With the Supreme Court’s federal legalization of sports betting in the United States, the floodgates have officially opened on a new era in sports.
What was formerly a niche market will now reach a mainstream audience, changing the landscape in which sports are consumed forever. At Hashtag Sports, our mission is to provide a platform for disrupting the media world and fueling the new sports economy—one in which sports betting will play an integral role. The time has now arrived and a (media) gold rush is on the horizon.
Naturally, anytime you have a niche audience with the potential to grow into the mainstream, it will have an impact on advertising and sponsorship. In Europe, especially the UK, sports betting dominates both on and off the pitch. Expect a similar type of effect to happen in the United States, where sports betting platforms will become official sponsors for leagues and teams, and individual players will sign endorsement deals. It’s simply a matter of time.
Although sports betting has received a stamp of approval in the courtroom, the topic is still controversial. Advertisers will have to decide whether they want to lean on the progressive side of the industry or not. However, with a rapidly growing audience and what projects as an alluring demo to reach, the opportunity is enticing. It’s vital that advertisers do not slam consumers with content like DraftKings and FanDuel did for daily fantasy sports in 2015, which lead to a backlash from consumers and policymakers.
As for programming, I believe it will start to align with the opportunity. For some time now, prominent networks such as ESPN (see College GameDay) and Fox Sports (see FS1 live in Las Vegas) have greased the skids in preparation of the legalization of sports betting. These networks and others such as NBCSN are already looking into producing sports betting shows to air in the coming months.
However, media companies will have to be careful with the manner in which they engage. The majority of United States citizens are not sports bettors (they are technically gamblers if you include state lotteries in your definition), unlike the European sports betting market which is established and constantly innovating. As a result, it will be important that media companies do not overexpose sports gambling and real-time sports betting, resulting in the alienation of the everyday sports fan from their channels.
The “good” news for consumers is that media executives and advertisers can only move so fast. With the Supreme Court decision in-hand, each state must now legalize and roll out sports betting and related services. This state-level sanctioning will occur at varying speeds with experts predicting that it will take 3 to 5 years to reach a majority. At that point, the regulated sports betting marketplace in the U.S. could be worth upwards of $15 billion. The resulting effect is that regional sports networks will lead the way with programming and advertising.
Contextual relevance and education are key, given that major cultural shifts and “what’s acceptable” societal behavior simply takes time to transition to normalcy. Media executives need to be careful about the timing and placement of sports betting within their respective programs. Sports betting will change the viewing context for fans.
For example, Sunday NFL Countdown is one of ESPN’s signature shows that airs from 10:00 AM to kickoff during the football season. Over the span of three hours, viewer engagement differs. During a time in which viewership is down during the program, it would be contextually relevant and wise for ESPN to introduce a segment discussing the lines and potential bets for the upcoming games. This would engage an audience of sports bettors and bring in more viewers seeking education from professionals in the industry.
Similarly, ESPN introduced Matthew Berry as a fantasy sports analyst in the heat of the fantasy sports craze. It’s just a matter of time until sports networks implement sports betting analysts on their programs to provide content for fans. I can already imagine the backlash these “experts” will receive when their recommendations go south. Only this time, the stakes will be a little higher.
On the other hand, it would be risky for a mainstream program to talk about whether or not a team fulfilled the over/under immediately after a game when the focus should be on the postgame coverage of the contest itself. Therefore, in order to be successful, it will be essential for programs to establish content balance from the get-go.
The sports industry is excited. Networks, publishers, and you better believe the likes of Amazon, Netflix, YouTube, Facebook, Apple, and Twitch are too. The digital platforms have a distinct advantage to enhance the sports betting experience and live viewing experience with built-in social experience.
Like any form of risky recreational activity, there are real risks. Sports betting can become addictive and detrimental to individuals if used excessively. Today’s Connected Fan—especially the Millennial and Gen-Z consumer—are much more inclined to buy from socially conscious and responsible companies.
It is crucial that stakeholders at all levels, including government and business, educate consumers about sports betting, in order to ensure they engage in an appropriate manner. Companies who lead the charge in this arena will have a competitive advantage in the long run.
At Hashtag Sports, we’re deeply examining sports betting and what’s next at our 2018 conference from June 25-27 in Times Square, NYC. We have only scratched the surface, and I can’t wait to see the impact legalized sports betting has on sports media in the near future.