Until 2017, sports betting was a taboo topic on sports TV.
During game broadcasts, announcers rarely mentioned a game’s odds with anything more than a wink and a nod. NFL announcer Al Michaels once referenced a play that made the game’s total points exceed the point spread by saying, “that’s over-whelming.”
Fast forward to 2021, and Charles Barkley now openly discusses gambling odds during his betting segment before and after NBA games on the popular TV show Inside the NBA, which airs on TNT.
In fact, many TV broadcasts of pro sports games today feature ads from leading U.S. sportsbooks DraftKings DKNG, +6.46% or FanDuel, and odds for games are now shown on TV networks regularly.
Sports betting TV shows have also launched: ESPN DIS, -0.59% created a show dedicated to sports gambling called the “Daily Wager,” and CBS VIACA, +0.65% also has a gambling show called “SportsLine Edge,” for example. ESPN even began featuring point spreads on its famous BottomLine ticker.
How did we go from winks and nods to this in just three years?
The first domino fell in 2018 when the Supreme Court struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) and took away the federal government’s power to regulate sports betting. Now it’s up to individual states to craft their own legislation surrounding sports betting.
Early success for states like New Jersey, which had nearly $3 billion wagered in just its first year of legalized sports betting, prompted more states to pass their own sports betting legislation. Twenty states as well as Washington, D.C. now have some form of legal sports betting.
“Gambling no longer feels tawdry and in the shadows,” Chad Millman, CEO of betting data company Action Network, said shortly after the ban on sports betting was lifted. “It has democratized information, and people are thinking opportunistically because they love sports.”
Since the PASPA ban was lifted, over $45 billion has been legally wagered in the U.S., according to Legal Sports Report.
Once it was clear that sports betting had major staying power in the U.S. markets, media companies began partnering with sportsbooks. ESPN, Turner Sports and Barstool Sports signed “official sportsbook” partnerships and tried to steer their audiences towards betting.
“It’s safe to say that all the sports rights owners are trying to find new ways to engage fans,” FanDuel CEO Matt King told MarketWatch.
Both ESPN and Turner own sports broadcasting rights to NBA and NFL games and members of sports talk shows like ESPN’s Jalen Rose and TNT’s Charles Barkley have inked endorsement deals with BetMGM MGM, +1.32% and FanDuel, respectively.
Barkley says he wagered $100,000 on the Portland Trail Blazers to make it the NBA Finals at +2800 odds during TNT’s NBA game coverage.
“Hey, I was thinking more about the $2.8 million,” Barkley would later say, about how much money the bet could have made him.
A TV analyst talking about betting like that during a broadcast is a stark contrast from where we were a few years ago when most sports leagues were against the idea of betting on their games.
When the first seeds of sports betting legalization were being planted in 2012, the NFL was not a supporter. New Jersey was attempting to legalize sports betting at the state level with federal sports betting ban still in place.
“It’s a very strongly held view in the NFL — it has been for decades — that the threat that gambling could occur in the NFL or fixing of games or that any outcome could be influenced by the outside could be very damaging to the NFL and very difficult to ever recover from,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in 2012.
The NFL, which just signed a $110 billion media rights deal, has since moved a team to sports betting capital of the U.S. Las Vegas and has accepted a sportsbook partnership deal from Caesars CZR, -1.41%.
Here’s what Goodell says now: “We think that sports gambling in many ways creates a lot more engagement for our fans. It gives them another opportunity to engage with the game.”
The billions added in annual revenue from legal sports betting led the NFL to allow individual teams to sell several official sportsbooks sponsorships too. Some sports teams like the New York Giants and the Washington Wizards have physical sportsbooks inside their stadiums. These successful sportsbooks famously have large quantities of cash and spend huge amount on marketing.
Leagues including the NBA, NFL and NHL have released statements saying they would prefer sports betting was federally regulated instead of regulated by states — so they could charge integrity fees, a sports betting tax from the leagues — at a large scale.
There are still schisms within the industry. While there are numerous TV shows, podcasts and pregame analysts talking about sports betting, it’s still rarely mentioned during actual game broadcasts.
“Gambling is legalized in a few states now. It’s not widespread across the entire country and our policy has been that in our football telecasts, including the SEC on CBS and the NFL, we don’t discuss gambling information, lines, over/unders,” CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus said ahead of the Super Bowl LIII. “We don’t do that. That’s our policy.”
This is especially true for college sports, which has a more uneasy relationship with gambling than pro sports leagues. Sports betting critics will often say that “game-fixing” could be more prevalent in college sports because the participants are not paid, allowing bad actors to potentially sway teenagers into improperly influencing the outcome through bribes or other maneuvers.
The NCAA has released several statements in recent weeks discussing the perils of sports betting.
The 2021 NCAA March Madness basketball Tournament begins this week and is expected to see over $1 billion in total legal wagering, a record for any sporting event.
Multiple sources at Warner Media, the company broadcasting the March Madness Tournament, told MarketWatch that odds and lines will not be shown during this year’s tournament broadcasts. That includes pregame and postgame coverage.
Additionally, there will be no advertisements from sportsbooks during the games, the sources confirmed.
The 2021 tournament will take place in Indiana, a state where sports betting is legal.