Why the NHL is getting into gambling

In the last few weeks, the NHL has signed deals to officially partner with two sports betting companies: MGM and FanDuel. Those deals could mark the start of a new era in sports and sports marketing. Here’s how:

The background: Sports and gambling became a whole new thing back in May, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a law that prohibited all but a few states from legalizing sports betting. The four North American pro leagues had fought for the law to be upheld, but quickly changed their tune when they lost. Their new attitude seems to be that if there is going to be a lot more legalized gambling in a lot more places, they need to figure out the angles.  

Why could legalized betting be good for the NHL? Well, money of course. MGM and FanDuel are paying the NHL for access to games, content, video and trademarks, as well as real-time advanced game data. That’s where things really start to get interesting, but we’ll come back to that. Brian Cooper, a long-time sports and sponsorship marketer and president of MKTG, says it’s also about building the NHL brand, both in existing markets and around the world.

How could more betting be good for the NHL brand? Betting and fantasy leagues are often credited with being a driving force behind the NFL’s popularity. “If you didn’t have betting and gaming associated with the NFL, there would be a lot less people viewing the games,” says Cooper. The NHL is likely hoping for the same kind of lift. “It is a proven fact that the more people game and bet, the more inclined they are to actively support the sport on a deeper level,” says Cooper. Betting on hockey doesn’t change the game itself but gives people more reasons to get excited about those games. “I think it turns casual fans into avid fans.”

How could other marketers get involved? Look for a lot of new sponsorable digital, and possibly customized, content, says Cooper. Imagine a scenario where a group of friends get together on a busy Saturday night of NHL hockey and create fantasy teams. “You punch in your fantasy team and they just give you the scoring moments of your fantasy team.” The NFL has moved in this content direction with its NFL RedZone Network which jumps from game-to-game when a team nears the end zone (aka the Red Zone). That’s not to say that’s what will happen, but the possibility exists. 

But does this have the potential to make the NHL brand seem less family friendly? “I don’t think so. I think the cloud over gaming is gone,” says Cooper. Not all brands will want to be associated with NHL betting opportunities, but many will view it as new opportunity to build new connections with hockey fans. Would a brand like, say, Tim Hortons sponsor a fantasy NHL channel? Probably not. Would it make sense for a brand like Molson? Absolutely. “It is just about sharing the passion,” says Cooper.

What about that data? The NHL has been working on new proprietary puck and player tracking data. That data could mean gambling possibilities that go way beyond just betting on winners or losers and player points, to an entirely new range of prop bets. Instead of just betting on goals and assists, gamers could possibly wager on things like ice time or hardest shot, says Cooper.

Does this apply for Canada, too? Oh right, the home of hockey. No, betting is still prohibited here (with the exception of government-run systems like ProLine) but there is a lot of behind-the-scenes lobbying underway, and it seems likely that changes could be coming. Scott Stinson at PostMedia explained how, now that the NHL is on board, Ottawa may be willing to open the door to more sports gambling. – David Brown


David Brown

Leave a Reply