Media companies including ESPN and Turner are carving out new content opportunities following last May’s Supreme Court decision to lift a 1992 ban on sports betting. Just don’t call them bookies.

The opportunity for broadcasters is that they can create an information and content product a little like Bloomberg has done for financial markets.

The news follows a decision last May from the US Supreme Court to uphold the legality of a 2014 New Jersey state law permitting sports betting at New Jersey casinos and horse racetracks. Individual states are now able to decide if residents will be allowed to bet on sports. It is estimated that the ruling opens up a market worth $150 billion, which previously existed in the shadows.  

On the 11th March, ESPN launched a sports betting news and information show that broadcasts nightly at 6pm.

 “We don’t see ourselves taking bets,” ESPN executive vice president Justin Connolly told the Hollywood Reporter. “That’s not our territory.” But the opportunity lies in driving engagement with the sports that media companies spend so much on licensing. There is also an opportunity to offer content around betting.

In February, Sports Pro Media covered Turner Sports’ agreement with Caesars Entertainment, the casino operator, to develop content and open a studio in one of the latter’s Las Vegas casinos.

Later that month, Reuters reported that Turner’s Bleacher Report said its betting vertical had grown three times faster than all other verticals. In a report released by the company, it found that sports betting is growing in social acceptance. “Younger people feel comfortable with betting. They don’t think it is a taboo area of activity,” B/R Chief Brand Officer Ed Romaine said.

“You can envision a scenario in the not-too-distant future where we’ll have access to and information about sports betting not dissimilar to what Bloomberg might have in the financial markets,” added Bleacher Report CEO Howard Mittman.

Since the ruling, some of the UK’s most powerful bookmakers have advanced on the US market, among them William Hill and Paddy Power, each of which brings strong expertise and highly-developed ad products to a nascent market.

The UK is an instructive case. The total value of the gambling industry in the country is over £14 billion (more than $18 billion). Following the deregulation of gambling in 2005, bookmakers quickly tapped the rise of smartphones by offering convenient products, free bets to bring people in, and blanket-bombing sports broadcasting with betting ads. 

According to a major academic study, this process has fundamentally changed the nature of football (soccer) for a generation of young men. “Far from being the knowledge-based, risk-free activity it is marketed as, the profound appeal of online sports gambling has had dire consequences for many young men,” said Dr Darragh McGee of the University of Bath.

In December 2018, the largest gambling companies in the UK agreed voluntarily to a ban on showing betting ads during sports broadcasts, in a tacit acceptance of the ubiquity of gambling brands in sport.

It is difficult to overstate the visibility of gambling in football. It is estimated that nearly 60% of clubs in the top two divisions in England have gambling companies as shirt sponsors or billboard advertisers.

Sourced from Hollywood Reporter, WARC, Sports Pro Media, Reuters, Gambling Commission