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Differing Strategies as Casinos Pursue Leagues, Teams in Sports Betting Partnerships

Two different ideas regarding how best to create new business and marketing partnerships regarding the inevitable expansion of legalized sports betting across much of the US were put on full display this week, illustrating different ways to construct a framework for these partnerships. First, on Monday, MGM Resorts International announced a major tie-up with the National Hockey League (NHL), that will provide all sorts of marketing, branding and leveraging opportunities, including “proprietary” data rights.

Just one day later, casino rival Caesars Entertainment (CIE) announced its own partnership deal, though with a couple or professional-league sports franchises, rather than the league or leagues themselves. Caesars did its deal with Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment (HBSE), the owner of the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers and the NHL’s New Jersey Devils. It’a a somewhat similar branding and marketing deal that will tie the 76ers and Devils to the Caesars brand via plenty of promotional opportunities, although again, it’s non-exclusive.

It became a three-peat of stories on a theme on Wednesday when MGM again claimed the headlines, this time by announcing a partnership with the National Football League’s New York Jets. And this wasn’t the first team- or venue-based deal for MGM Resorts, which is certainly leading this virtual land rush. MGM already owns the WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces, and is a part owner of Las Vegas’s T-Mobile Arena, home to the NHL’s Las Vegas Golden Knights.

Let’s dig a little deeper into the details. First, on the MGM Resorts / NHL deal, it represents the second major deal that MGM has put together with a major US-based pro sports league. Twelve weeks ago, MGM signed a similar partnership with the National Basketball Association. That deal allows MGM Resorts to “use official NBA and WNBA data and branding, on a non-exclusive basis, across MGM Resorts’ land-based and digital sports betting offerings throughout the United States.”

A similar framework exists for the deal between MGM and the NHL. The casino company will get all sorts of branding opportunities. From the official release:

As an official sports betting partner as well as an official resorts partner of the NHL, MGM Resorts will have the ability to market many of MGM Resorts’ world-class products and services to the League’s millions of fans via the League’s various media platforms and events. MGM Resorts will also use official NHL branding to amplify the relationship across a range of the company’s land-based and digital sports betting offerings within the United States. …

As part of the relationship, MGM Resorts will receive access to previously unseen enhanced NHL proprietary game data that will be generated by the League’s state-of-the-art tracking systems currently under development. Access to this data will allow MGM Resorts to provide its customers with specialized NHL game insights, as well as unlocking new and innovative interactive fan engagement and betting opportunities for its U.S. customers wherever legally available.

The use of “an” rather than “the” when referring to “sports betting partner” reflects the legal reality of the situation when the data-rights issue that lurks behind the scenes is considered. All these pro sports leagues’ stats have long been held, legally, to be in the public domain, which is another reason that the leagues may have originally pitched “integrity fee” rather than “data rights fee” when legalized US sports betting in states other than Nevada became reality. Whatever this proprietary game data and the state-of-the-art tracking systems the NHL and MGM are touting remains to be seen, but the real-time edge is fleeting, and to the extent that either the NHL or the NBA intentionally withheld publishing stats while pumping them out through MGM might rise other legal questions.

The Caesars deal with the Sixers and the Devils has less to do with data rights than about creating a brand presence, but the non-exclusivity thing is present here as well. Much of the presser on that one has to do with the creation of the new Caesars Club at the Devils’ New Jersey Home, the Prudential Center. However, the Devils and the Pru already have a sports-betting deal in place with William Hill US, and that deal remains intact.

None of these deals, it’s also worth noting, mention any sort of price regarding how much is being paid for this brand presence or data access. It’s indeed a land rush by the casinos, but it could also be described as a short-term cash grab by the leagues, since their efforts to inflict those mandatory data-rights fees continue to go nowhere at either the state of federal level. That means its every league or team for itself, free to do non-exclusive deals with any sports-betting brand willing to cough up some green for the opportunity.

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