A U.S. Supreme Court ruling this week opened the door for sports betting across the country, a move that could fundamentally alter the sports landscape. Up for debate: While there is still a lot to sort out, how leagues react to the shifting landscape will be interesting. Which U.S. professional league stands to benefit most from the expansion of sports wagering?
First take: Michael Rand
The easy answer would seem to be the NFL given how much money already is wagered — both legally and illegally — on the behemoth league.
But I’m actually going to argue that the NBA has the best opportunity to benefit from more fans being able to wager on games. Basketball (college and pro) was already No. 2 behind football (college and pro) in terms of total money legally wagered in the U.S. in 2017.
NBA TV ratings continue to climb, and the league has carved out a deserved reputation as being progressive with its policies as well as its technological savvy.
If there is any sort of smartphone component to legal wagering, NBA fans will be all-in. It could help the league gain ground on the NFL and distance itself from other leagues.
Chris Hine: Major League Baseball has a millennial problem. Nobody wants to spend three-plus hours watching a random Tuesday night game when there are so many tweets to send, so many selfies to take.
Of the four major sports, baseball has the oldest average fan at 57, according to a survey last year from Sports Business Daily. That’s seven years older than the average NFL fan and a whopping 15 years older than the average NBA fan.
Nothing spurs investment in a sport quite like ... having an investment in a sport. If baseball was able to offer live betting in a controlled, regulated manner the way you can find on other websites now, perhaps it might court a few more millennials into watching otherwise meaningless, boring baseball games.
Rand: Interesting, so neither of us is arguing for the NFL. Hopefully this isn’t akin to a debate about who is the greatest current NBA player that leaves out LeBron James.
I could see MLB benefiting from increased betting, but I also think the same problems plaguing the sport would be a turnoff to gamblers. Why watch an increasingly long game with increasingly less action when you could put a few bucks on a fast-paced game that typically ends in 2 hours, 15 minutes?
The NBA has been out front on the legalized gambling debate, and I think it’s going to pay off for the league.
Hine: I think we just assumed that the NFL is going to get much richer because of this, but they are already the most popular sport in America in large part because of gambling. I’m not saying betting is going to cure all that ills baseball, but if you take measures to drastically reduce game times (cough, pitch clock, cough) and combine it with more convenient gambling, perhaps there would be an uptick in live betting interest.
Rand: I’m buying what you are selling here. I just think the NBA stands to gain the most and maybe — maybe — this is another factor that helps the Association overtake the NFL as the most popular sports league in the country.
Final word: Chris Hine
I think it says something that we think every sport stands to benefit in some way, shape or form from regulated gambling. I’m aware of why leagues didn’t want to do it in the past (point shaving, fear of scandals), but it makes you wonder why they haven’t pushed for this sooner — unless they were hoping this day would come despite their public stances.