Last month, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver added a new job title — New York Times columnist — to his already impressive resume. In a surprising move, and perhaps a stroke of PR genius, the association’s newest leader penned an op-ed in support of the federal legalization of sports gambling. The piece marked Silver as the first commissioner of the major four American sports to publicly support the legalization of sports gambling. It also furthered his case as the most forward-thinking leader in sports.
In his article, Silver reported illegal sports gambling in the United States to be a $400 billion-a-year industry. For the sake of comparison, the NBA’s revenue was up to a record $4.6 billion in 2013. As discussed in last month’s column, leagues are constantly looking at ways they can innovate their product. In that sense, legal sports betting may be the most effective — and really, the most obvious — answer. But also a tricky one. This is why Silver expertly and openly called for federal reform to legalize sports betting, thus, ensuring that this doesn’t become a state-by-state case — a half-solution that would still make it a federal offense. Even Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban backed Silver’s call for the legalization of sports betting, saying that it will be a reality in “three to five years.”
The timing to discuss this topic is better than ever, as sports betting has reached a point where it is openly talked about in the American sports landscape, possibly more than ever before. Las Vegas lines for NFL games are discussed on SportsCenter. Almost every sports fan is involved in a fantasy league or office pool with financial implications. Offshore sports betting sites are still functional and plentiful. The technological advancements of the last 20 years have ushered in a convenience to sports betting, in some form or fashion that has never existed before.
During all this, there’s been unprecedented growth in a new trend with fantasy sports: daily fantasy sports services. Through companies like FanDuel and DraftKings, fans can construct one-day rosters to compete against a pool of other lineups for a shot at big money winnings. Due to the Unlawful Internet Gambling Act of 2006, these services are exempt and legal depending on the player’s state. Daily Fantasy Sports have been becoming immensely popular, and teams and leagues have taken notice. DraftKings, based in Boston, recently signed team sponsorship deals with the Boston Bruins and New England Patriots. FanDuel also has a roster of team deals that is continually growing, including the Chicago Bulls, Orlando Magic and New York Knicks.
Obviously, the NBA took notice, recently signing a deal with FanDuel, making it the exclusive home of daily fantasy basketball. The NBA also gained equity in the company through the deal and will promote the service across NBA TV, NBA.com, in addition to all of its other broadcast partners.
Daily fantasy sports should of interest to all sports marketers and leagues, because of the increased consumer engagement they offer. FanDuel CEO Nick Eccles claimed in an article with ESPN this month that once a fan starts playing daily fantasy, “their weekly sports TV consumption jumps from 17½ hours to 24 hours.”
Betting on sporting events, legal or not, is going to continue, despite what leagues, owners and commissioners think. Why not manage it? Why not monitor it? Europe is a model to which the U.S. can look, where betting on sports has been legal for a number of years; fans can even place bets at the stadium. It certainly hasn’t stopped European soccer fans from rooting for their favorite club.
Silver’s public support is just the first step in what is sure to be a long process. Still, the support and thinking represents exactly what is needed in today’s 24/7 sports climate: innovation. The NBA is the first to take a step towards the future, looking at how legal sports betting can allow the league to better engage with fans in a new way. Now is the time to place your bets on when other sports will follow suit.