This New York Times piece on sports betting and how it will affect viewing has an air of inevitability about it, for one obvious reason: there’s too much money at stake.
Not just on the obvious level of what states and casinos can pull…
“I was talking to some economic development people from Alabama,” says Jack Evans, a District of Columbia council member who introduced a sports gambling bill there that is expected to become law in March. “They were asking how they could raise money. I told them: ‘Put in sports gambling and you can pay off all your debts on the Alabama-Auburn football game alone. One game, Alabama and Auburn. You’d make billions.’ ”
… but also in how creative broadcasters could get in monetizing the product. Here’s one example.
But gambling’s greatest impact, at least proportionally, could come in the new professional leagues it spawns and the moribund ones it helps to resurrect. The Arena Football League once included 19 teams spread across the continent; last year there were four. Leonsis owns the Washington and Baltimore franchises, which makes him not only the most powerful owner in the league but the only person preventing its demise. He has positioned it as an ideal entertainment vehicle for the next generation. That includes gambling, of course. Arena Football averages a touchdown every six plays, Leonsis notes, as well as 98 points a game. “Lots of data generated,” he says — and a multitude of possible bets.
Greater than $30 billion has been bet legally on football since 1992, according to the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. That’s about 50 percent more than on basketball, and double the amount bet on baseball. Leonsis wants to expand the A.F.L. to six franchises, and eventually to 12. But his vision mandates a network partner that will market the game as the anti-N.F.L.: informal, expressive and gambling-friendly. It doesn’t matter that the league, as currently constituted, has almost no history, he says. Your favorite team will be the one you have money on at the moment.
On a private flight to New York last fall, Leonsis ran through a pitch he planned to show Sean McManus, who runs the sports department at CBS. He envisioned fast-paced telecasts of A.F.L. games on an affiliated sports channel. But as the plane landed in Teterboro, N.J., he confided that he doesn’t believe CBS will end up investing. Its executives are leery of jeopardizing their relationship with the N.F.L., he said, and that’s probably wise. The N.F.L. most likely wouldn’t look kindly on one of its primary partners’ televising another football league’s games. As usual, though, Leonsis was looking further ahead.
“If the N.F.L. is smart, they should want CBS to do this,” he said. “See how far they can take it. Let the A.F.L. be the canary in the coal mine. See what works and what doesn’t work, and then they can pull back from there on their own telecasts.”
Umm… (and I know I’m getting ahead of myself here) doesn’t CBS hold the broadcast rights to SEC football?
It’s coming. Okay, maybe not in that precise format. But it’s coming. (And somebody will sell it as being good for the kids.) It’s coming because we want it.