a lot of the money on the table for New Jersey,” he said. “New Jersey is buoyed up by money from neighbouring states.”
Just this week, New Jersey announced record-breaking sports betting revenue and turnover figures, Briggs said this must indicate that the regulated market in that state at least was taking money away from the offshore market.
“A market will only sustain a certain amount of sportsbook business and in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania they are taking in significant turnover,” he said. “I find it difficult to believe the illegal market hasn’t seen a significant drop in play in those states where they have full mobile. But elsewhere, if it isn’t mobile, it won’t have had any major impact. The betting money didn’t come from nowhere.”
The next challenge for geo-location providers such as GeoComply will come in the District of Columbia which is not only very small – juts under 70 square miles – but also features a web of federal buildings and land where, according to the new sports betting regulations, betting cannot take place.
“It will be an enormous challenge but it is exciting,” he said. “We will make it work. Every team owner who goes to the Nationals and goes back to their state will be saying ‘I want this too’. There will be no better showcase for our industry. No one will make any profit from it but it is a showcase.”