As NFL Kicks Off Strangest Season

After years of playing stay-away, pro teams are embracing sports betting. But will the public embrace the NFL? The NFL opened up last weekend to an uncertain season due the Covid. The American Gaming Association released a study that said 33 million people would bet on football this year. But ratings fell on opening night when two top QBs collided.

As NFL Kicks Off Strangest Season

As the National Football League kicked off its season last week, the most popular wagering sport in America, professional sports have embraced legal sports betting as never before.

On the North Side of Chicago, Wrigleyville, the neighborhood that includes storied Wrigley Field, could soon get another tenant. Along with restaurants and taverns and other shops trading off the Chicago Cubs, a $100 million deal between the team and DraftKings could add a free-standing sportsbook.

Less than 300 miles away, MGM Resorts International, through its BetMGM joint venture, has expanded longstanding marketing relationship with the NFL’s Detroit Lions, with BetMGM named the Lions’ official betting partner. Little more than 1,000 miles to the west, the Denver Broncos have inked partnership deals with three sportsbooks, including the NFL’s first in-stadium betting lounge.

These deals speak to the closer relationship between pro teams and the gambling community, particularly when it comes to sports betting. The marriage of teams and sportsbooks exists is remarkable, as betting was a pariah to professional sport leagues for many decades.

That Chicago may become the first major league baseball city to host a sportsbook in the shadow of its ball park is equally remarkable, given the 1919 Black Sox scandal. the notorious World Series betting scandal involved the Cubs’ cross-town rivals, the White Sox, but still reverberates.

Major League Baseball doesn’t oppose sportsbooks, so long as the facility doesn’t rest within the confines of the ball park. Baseball rules also prohibit teams from requiring a ticket to a game in order to access the sportsbook.

“The Cubs have been in touch with us about this partnership, and they’re abiding by all of our regulations,” said MLB spokesman Matt Bourne.

A sportsbook-restaurant could go into an existing building or a new edifice built adjacent to Wrigley.

“We are thrilled to align with the renowned Chicago Cubs franchise and iconic Wrigley Field to provide sports bettors in Chicago with a revolutionary sports betting experience,” DraftKings North America President Matt Kalish said. “We look forward to working in collaboration with the Cubs, an organization steeped in tradition, and making our presence felt in and around Wrigleyville.”

Cubs President of Business Operations Crane Kenney added, “An increasing number of sports fans want to integrate sports betting into their game experience, and we’re excited to be one of the first to engage in developing a retail sportsbook at a professional sports venue.”

William Hill US has opened sports betting windows at the Capital One Arena in Washington D.C., and is building a full-scale sportsbook at the arena. Illinois sports betting laws permit sportsbooks at stadiums and arenas. The city also has yet to give its blessing to the plan, which may be a tougher sell. The city would not only need to approve the building, new or otherwise, but modify laws outlawing gambling in Chicago, according to the Chicago Tribune.

The partners hope to build an addition that could serve as a year-round attraction, Cubs spokesman Julian Green said. “Having a facility where groups may want to come in and watch the Super Bowl or March Madness, that’s something we could accommodate.”

The Lions-BetMGM deal includes sponsorship of free play games for fans on the team’s mobile app, programming during the team’s broadcasts, digital marketing, and in-stadium promotions and signage. “We’re also looking to have a limited number of partners in this category along with BetMGM in the future,” said team spokeswoman Ellen Trudell.

When Michigan legalized sports betting in 2019, the Lions already had a multi-year partnership with MGM Resorts, including sponsorship of the MGM Grand Detroit Tunnel Club at Ford Field in 2015, Trudell said. MGM Resorts has a 50 percent stake in BetMGM’s parent Roar Digital, while U.K.-based betting giant GVC Holdings owns the other 50 percent.

As with the Wrigley sportsbook oversight by baseball, the NFL has its say.

“The NFL has a set of rules and guidelines for clubs in states where sports betting has been legalized; we are adhering to that,” Trudell said.

What do the Lions get out of it all? A good way to reach fans, both digitally and on the Lions mobile app. MGM is presenting sponsor of Lions Bingo and Lions Perks. Lions Bingo, available on the Detroit Lions mobile app, was introduced during the 2019 season. Fans can play bingo while guessing what plays might happen or statistics achieved during home and away Lions games for various non-cash prizes. New for this season, fans who accurately predict the right sequence of game scenarios will be eligible to win cash prizes and future all-expenses paid trips to visit MGM Resorts properties across the country, according to CDC Gaming Reports.

“We know everyone is eager to get out of their homes and add some fun into their calendars. We are committed to raising the bar in delivering unique and entertaining experiences,” said David Tsai, president of the Midwest Group, MGM Resorts.

Lions Perks was first introduced during the 2018 season and is open to all fans at Lions home games within the team’s mobile app. BetMGM and the BetMGM Sports Lounge at MGM Grand Detroit Casino offer rewards and offers. Guests are encouraged to scan their Lions Perks Card for every merchandise or food/beverage purchase at Ford Field to earn entries into game day specific sweepstakes. Season ticket holders also qualify for Super Bowl and Pro Bowl Sweepstakes when scanning their Lions Perks card for in-stadium purchases.

“We’re continuously seeking new ways to entertain and involve our fans which is especially important during such unusual times; this partnership with BetMGM will provide additional and exciting opportunities to engage our fans,” said Rod Wood, team president.

BetMGM’s Chief Marketing Officer Matt Prevost saw the March opening of the BetMGM Sports Lounge at MGM Grand Detroit as an avenue to develop strong relationships with Michigan’s pro teams.

“We are honored to be the first sports betting partner of the Lions and to offer their fans access to a variety of best-in-class promotions and perks only available on BetMGM.”

The Lions have no plans for a sportsbook in the vicinity of Ford Field at this time, Trudell said. But as the Denver Broncos show, who knows what the future holds.

But the NFL faces some serious issues in the upcoming season. Covid 19 means no fans or a limited amount of fans at NFL games this year. New billion-dollar stadiums in Las Vegas and Los Angeles will sit empty for the season and less than half the remaining stadiums have plans to admit fans in any volume. While few NFL players have come down with the virus, the fear that positive tests just days before games will wreak havoc with the NFL schedule.

Social justice warriors have won the battle of kneeling, and in the process turning off many loyal NFL fans. The opening night game featuring defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs and the Houston Texans, featuring two of the top young quarterbacks in the league, say rating drop 16 percent.

In related news, a new American Gaming Association survey found that 33 million people will bet on the NFL this season, and 20 percent of wagers will come from legal sportsbooks, up 2 percent from last year. Fewer people will bet through pools, family, and co-workers.

Of the adults who plan to bet on the NFL, 26 percent will bet through pools, fantasy contests, and the like, a decrease from 31 percent. 50 percent will bet among friends, family, and fellow co-workers, a 3 percent decline.

The study, from Morning Consult, also found that 42 percent of American adults seem less interested in the NFL season, in part due to political activism, the coronavirus pandemic and the absence of fans in stadiums.

But according to a survey by the American Gaming Association, interest in betting on the NFL is at an all-time high.

Approximately 13 percent of American adults plan to bet on National Football League (NFL) games this year despite lower enthusiasm from fans in general about the 2020-21 season, according to a new survey from the American Gaming Association (AGA)

Of the estimated 33.2 million adults who plan to bet on this NFL season:

  • 20 percent (6.6 million) will wager at physical, legal sportsbooks, up from 18 percent last year.
  • 34 percent (11.3 million) will place a bet through legal and illegal online platforms, up from 29 percent.
  • 18 percent (6 million) will wager with a bookie, either in person or via a mobile platform, up from 12 percent.
  • 26 percent (8.6 million) will bet casually through pools, fantasy contests, and squares, down from 31 percent.
  • 50 percent (16.6 million) will bet casually with friends, family, or coworkers, down from 53 percent.

Those who plan to wager on the upcoming season are more enthusiastic than NFL fans overall. Sports bettors are significantly more likely (54 percent) to be excited about the upcoming season than the general population (18 percent), self-described avid and general NFL fans (41 percent), or casual NFL fans (12 percent). The AGA previously found the NFL stands to gain $2.3 billion annually from legal sports betting, largely due to increased fan engagement.

The NFL traditionally drives a significant amount of action from sports bettors, and this year appears to be no different,” said AGA President and CEO Bill Miller“While we’ve known for a long time that bettors are more engaged fans—particularly when it comes to football—continuing to drive them to the legal market is essential for protecting consumers and the integrity of the games they wager on.”

Engagement from sports bettors will prove even more important to the NFL as fans report generally lower enthusiasm for the NFL season. 4 in 10 (42 percent) American adults say they are less excited about this season than last year, citing the increased political activism around the league (36 percent), absence of fans in stadiums (19 percent), and inability to gather with friends to watch games (17 percent) as the main factors contributing to their lessened interest. 

Looking to the Lombardi Trophy, 13 percent of NFL bettors plan to wager on the Kansas City Chiefs to win the Super Bowl, followed by nine percent on the Dallas Cowboys, and five percent each on the Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, and San Francisco 49ers.

“The legal sports betting market continues to grow to the detriment of dangerous, illegal offshore operators. The NFL and its teams must continue to prioritize and act on the shared responsibility to educate customers on regulated markets and responsible gaming principles in order to realize the full benefit of legal sports betting,” Miller added.