In the battle over the legality of sports betting in the United States, the NFL has been one of the loudest voices against the acceptance and expansion of sports wagering beyond the borders of Nevada and to a lesser extent, Delaware.
Be it New Jersey's push to allow sports betting to rejuvenate its dwindling casinos and race tracks or setting the ground work to legalize and regulate online sports betting across the country - a billion dollar illegal market - the NFL has been there like a nose tackle, ready to stuff any progress made by the pro sports betting crowd.
But while on the surface the NFL is very vocal about its stand on sports betting, peeling back the layers of the most lucrative North American professional sports league finds roots running deeply into the very core of the sports betting industry.
Besides the obvious connections to daily fantasy sports (with the league heavily integrating its products with DFS advertising and promotion) and its annual set of regular season games played in the United Kingdom where sports betting is legal (and the optimism of eventually infiltrating the European market, one that accepts sports betting as part of its sporting culture), the NFL recently climbed in bed with a partner that has its fingers in plenty of sports betting pies - some legal and illegal.
Last spring, the NFL dropped former statistics distributor Stats LLC for European-owned Sportsradar, looking to expand their numbers beyond the basic stats and records kept, and feed into the growing popularity of advanced analytics. Sportsradar provides the NFL with their "NextGen" Stats, collecting live data from sensors equipped to players while games happened, picking up instant readings such as player speed and pass velocity.
This unique brand of statistics is nothing new for Sportsradar, which has been providing similar live tracking for European soccer for some time now. However, that information isn't reserved to just sports media outlets and the leagues themselves.
A huge part of Sportsradar's business comes from online sportsbooks, which use their Betradar service to track games as they happen for the purposes of live or in-game wagering - a massive side of the European sports betting industry that is growing in popularity and reaching the North American markets. Bettors are able to wager on contests as they happen, with the odds and propositions constantly adjusting to the ebb and flow of the game.
That's all good and well overseas, where sports betting is legal and regulated. But jumping the pond, to the United States, and Sportsradar/Betradar has many clients - online sportsbooks - who violate current U.S. laws against online gambling.
Numerous sportsbooks tracked to Betradar products are accepting customers from the United States, the very same illegal sports betting market the NFL has been so committed to shutting down. Sportsradar has tried to dodge these connections by operating Sportsradar U.S. separately, which is simply a statistics provider and denies any connection to sportsbooks.
The NFL, which gets roughly $5 million a year from Sportsradar in order to collect its data, was also given an equity stake in the company as part of the deal last spring, tying the knot to sports betting even tighter. And they're not the only professional sports league making a hypocritical connection to the sports betting industry through Sportsradar.
In Canada, the NHL signed on with the data and statistics provider this past September but much like the NFL, the NHL has openly rallied against sports betting - most recently Bill C-290 in the Canadian Senate which would have allowed single-game wagering in Canada, run through provincial lotteries, instead of the parlay system currently in place. And again like the NFL, the National Hockey League has branded itself with advertising dollars from daily fantasy sites, blurring the line between illegal and legal sports betting.
The one underlying note from these partnerships is that perhaps while these leagues are pushing back against sports betting, they as well as Sportsradar recognize that they're fighting a losing battle. Having a significant stake in one of the biggest sport betting data providers gives the NFL a foot in the door if and when sports betting is legalized across North America.
And given Sportsradar's recent investors, such as the three NBA owners (the only major pro league to back the legalization of sports betting) - Mark Cuban, Ted Leonsis, and NBA great (and well-known gambler) Michael Jordan - this could be a hint that the leagues can feel the winds of change, as it pertains to the acceptance of sports betting in the United States.
Rather than miss out on the cash grab that would be legalized gambling on sports, professional sports leagues like the NFL are setting a place at the table, eagerly awaiting with forks in hand for their piece of the sports betting pie.
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