Jersey Boys Reflect On NFL’s Sportradar Deal And Change Of Heart On Sports Betting

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“I want a vig!” was former New Jersey state Senator Ray Lesniak’s classic, joking reaction to news Monday that the NFL had reached an agreement with Sportradar to offer real-data time to interested sportsbook operators.

Lesniak, speaking of the classic “vigorish” that is the house’s cut on losing bets, noted that such a deal would not have happened without the work he and others did over nearly a decade. That work ultimately led to the U.S. Supreme Court last year overturning a 1992 federal law that kept all states except Nevada from offering sports betting.

Now that nearly a dozen states are in on the action, the NFL — the most resistant of the four pro sports leagues involved in the lawsuit — has decided to join the party.

The NFL has been a partner, and investor, in Sportradar since 2015, offering play-by-play to media outlets. The new deal will offer sportsbooks other information that would be valuable to those books that want to expand their offerings for in-game betting, an option that has proven to be wildly successful in pioneering states such as New Jersey.

There have been numerous agreements reached in the past year between gaming companies and sports leagues, mostly muting the former “integrity fee” controversy in which the leagues wanted a revenue stream from the sportsbooks to help defray the expense of putting on all the games used in the gambling.

That was met with widespread, aggressive resistance. But this in-game data has proven alluring to sportsbook operators.

(No) surprise, (no) surprise

“I’m not surprised at this deal,” Lesniak told NJ Online Gambling on Monday. “The NFL was always in it for the money — they just wanted a piece of the action. The integrity fee idea blew up in their face, but now they’ll reap the benefits they wanted all along.

“This is a league that plays multiple games in Wembley Stadium in England, where fans usually bet at kiosks right in the stadium,” Lesniak added.

Monmouth Park racetrack operator Dennis Drazin, who along with Lesniak played a central role in the multi-year sports betting saga, had not heard the news.

“Well, I’m not surprised,” Drazin said. “The Supreme Court’s ruling is a windfall for all the leagues, and it should have happened a long time ago.”

Asked if he, like Lesniak, wanted to quip about seeking a share of the profits, Drazin replied, “I’ll leave that one to Ray.”

The partnership with Sportradar comes on the watch of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who, like other commissioners, insisted under oath in 2012 that nationwide permission of legal sports betting would cause serious financial harm to each league.

“If they believed that in 2012, they shouldn’t have a different philosophy now,” said Drazin.

NFL sentiments then and now

Goodell said in his deposition that “gambling would be no. 1 on my list” of threats to the integrity of his sport.

In his formal declaration that year in the New Jersey sports betting case, Goodell said, “Because of the threat to the goodwill and integrity of NFL football, and to the fundamental bond of loyalty and devotion between fans and teams, the NFL has repeatedly and consistently been a leading opponent of legalized sports gambling.”

Another NFL executive, Lawrence Ferazani, said in his deposition, “If the NFL believes that sports gambling would allow it to increase its revenue, the NFL would engage in that activity. Based upon our studies and analysis, we know that it will negatively impact our long-term relationship with our fans, negatively impact the perception of our sport across the country.”

But in this new era, the league’s press release stated Monday, “The NFL will also use Sportradar’s comprehensive and award-winning integrity services to monitor betting across all NFL games (preseason, regular season, and postseason). The NFL and its clubs will also have access to Sportradar’s integrity education workshops and products to ensure the continuation of the NFL’s high standard for integrity.”

The deal, of course, comes just in time for what figures to be a robust sports betting season on the NFL.

The American Gaming Association last summer estimated that “the National Football League’s (NFL) annual revenue may increase by $2.3 billion a year due to widely available, legal, regulated sports betting.”

That figure would include “revenue as a result of spending from betting operators on advertising, data, and sponsorship, and revenue generated as a result of increased consumption of the league’s media and purchasing of products.”

Photo by Christopher Hanewinckel / USA Today Sports

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John Brennan

John Brennan has covered NJ and NY sports business and gaming since 2002 and was a Pulitzer Prize Finalist in 2008, while reporting for The Bergen County Record.

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