For those of you having trouble grokking the challenges widespread sports betting will bring to collegiate sports, take a look at this opening Pandora’s Box piece. There’s plenty to unpack there, but I want to hone in on a subject I touched on yesterday, the looming conflict between coaches’ mindset to control information about their rosters and the desire in the market place to access that information.
Clearly coaches and athletes are recognizable figures and they have access to information which can aid gamblers. But, they are not the only ones who might be vulnerable and have access to the same information. We certainly live in a society where individuals are not afraid to leak sensitive pieces of information, at any level of our democracy, and for whatever benefit the leaker hopes to achieve.
Joshua Benton, director of the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University, wrote in a piece on May 14, immediately after the SCOTUS announcement, “the same piece of information can serve different information needs for different people.” In other words, the news that a freshman running back is getting reps with the first team at practice could mean very different things for the team’s fanbase and a bookie.
Citing Anthony Downs’ 1957 An Economic Theory of Democracy, Benton discussed how the ruling moves sports reporting from entertainment information, which is consumed for enjoyment, to production information, which is used to make sound business decisions. But he omits the fact that sports organizations have long been the owners of both entertainment and production information.
Benton asks the question, “Is there a way you can get the folks willing to pay top dollar — the ones for whom the information has real, tangible value — to subsidize information gathering that also benefits a wider audience?” Before addressing his question, we must ask “who are the folks willing to pay top dollar for information?” The easy answer is bookies and gamblers. A more nuanced answer might include fans, boosters and alumni.
For sport organizations, and college athletic departments in particular, providing entertainment information to those groups has long been in their domain. Now, production information grows in importance and, as such, the job of the college athletics communications professional (or media relations professional or sports information director, or whatever they are called) probably just got a lot harder.
As the gatekeepers for all news and information which comes from a football or basketball practice, athletics communications staffers should prepare to be besieged with phone calls from bookies and Tweets from gamblers, all seeking that production information necessary for a sound business decision. For beginners, communications staff might wish to remove their cell phone numbers from media guides. At a minimum, training student workers and staff who might answer the office phone is a first step in preparing for a potential influx of calls… [Emphasis added.]
Digest that paragraph I bolded for a second. If you’re going to be inundated with requests about information that benefits the gambling public, why wouldn’t it make complete sense to monetize access to it, if it’s something that’s also of keen interest to your fan base? And if that information has significant value, won’t that motivate an athletic department to control the flow of that information as tightly as it can?
The SCOTUS ruling guarantees that all information – entertainment and production – will become an even more valuable commodity in the gambling economy. Depending on how conferences and universities are able to monetize the Court’s decision, there may be little incentive for university athletic departments and their communications staff to be forthcoming with any information.
A byproduct of this could be acceleration of reduced access for traditional journalists, something we witnessed last fall at Notre Dame, Tennessee, as well as LSU and Texas. I doubt many coaches would mind if fewer media attended practice, and the threat of information being used for gambling purposes might be the perfect excuse to travel down that road. This does not mean the information does not exist and odds are (pun intended) that it will surface one way or another.
You see the irony there, right? What starts out looking like a threat to coaches’ control turns into an opportunity to try to restrict access even further.
I say “try” there because I think there are forces out there wanting access that have enough clout to force schools’ hands in a way they ordinarily might not prefer.
The speculation is consumer demand for information will alter how broadcasters approach their content. Awful Announcing’s Andrew Bucholtz suggested five ways broadcasting will adapt, including the creation of specialized sports betting-focused shows on networks such as ESPN and increased spreads on ticker scrolls.
You think the SEC is going to tell its broadcast partner to butt out when Mickey puts together its first regular show on betting lines? Surely you jest. Greg Sankey will posture… and then deposit the new check for his troubles. Information may want to be free, but the SEC wants to be paid.