The National Football League has signed sponsorship agreements with three gambling companies, the league’s first foray into legal sports wagering and the latest sign of the industry’s rapid growth in the US.
The American football league has contracted with Caesars Entertainment, DraftKings and FanDuel to operate retail and online sports books — where state law permits — making use of NFL media, logos and data.
The sponsorships were worth nearly $1bn over five years, according to a person familiar with the matter. The deals do not preclude other operators from accepting bets on NFL games.
The agreement marks an about-face for the league, once a vociferous opponent of legalised sports gambling. In 2012, the NFL and its peers sued the state of New Jersey to halt the practice, saying betting “would irreparably harm amateur and professional sports by fostering suspicion that individual plays and final scores of games may have been influenced by factors other than honest athletic competition”.
Renie Anderson, the league’s chief revenue officer and executive vice-president of NFL Partnerships, told the Financial Times that the evolution in the league’s thinking follows “the evolution of all things consumer, of all things fans are doing and how their behaviour is evolving. We follow the fan where they are.”
The growth of US of sports betting industry was enabled by a 2018 Supreme Court decision that struck down a federal ban on the practice. It has gained momentum as cash-strapped states look for new tax revenue during the pandemic.
Arizona became the 27th jurisdiction to adopt legal sports betting on Thursday, a week after New York became the most populous state to approve mobile sports wagering.
While some NFL clubs had struck sponsorship deals with gambling operators, the league had been happy to wait on the sidelines until now, said Anderson.
“We aren’t driving sports betting, the states and the government is,” she said. “We are coming behind . . . we didn’t start it, but we want to make sure it’s not something we are blind to.”
Terms of the league’s agreements with its gambling partners did not currently include provisions for equity or revenue sharing of wagers placed on NFL games, Anderson said. That is because the industry is growing so fast, and the league is dealing with different state laws and regulations on gambling.
“The space is complicated,” Anderson said. “It’s not like [sponsorship categories like] beer or autos, sports betting is not traditional at all.”
The NFL is the most-watched US sport, and the move is likely to boost the rapidly growing domestic market for sports betting, which amounted to $7.8bn in the first two months of 2021, up 90 per cent from last year, according to the American Gaming Association. Bets on February’s Super Bowl totalled $500m, up 70 per cent from last year, it said.
Leagues, broadcasters and gambling operators are looking to sports wagering to improve fan engagement, particularly in an era of cable cord-cutting and declining ratings.
“The way fans consume sports years from now will look drastically different,” said Jason Robins, chief executive of DraftKings. He said the collaboration with the NFL “will ultimately enhance both the product on the field and on the screen”.