December 4, 2022
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Why NBC Sports joined forces with betting powerhouse BetMGM: ‘Consumption has changed’

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STAMFORD – Every week, many millions of fans watch NBC Sports’ NFL coverage. A growing number of them are not just tuning in, but also trying to predict the action. 

Reflecting the rise of fantasy sports and sports betting in recent years, Stamford-based NBC Sports has launched a partnership this season with one of the biggest sportsbooks, BetMGM, that includes integrations on “Football Night in America,” the most-watched sports studio show, and content across other NBC Sports platforms. NBC Sports and BetMGM officials see their alliance as a way to further increase the engagement of fans, particularly younger viewers. At the same time, they said they recognize the risk of some fans getting embroiled in problem gambling – an issue that has become more conspicuous with the growth of online betting, which was legalized last year in Connecticut. 

“Consumption has changed, and I think that’s really important for us to understand,” Mitesh Mehta, senior vice president of betting, gaming and strategic partnerships for NBC Sports Next, a subdivision of NBC Sports, said in an interview. “And the reason why people tune in continues to change, so we continue to need to evolve.” 

‘Reach, resonate and engage with fans’

About a month and a half into the 2022 season, the new partnership has already put its imprint on NBC Sports’ NFL coverage. “Football Night in America” is running a weekly segment hosted by former NFL quarterback Chris Simms and sports betting and fantasy expert Matthew Berry that highlights storylines and betting odds for the “Sunday Night Football” game carried on NBC network, the Peacock streaming service and Universo cable channel. FNIA is the lead-in show to SNF.   

The partnership also includes real-time betting odds on the scoring ticker during FNIA and related content during the postgame show, “Peacock Sunday Night Football Final.” In addition, there are BetMGM tie-ins on all Berry-hosted content across NBC Sports platforms, including “Fantasy Football Happy Hour with Matthew Berry,” which runs weekdays on Peacock. 

“The biggest goal of our partnerships is to reach, resonate and engage with fans, and we couldn’t be more thrilled to work with the talented team at NBC Sports to do just that this NFL season,” Matt Prevost, chief revenue officer of BetMGM, said in a statement. “We look forward to bringing football fans nationwide insights from the BetMGM trading team, as well as entertaining segments that showcase the excitement of betting with BetMGM.” 

NBC Sports started featuring fantasy sports and betting in its programming long before joining forces with BetMGM. Its nbcsportsedge.com site ranked No. 2, after Fantasy Pros, in visits, page views and time spent among fantasy sports and gaming information-focused websites between September 2021 and August 2022, according to comScore. 

“Not just specifically with sports betting, but with fantasy and free-to-play games, any type of gaming attached to the core game itself leads to a younger and more diverse audience who continues to engage longer and more often,” Mehta said. 

While NBC Sports aims to grow its audience, its NFL coverage has already dominated the ratings for many years. FNIA has ranked as sports’ most-watched weekly studio show for 16 consecutive years. Last season, it averaged 7.1 million viewers during the 7:30 to 8:15 p.m. eastern-time slot. “Sunday Night Football” has ranked as the No. 1 prime-time show for a record 11-straight years, bringing in an average of 19.3 million viewers last year.

“Everything boils down to fan engagement, so this is a win for NBC, fans, and of course BetMGM,” Josh Shuart, director of sports management at Sacred Heart University’s Jack Welch College of Business & Technology, said in an email.  “But let’s be honest, the NFL absolutely obliterates all other live sports programming in terms of ratings, and they don’t need to provide ‘additional stimulation’ to drive viewers to watch their games.” 

Numerous partnerships 

In the past couple of years, other Connecticut-based companies have also forged alliances with fantasy sports and betting providers. 

Stamford-based WWE, whose WWE Network is carried on NBCUniversal’s Peacock streaming platform, announced last year that DraftKings would become its official gaming partner. The agreement was announced a couple of weeks after Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration announced a comprehensive sports-betting and online-gaming deal with the operators of the Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun casinos.

The WWE-DraftKings partnership launched with free-to-play pools competitions during WrestleMania 37 in April 2021. A pool is a group betting competition in which the winnings are divided among the participants who make the correct picks. 

“Sports gaming is a great category for WWE and provides our fans another touchpoint for engaging with the WWE brand,” WWE co-CEO Stephanie McMahon said when the partnership was announced. “Enabling fans to make predictions in their pools and then tune in to live matches takes fan excitement to another level. We hope to one day expand this partnership beyond (pay-per-view events) and into our weekly programming.”

Among its other Connecticut connections, DraftKings announced in December 2020 a deal with Foxwoods. Three months earlier, it reached a “content integration” agreement with Bristol-based ESPN. Mohegan Sun, meanwhile, is partnering with FanDuel. 

BetMGM, which represents the exclusive sports betting division of MGM, online and in MGM casinos nationwide, has already established itself as one of the largest sportsbooks through its business in other states. It offers mobile and/or retail betting in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington state, Washington, D.C., West Virginia, Wyoming and Ontario, Canada.  

But none of BetMGM’s betting options are available in Connecticut, as BetMGM is not licensed to accept wagers in the state. To operate in the state, it would need to be associated with one of the state’s three “master wagering licensees.” Each licensee can have one “skin,” which refers to a partnership with an online gaming operator. In addition to Foxwoods’ and Mohegan Sun’s respective agreements with DraftKings and FanDuel, the CT Lottery has joined teamed up with RushStreet. 

Concerns about problem gambling

The growth of sports betting entails the possibility that some fans might get into trouble with excessive or reckless gambling. 

In response to those potential pitfalls, BetMGM said in a news release about the partnership with NBC Sports that as it expands into new markets, “responsible gaming education remains a key focus.”

“BetMGM is proud to provide resources to help customers play responsibly including GameSense, an industry leading program, developed and licensed to MGM Resorts by the British Columbia Lottery Corp.,” it added in the release. “Through the GameSense integration within BetMGM’s mobile and desktop platforms, customers can directly access responsible gaming tools.”

NBC Sports officials said that they are expecting the BetMGM promos in its content to appeal mostly to fans who are wagering small amounts. 

“This question is more for the sportsbooks because those are their users ultimately,” Mehta said. “But the way we present our content is through storytelling and information. We’re not looking at ‘whales’, the large-dollar bettors. We’re looking for people to be a casual bettor, spend a couple of bucks here and there on a game – to engage them and have them stay engaged for a longer time, regardless of fandom.” 

In NBC Sports’ home state, meanwhile, the risks of gambling have become increasingly pronounced. 

“Calls/texts/chats to our free 24/7 helpline have on average doubled when compared to the same time periods before the (online) expansion of gaming went live last fall,” Paul Tarbox, a spokesman for the Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling, said in an email. “Those elevated contacts have remained steady as well.” 

CCPG provides assistance by phone, at 888-789-7777, and through chats on its website, ccpg.org.  

“While we are not for or against gambling, we are always concerned when gambling is normalized in productions such as television,” Tarbox added. “All too many people, especially younger males, view the shows and then engage in bets without understanding the risks involved, responsible betting strategies to reduce gambling related harms or problem gambling resources that are available if needed.”

pschott@stamfordadvocate.com; twitter: @paulschott



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