Not wanting to leave money on the table, major league execs who previously opposed sports betting are changing their tune, inking partnership deals with nascent sportsbooks and online casinos cropping up across the country.
Online gambling and sportsbook operators have been especially busy in New Jersey, where a flurry of recent iGaming and sports betting deals have provided something of a windfall for a handful of local sports franchises.
As NJ teams rack up extra cash, PA’s seven teams across the four major American team sports are likely looking on and salivating. The Keystone State legalized online casinos, sports betting, and daily fantasy sports just over one year ago, and it appears that the first sportsbooks and online gaming sites are nearly ready to go live.
Once they do, will the throng of new gambling operators prove a boon to Pennsylvania’s pro sports teams?
NJ scores the first goal
New Jersey led the charge in overturning PASPA, the legislation barring full-scale sports betting outside of Nevada. In the suit, it battled against the NCAA, NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLB sports leagues, which argued that legal sports betting would erode the integrity of their games.
Once the case was decided in New Jersey’s favor, however, sports executives began adjusting to the new reality and embracing what could be a big moneymaker for all involved.
Casino conglomerate MGM acted first, scoring a partnership with the NBA in July. The deal will give MGM access to official data and allow both parties to collaborate and cross promote their respective brands to fans. In September, William Hill became the first sportsbook operator to partner with an NHL team, linking up with the Vegas Golden Knights.
But it’s in New Jersey where sports partnerships have really begun to take off.
The NJ Devils, the hockey club that calls the Prudential Center in Newark home, has been the most active in seeking out deals with sports betting companies. The team has now signed deals with the following operators:
- William Hill: Fans can gather in a branded William Hill sports lounge, where employees will eagerly help them set up sports betting accounts.
- Caesars Entertainment: The Devils inked a multiyear deal to promote Caesars’ Atlantic City sportsbooks at Harrah’s and Bally’s through its own lounge at the Prudential Center.
- FanDuel: Fans will also catch a glimpse of FanDuel branding at NJ Devils games, after the DFS/sports betting giant struck a partnership with the team along with the entire NHL.
The New York Jets have also been busy with their own gambling deals, although the NFL does not allow its teams to directly advertise sports betting operators. In October, the franchise sealed a partnership with MGM Resorts, then teamed up with 888 earlier this month. While 888 has its own online sportsbook in New Jersey, it only advertises its online casino at Jets games, as per NFL rules.
Plenty of potential partners
The wave of partnerships crashing over New Jersey is likely to spill over to PA once state online gambling sites and sportsbooks go live. Already, 10 Commonwealth casinos have purchased licenses for some form of online gambling, while two out-of-state casino entities are awaiting approval of their own online casino licenses. Five of those operators have been approved to offer sports betting as well.
What’s more, online gambling licensees have the option of partnering with unlimited third-parties, known as “skins,” which may open their own branded sites under their core licensee’s umbrella. Sports betting permit holders are only allowed one skin per license.
All this action means that there will be plenty of companies itching to make deals with PA sports teams, although the state’s oppressive tax and fee structure might shrink advertising budgets.
Philadelphia and Pittsburgh the focus
Pennsylvania boasts seven major-league pro teams in football, baseball, basketball, and hockey, all based in either Philadelphia or Pittsburgh:
- Philadelphia Flyers (NHL)
- Philadelphia Eagles (NFL)
- Philadelphia Phillies (MLB)
- Philadelphia 76ers (NBA)
- Pittsburgh Penguins (NHL)
- Pittsburgh Steelers (NFL)
- Pittsburgh Pirates (MLB)
The four Philly teams would make attractive targets for the surrounding casinos, especially Parx, Harrah’s, SugarHouse, and the yet to be built Live! Hotel and Casino project.
Out west, Rivers dominates the scene and might see fit to ink a deal with the Penguins or potentially the Pirates. For now, though, it would need to stay away from the Steelers — Rivers will not be offering an online casino and would be prohibited by the NFL from advertising it sportsbook through the team.
While geographically farther afield, Presque Isle Downs and Mount Airy might also be interested in marketing their upcoming online casinos via Pittsburgh franchises.
The 76ers, owned by the same group as the New Jersey Devils, are already ahead of the game and will certainly be making deals with local gaming operators. In fact, the team was recently included in the partnership agreement that the Devils reached with Caesars. Once iGaming goes live in the state, look for the 76ers partnership roster to expand.
Of course, none of this precludes casinos located in any part of the state from striking their own deals with teams, as long as the money is right.