“Tri-exclusive” sports book deal underscores the power of gambling on pro football

A photo illustration of US 100 dollar bills
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When watching an NFL game, you never see a commercial touting Bud Light, Coors Light, and Michelob Ultra as the official light beers of the NFL. Whether it’s beer, car, soda, pizza, candy bar, or whatever else the league plausibly (or not) can slap the “official” label on, there’s only one.

That’s the benefit of being official. That’s the value of being exclusive.

When it comes to sports wagering, however, more is more. The league that for decades treated gambling like a family secret to never be discussed has fully embraced it, licensing its names and logos and audience to not one nor two but three sports books, in what the league calls a “tri-exclusive” relationship.

It’s really not unprecedented when the sponsorship is more functional than ceremonial. With the shoes used by players, for example, the NFL has multiple deals. Although players will never be allowed to let their fingers do the walking on the Caesars, DraftKings, and/or FanDuel apps, having three partners instead of one allows the NFL to establish a broad footprint when it comes to connecting with major gambling companies that will be taking billions of dollars in bets on football games.

The cash component is good not great, but then again it’s more gravy. A money for nothing grab that, per CNBC, will pay out nearly $1 billion to the league over five years. But the NFL also has the ability to pull the plug after three or four years, and the league doesn’t negotiate opt-outs without an intention to use them.

As more and more states adopt legalized sports wagering, more and more money will be legally wagered. More and more revenue will be available to the NFL. Eventually, the league could dangle one exclusive sports book partnership, squeezing the three partners to parlay their piece of the pie into the whole damn thing.

Or the league could continue to take multiple pieces from three — or more — sports books.

However it plays out, it will mean more and more pie for the NFL and the NFLPA, which is essentially an equal partner in all of these deals, whether media or gambling or whatever else the league can get for trading the right to attach the names and logos of the NFL and its teams to a given product. As time passes, the gambling-related pie will grow and grow and grow, and the league already is very well positioned to fully monetize an industry that the league refused to even acknowledge until the Supreme Court decided three years ago next month to legitimize gambling on sports.