After sports betting took root in the wake of the 2018 Supreme Court decision to overturn the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, the opposition among professional sports crumbled. The logical extension of that crumbling has been partnerships between sportsbooks and gaming companies, and teams and leagues.
Most of these agreements revolve around marketing, but in some cases involve the sale of official league data. For the pros, the primary benefit of these deals is to enhance fan engagement and to an extent, provide content. For sportsbooks and gaming companies, it is also about engagement—and more customers. In June, Bally’s Corp. inked a deal with the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury.
Bally’s took this symbiosis to the next level with its acquisition of the Association of Volleyball Professionals, the longest-running domestic beach volleyball tour in the U.S. Under the terms of the transaction, Bally’s acquired all the Association’s assets, including trademarks, AVP America promoter agreements and recurring membership revenue, digital photo and video resources, and all proprietary tournament and league management software.
Donald Sun, the former owner, and CEO of AVP, said, “Forming a new relationship with a forward-thinking partner like Bally’s offers the opportunity to develop a roadmap that will grow the sport, expand its footprint and provide new resources to better elevate the game and its athletes.”
This move is not a surprising one, said Josh Swissman, founding partner and analyst with the Las Vegas-based Strategy Organization. “It is actually a very strategic play and the latest of many moves by Bally’s in its well thought out plan.”
And as leagues go, it’s a winner. “Unbeknownst to many, women’s volleyball, in particular, enjoys relatively strong viewership throughout the U.S.,” Swissman said.
A large part of the reason for the acquisition speaks to Bally’s deal with Sinclair Broadcasting which rebranded their 19 regional sports network under the Bally’s flag.
“Those networks need content and what better way to create that content than to acquire an entire league,” Swissman said. It’s what differentiates Bally’s from its competition, he said.
“Bally’s portfolio provides us with live sports content and an opportunity to gamify a high-growth sport, and an engaging viewing experience,” said Adi Dhandhania, Bally’s senior vice president, strategy and interactive. “We have the ability to increase distribution for the AVP and volleyball in general.”
The purchase may not be the only one. “Bally’s sees significant value in further developing these types of content relationships. Sports fans are looking for interactive engagement with their favorite teams and gaming companies, such as Bally’s,” Dhandhania said.
At AVP tour events, fans will be able to participate in a poll, trivia, a quiz, and other interests. Or try their luck, skill, and knowledge about the sport for a chance to win a prize or a ticket to the next game or the ability to have dinner or get your picture taken with one of the players. “It’s all about having fun and we want to bring that experience to fans both at home and in the arena so they can interact with the AVP,” Dhandhania said.
Content increases viewership and ultimately can increase customer counts back to their properties, Swissman said.
While the future volleyball schedule remains to be developed, Bally’s is focused on the three Gold Series events in place this summer. The AVP will kick off its 2021 AVP Pro Tour in Atlanta, from August 13 to 15.
“We are eager to see a full tour resume in 2022 and are energized about what we have put together for our athletes, fans and partners,” Dhandhania said. “Given Bally’s expansive portfolio of brick-and-mortar casinos, we do plan to eventually host future volleyball events at or around our properties, including the beach at Bally’s Atlantic City.”
The acquisition of the volleyball league could send other gaming companies “scouring the professional sports landscape to see what other leagues may be available for purchase. While I am sure that some exist, there aren’t many that would integrate as strategically,” Swissman said.
Groups like the LPGA or leagues like the WNBA are probably too big and complex for such an acquisition, he said.
For Bally’s, wagering is not the reason for the purchase, but it may come into play at some point, Swissman said. “Should sports betting enter the picture in the future, owning all that league data can’t hurt.”
On the flip side, could there be a potential conflict of interest for a casino company with a sportsbook owning a professional league?
New Jersey law addresses such a conflict. According to the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement, state law prohibits direct or indirect owners with 10 percent or greater interest in a sports governing body or its member teams from placing or accepting wagers on a sports event in which any member team participates.
“Based on the information as we know it today, if Bally’s sportsbook purchases the AVP, it and internet sportsbooks that operate through certain partnerships with Bally’s would be prohibited from taking wagers on AVP events,” said DGE spokesman Leland Moore.
Bally’s Atlantic City operates a retail sports lounge at the casino, in partnership with FanDuel. Therefore, the retail sports wagering at Bally’s cannot take wagers on AVP games, Moore said. (When Bally’s operates online sports betting, further restrictions will occur.)
But a sportsbook like DraftKings is not banned because it has no contract with Bally’s. “FanDuel has a separate contract with the Meadowlands to operate online and retail sports wagering. FanDuel Meadowlands is not banned from taking wagers on these events.”
But that leaves eight other casinos in Atlantic City alone where customers can place a bet. And dozens in other parts of the U.S.
“Very few entities are as highly regulated as gaming operators. On top of that, their whole business model is built on integrity and players’ trust. These factors should eliminate any perceived conflicts,” Swissman said.