This week, the US Supreme Court struck down a federal law that banned sports gambling, paving the way for the legalisation of an industry already worth a reported $150bn per year.
The impact will be felt in a huge way across the US sports industry and its major leagues including the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL.
Gambling in the UK is thriving, particularly the sports betting industry which grew 11% year-on-year last year. So, the question is, will sports betting have the same impact in the States and if so, what could the US expect to change?
Success for the sports betting and sports industries go hand in hand. The more people that have a vested interest in your sport, the better for the rightsholder, the more interest in the sport, the more custom for the bookmaker.
Media consumption is undoubtedly changing but whilst sport audiences may be cutting their cords and moving to OTT platforms, fans will always find a way to tune in to watch the game if they’re on the cusp of a big win (or big loss!).
Whether you’re one of the ‘big four’ US sports leagues or a challenger league / club, this offers new and unique opportunities. Whether the NFL or MLS, new audiences will be attracted to new sports across the country as both industries continue to thrive.
Betting is ubiquitous with sport in this country, especially football. Betting brands are everywhere, from shirt sponsorships, to perimeter advertising and TV ads. 45% of Premier League teams now have bookmakers as main shirt sponsors.
The top US sports leagues have historically been far more cautious with their sponsorship models regarding kit and owned IP. NFL teams have zero sponsors on their jerseys, whilst this season marked the first time NBA teams began adding (small) sponsor logos onto their kit.
Will we start seeing betting brands emblazoned across our favourite NFL and NBA team jerseys from next season? Will the MLS be rebranded as the “Paddy Power Major Soccer League”? Highly unlikely in the short-term, but the sponsor bandwagon will only increase.
In the meantime, be sure to expect to see bookmaker ads slowly replacing the endless hot dog and pizza ads on the major networks such as FOX, NBC and CBS. Even Ray Winstone might finally be able to break the US in a way some of our finest exports such as Oasis and Robbie Williams were never able to.
With many bookies now offering over 500 betting lines on a single football match, an influx of tipsters on social media channels and betting experts dominant in national newspapers, bookmakers are entrenched into our live experience.
Meanwhile, much more so than in this country, fantasy sports are a big part of the US sports experience, and stats are everywhere in US sport. Network coverage continually tells you who the best performers are in the relevant fantasy game, while OTT services can be personalised to tell you exactly how members of your fantasy team are doing at all times.
Whether all this data starts to be used for betting purposes remains to be seen but certain US sports do lend themselves to it. American football and baseball, given their stop-start nature and the sheer amount of data collected at every second, could provide bookmakers with countless opportunities to engrain themselves into the US sport live experiences.
If a single Premier League match could have over 500 betting lines, who knows how many a single baseball game could.
A new and untapped market of this size will of course come with its own issues.
College basketball is one of the most heavily backed sports in Las Vegas and in the underground market, but that’s had consequences. The NCAA has had to deal with many ‘point-shaving’ scandals in the past and without proper regulation match-fixing could easily become a significant issue, especially in college sports where athletes aren’t paid at all, or minor leagues where the pay is minimal.
With opportunity comes risk, of course, and caution must be exercised. Regulatory issues will have to be figured out, but they will, over time. It will take many years before the full ramifications of the Supreme Court’s ruling on Monday are fully felt in the US.
Whether the US simply has to look at the UK and the Premier League on what to expect depends on whether the major US sports leagues open themselves up to bookmakers as much as our football leagues and broadcasters have done but be sure that this landmark ruling will greatly alter the US sports industry in one way or the other.
For many fans this was long overdue. The excitement of US sports fans who will now have another layer of excitement to add to their sports consumption was immediate following the ruling and I can’t wait to see how it shakes up our beautiful games.