SBC Summit: Leagues now embrace partnerships with sports betting operators

May 13, 2024 1:47 PM
Photo: CDC Gaming Reports
  • Rege Behe, CDC Gaming Reports
May 13, 2024 1:47 PM
  • Rege Behe, CDC Gaming Reports

Before the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) was repealed in 2018, the idea of a team or league creating a partnership with a gaming operator was anathema. Even after PASPA was repealed, leagues were reluctant to fully engage in sponsorships with sportsbooks or any entity that even hinted at gambling.

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Those days are in the past. Now, almost every professional league and team has a sponsorship deal with a sports betting operator.

But that doesn’t mean those partnerships are without conditions.

“Integrity, in everything we do in betting, is our number one priority,” said Major League Soccer Director, Sports Betting Phil Valente last week during the SBC Summit North America at the Meadowlands Expo Center in Secaucus, New Jersey. “We want to work with a variety of organizations across the industry, including regulated operators. (Integrity) is always the foundation of any partnership or relationship. And on top of that, sports betting is a great fan engagement vehicle. It can help create new fans for a sport or for a league, but also for your existing fans and allows them to engage deeper with a match, with a team, with a club.”

Valente spoke during the panel session “A League of Their Own: The Biggest Media Partnerships.”

Lauren Dwyer, WNBA Senior Director of Growth & Innovation, agreed that integrity and player protection are paramount when leagues forge partnerships with sports betting operators. Dwyer also mentioned that having multiple partnerships in the sports betting space helps the WNBA.

“Promotions around some of our tentpole events will really shine a light on everything that’s great about the WNBA,” Dwyer said. “And then from there that opens up the ability to do team deals. So, we look at that from a national and international landscape, and with the league deals and at the team level you go deeper in those states where a sportsbook is live and engage those fans on the ground, too.”

The outlier on the panel was Betr. The company’s Head of Content Development Jake Strasser said the company’s lack of partnerships with leagues or teams was purposeful, that Betr instead wants to build a community of sports fans and bettors that celebrates “the ups, the highs and lows that unfold, and doing that through all original content.”

Strasser said that original content allows Betr to better foster a community that allows faster and more immediate marketing of the company’s products through its app.

“We started with Jake Paul, who’s the face of the media side, and obviously a massive talent in his own right,” Strasser said. “We’ve deployed this beacon strategy that I like to refer to where Jake Paul is now signaling to the next generation of creators to come do what you do best with Betr.

“We’re pretty selective with the talent we’re bringing in. We call it the Betr family, and I know that sounds like a cliche, but if they’re not having fun creating content together, that bleeds through to the consumer. We have a really good crop of talent who’s creating all this content, and we’re able to weave in our product offerings seamlessly through what they’re doing.”

For smaller operators such as Tipico, it is essential to be selective about partnerships. The German-owned company has a deal with the Columbus Crew of MLS that not only promotes its brand to soccer team fans but also gives Tipico market access in Ohio and legitimacy.

“There’s a very different dynamic between doing a deal that comes with access, which means getting a license to operate in the state, and a deal that’s simply sponsorship, whether that be the NFL, the NHL, the WNBA, whoever that may be,” said Tipico SVP Business Development Steve Krombolz. “When we looked at Ohio and the importance of that state — and it was arguably one of the most important states to launch — it was important for us to have a strong partner that had a strong brand presence and following in the state. Because if it’s a challenger brand that people aren’t necessarily familiar with, the more authenticity you can bring to your product offering by being attached to someone that they know and love is very important.”

Dwyer admitted that the WNBA has been “scratching and clawing” for attention for much of its existence. Building partnerships with sports betting operators has been a boost. Last year was the league’s most viewed season in its 21 years, with a doubling of its sports betting handle via FanDuel.

As this season approaches, with a star-studded rookie class that includes Iowa sensation Caitlyn Clark – who Dwyer referred to as an “accelerant” — bodes well for the WNBA.

“We’re going to continue to grow, and now we’re just going to see how much,” Dwyer said. “It really is the time for brands or sports groups or anyone to come on board at the WNBA and be part of this growth to reach all the new fans who are coming in. We are reaching sports bettors through the sports betting app. They’re betting on the WNBA, and when the NBA season ends, we’re also reaching a lot of new bettors who are fans of the WNBA and want to support  the brands who support us.”