NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has made it abundantly clear that he and the league he oversees are not supporters of legal sports betting, at least in public comments over the years.
If the status of sports betting in the US is going to change in the foreseeable future, it appears it will have to do so with Goodell at the helm. Recent reports indicate Goodell is about to sign a new five-year contract extension.
What’s that mean for the future of gambling on sports in America?
Goodell and the NFL from a bird’s eye view
Goodell, quite simply, has presided over good over economic times for the league. According to the New York Times:
The N.F.L.’s annual revenue has nearly tripled, to about $14 billion, since he took over as commissioner in 2006, and the average value of franchises has more than doubled, to $2.3 billion, according to Forbes.
While there have been hiccups in his tenure — controversies over CTE and player discipline, for example — Goodell hasn’t upset the apple cart in terms of the league’s bottom line.
Television ratings were down for the 2016 season, but that hasn’t become a major point of concern for the NFL, yet.
Goodell on sports betting
Goodell and the NFL aren’t fans of sports betting, even as the league is getting ready to move the Oakland Raiders franchise to Las Vegas.
In the wake of that revelation — which places a team in the heart of the only place where you can legally bet on sports in the US — Goodell said “we’ll remain opposed” to the legalization of sports gambling. That’s also despite the fact that he earlier said the regulated environment for Nevada sports betting “could be beneficial” for the league and game integrity. It all makes the argument that the NFL suffers any type of “harm” from regulated sports betting is one that is increasingly difficult to defend.
But Goodell’s opposition likely represents a majority — or perhaps even a minority — of NFL owners. But for a league that’s constantly concerned about its image and moves slowly on just about any issue, the NFL probably isn’t going to change its public stance on wagering any time soon.
The argument that the NFL suffers any type of “harm” from regulated sports betting increasingly difficult to defend.
The timeframe for sports betting in the US
The extension to Goodell’s contract through 2024 would mean he is in charge during a crucial point for sports betting in the US.
The American Gaming Association has said it believes the federal ban for sports betting (PASPA) will be repealed during the first term of President Donald Trump. That timeframe means that the AGA and other sports betting proponents will attempt to work with Goodell (or they will have to work against him, if his public stance remains.)
The NFL is the biggest pro sports league in the US. Repealing the sports betting ban over the protestations of the NFL would appear to be a difficult task. And Goodell certainly doesn’t appear close to endorsing the “federal framework” for which the NBA advocates and that Major League Baseball is moving toward. At a panel with his fellow commissioners, Goodell was mum on sports betting.
But there’s one variable the leagues can’t control.
Goodell, NFL have no control over New Jersey…
The New Jersey sports betting case will be heard by the US Supreme Court, likely later this year. The NCAA, NFL and other major US pro sports leagues are the plaintiffs in that case, using PASPA to keep the state from legalizing sports betting within its borders.
While there are a variety of possible outcomes in the case, one very real possibility is the court saying PASPA is unconstitutional. That would mean New Jersey and any other state that wants to legalize and regulate sports betting is free to do so.
That takes the control of the issue out of the hands of the leagues. How the NFL and Goodell might react to that possibility is unknown.
What if NFL ratings continue to decline?
The engine on the NFL train is its viewership and ratings. Those ratings allow the league to make billions of dollars for the rights to broadcast games. The Super Bowl is the most watched program on TV annually.
What happens if the NFL isn’t able to bounce back from last year’s ratings slide?
The league and Goodell aren’t likely to sit still in that case. They’ll be looking for creative ways to turn around a ratings erosion. That could include looking to legal sports wagering as a way to increase interest in games. Research published earlier this year showed how sports betting would help the league’s bottom line and ratings.
However, if the ratings return to normal, the NFL changing its sports betting views will be a tougher sell.
What we do know is this: No matter what this season has in store, the path for legal sports betting likely runs through Roger Goodell.