[toc]The television ratings for Week 1 of the NFL season are out, and the news wasn’t terribly good for the league.
Which begs the question yet again — could the NFL soften its position on legal sports betting to help declining viewership?
Week 1 NFL ratings
Ratings for Week 1, outside of Monday Night Football, were down about 13 percent year over year.
The low ratings for Week 1 are being ascribed, at least partially, to things other than less interest in football, including Hurricane Irma. The quality of the games this past week, though, was almost universally panned as well.
Last year, ratings drops were being attributed to national anthem protests and interest in the presidential election.
Still, if ratings don’t recover at some point, it doesn’t really matter what you’re attributing it to. The bottom line will remain that people are tuning into the NFL less for any one of a variety of reasons.
And if that trend continues, it seems unlikely the NFL will sit idly by watching it happen.
Where does sports betting come in?
Those include generating interest in the games that might not be there otherwise because people have money riding on the outcomes. That means more ad revenue and higher TV ratings.
Still, that’s mostly interest from an existing offshore betting industry that isn’t operating legally in the United States. The opportunity afforded by a legal and regulated environment in the US has the potential to move the needle for the NFL in tangible ways.
The only problem? The NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell are publicly against the expansion of legal sports gambling in the country. It continues to claim sports betting is not good for game integrity. In reality, bringing more transparency and regulation to the sports betting industry would only help matters.
Thankfully, the New Jersey sports betting case gives the NFL the perfect opportunity to pivot away from that antiquated stance.
Time to get on the sports betting wagon
We don’t know exactly how the US Supreme Court is going to rule in New Jersey’s case to bring legal sports wagering to the state. The NFL, NCAA et al are the plaintiffs in that case.
But one likely outcome is that the federal law (PASPA) that bans single-game wagering outside of Nevada sports betting is struck down as unconstitutional. That would potentially allow states to legalize and regulate sports gambling, if they so choose.
If that happens, the NFL is left with not many options. While it could try to fight such an effort on a state-by-state basis, that would seemingly be a silly path to pursue.
A better option: Espouse the benefits of a regulated market, and then reap the rewards that come with it. Goodell has already hinted at this once before.
An NFL pivot to this line of reasoning makes a lot of sense with the potentially game-changing NJ case looming. And it makes even more sense as the league is faced with declining TV ratings.
But the NFL doesn’t always do the thing that common sense dictates. We can only hope that it’s different on the issue of sports betting.