Early in April 2021, the NFL decided to discontinue its relationship with Sportradar to sign a six-year partnership with UK-based Genius Sports to be its official data partner. According to Sports Business Journal, Genius will provide the live data turnaround for the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, develop technology to improve the league’s products across the board, and have access to showing live NFL video and audio in sportsbooks outside of the U.S. The initial reaction to this deal, however, has been all about what this means for the sports betting market, as the league that has historically been more reserved when advocating for sports gambling appears to finally and firmly be at the table.
To further illuminate the inner workings of the deal, Sportico’s Betting on the Rise webinar on April 21, highlighted the partnership as part of an exclusive event to talk about the transformation of the sports betting space. The NFL’s Chief Strategy and Growth Officer Chris Halpin and Genius’ CEO Mark Locke joined Sportico editor-in-chief Scott Soshnick to discuss how long these plans had been in the works, going back to the repeal of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) in 2018. At the time, the NFL looked at its own research into gambling, which was predominantly illegal, cash-based and conducted overseas at the time, and found a key breakdown of their nearly 200 million US fans:
- 20% of fans 21+ years old were frequent sports bettors, and that group was mostly 21-40 and male
- 30% of fans are casual/aspiring bettors, which means they do survivor pools, fantasy, etc. but would place bets if it were legal. They did not regularly place bets at the time.
- 20% of fans were active rejectors of betting, skewing mostly toward older and female fans.
With 50% of fans already having an appetite to gamble even before sports betting was legal (outside of Nevada), the NFL began to monitor the states rolling out. Halpin called out New Jersey, Nevada and others that set the example of establishing the right frameworks for the league to follow: lead with your data, then open up sportsbook categories in the legal states. This deal, followed by the NFL’s recent ground-breaking announcement of multi-year contracts with Caesars, DraftKings and FanDuel as Official Sportsbook partners, mimics the state model, but also factors in the outside opinions. The NFL spoke to the soccer, rugby, Australian football and other international sports associations to hear their growing pains and make sure they didn’t expand too fast or forget about the fan who just wants to watch the game.
So where does data come in? It’s all about speed and richness for betting. Not only can Genius turn around the results of in-game wagers instantaneously, but they also can create customized graphics that track things as minute as expected rushing yards per play in broadcast. These types of algorithmic advancements allow for an entirely new type of engagement during the broadcast, not unlike how Twitch converts so many young viewers with its interactive platforms. This platform allows the NFL to own both the stats and the wagers at a constantly adapting level, and with it’s agreement in March with Amazon for Thursday Night Football beginning no later than 2023, they have all the tech in place to change the in-game wagering process with reduced lag, higher stream quality, targeted ads, and more interactive elements.
The key to expanding their betting content, according to Halpin and Locke, will be threefold: maintain the integrity of the game, engage the right fans in the right ways, and avoid over-proliferation to the point where people can’t enjoy the game the way they want. Both cited how some of the older viewers see NFL Redzone as too much engagement, while younger fans see it as the absolute base level of Sunday watching.
In order to connect with everyone, the NFL and Genius will have to create gambling content, data-driven analysis and new and improved graphics that are not only endemic to the broadcast, but also connect with fans in the most engaging ways even when the players aren’t on the field.