By now you’re surely seen or at least heard about NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s pre-league meeting victory lap regarding recent business deals the NFL has done. Buried in the mostly-fluff-and-puff piece from Andrew Beaton of the Wall Street Journal is the latest evidence that the NFL continues to regard gambling as a forbidden topic, no matter how inevitable it may be.
Writes Beaton near the bottom of the article: “Goodell declined to discuss specifically what the league would do if sports betting is legalized.” Contrast this strategy of silence with the very public approach taken by the NBA and Major League Baseball to actively lobby in states where legislation is either pending or has been passed in anticipation of a Supreme Court ruling that could open the floodgates from sea to shining sea for sports wagering.
At the appropriate time, the NFL may try to piggyback on the efforts of the other sports leagues to get a one-percent piece of the action from the various states where gambling will happen. “Why would we let other people have all the benefit of something we’re creating?” an unnamed owner told Beaton. But here’s the easy response: Why should any state voluntarily give the sports league’s any portion of the money generated by gambling? Nevada doesn’t do it; why would anyone else?
The NFL’s benefit will come from enhanced interest in its product, once gambling becomes legitimized, accepted, and mainstream. Decades of illegal gambling have fueled the growth of the sport; legalizing it necessarily will make it more prevalent, getting more people interested in watching specific games they otherwise wouldn’t care about, simply because they put $10 on the home team giving 5.5 points.
The NFL also can generate profit from, for example, serving as a conduit for betting via the various team-owned websites and apps. The league can parlay its negotiating acumen into millions if not billions by creating essentially an online casino with the front doors at the places where people currently get information about the NFL and its various teams — and, of course, scalp tickets to games.
Then there’s the possibility of in-game prop bets, placed inside the stadium on every possible subject, from the coin flip to whether the next play will be a run or a pass to whether a field goal will be made or missed to anything else that can happen during three hours of action. (These types of real-time bets present a much lower risk to the overall integrity of the game, since they have nothing to do with the outcome of a given game.)
So the league will have plenty of ways to get money for something, once gambling is legal. There’s no reason for the various states that legalize gambling to give the NFL money for nothing, especially since the NFL will enjoy indirect cash flow from increased interest by people who have cash on the line.