The next era for sports entertainment has arrived. With sports gambling beginning to penetrate the US, as state-by-state passes legislation to permit and regulate it, a business is emerging and evolving before our eyes – everyone’s out to get piece of the pie, even as the pie is still baking.
There have been calls for so-called ‘integrity fees’ from the sanctioning bodies of the country’s biggest sports (aka the leagues), there have already been partnerships – primarily around increased data and around logo usage by casinos and sportsbooks, sponsorships – now that teams can seem to freely sign on such sponsors (With some caveats), and yet it feels like we’re barely in the first inning, the first lap, the first quarter, of this game.
Having recently traveled to Europe, it felt a little like traveling into the future – well, sorta. While I didn’t attend a live sports event, and there have been many stories written about betting windows at or near venues where games take place, my glimpse into gambling was thought-provoking now more than ever, given the new state of sports in the US.
But it felt more like the part of Back to the Future Part II where Biff was in charge and not the future with hoverboards and ’90s diners. (Look it up, Gen Z) Here is one of many gambling shops I saw, this from the streets of Rome.
There were live odds posted, about a half dozen TVs showing sports, and a dozen people around – smoking cigarettes, placing bets, and watching and hoping they’d be able to cash out some winnings by the end of the night. Was this the exciting future that the end of PASPA promised? Sure, most betting can and likely will take place via mobile, but shouldn’t a sport betting parlor feel more like a Buffalo Wild Wings than a corner liquor store?
The vision has become even clearer as sports executives in the States, most recently Los Angeles Lakers Owner and President Jeanie Buss speaking at the Sports Business Journal World Congress of Sports, echoed what others have said – that the promise of sports gambling for sports business isn’t all about getting rich off the rake, it’s about the enhancing, amplifying, and growing the engagement for fans.
For years, we’ve focused on building sports business and fostering fans in two ways – emotional investment and awesome entertainment. And now gambling will add a third investment – financial – into the mix. But the magic of sports fandom is all that investment comes together – the awe of watching incredible drama and elite athletes gives way to the emotional attachment to the team and to winning, and now having some actual skin in the game will only enhance the awe and the emotion.
There is arguably no nation better at creating an entertaining spectacle around sports than the US. Gambling is a new element to entice fans to invest – and what could start as a financial investment can beget entertainment, which can beget emotion. Meanwhile, those diehards now – if they have some dollars on the line, too, – they’ll invest even more following and engaging with every game, every player, every play.
Whether fans are going with their guts or poring over spreadsheets, the number of fans cheering or sobbing after a big play or big game and the intensity of the engagement with sports, the future of betting-infused sports experiences is bright.
A so-called black market of bookies and offshore sportsbooks may have emerged in the US over the years thanks to the illegal nature of sports gambling, but it’s a good thing it took this long for legalization. We got good at the entertainment side and the experience side – that’s what sports is for us, and sports gambling can fit right into this ecosystem. Let’s do it the way we know how – not a seedy, quiet place on the street, but an enhancement of the social, communal experience we all associate with sports now. It sounds like a safe bet to me.