The machinery of the NFL appears to be waking up when it comes to US sports betting.
The league is reportedly addressing the subject this week:
The NFL will brief owners on sports gambling at annual meeting this week. Unclear if that means league will at long last take a position as legalization looms.
— Daniel Kaplan (@KaplanSportsBiz) March 26, 2018
The NFL’s stance on sports betting also came up in a recent Wall Street Journal article. But what does that mean in practice for the sports behemoth and what it will do moving forward?
Backstory of the NFL and sports betting
We don’t know much about what the NFL thinks about the possibility of legal sports betting around the US, other than its usual talking points that it opposes sports gambling and is interested in upholding the “integrity of the game.”
On the first of those points, it may have lost control over whether it can stop the proliferation of legal wagering. We’re perhaps days or months from a US Supreme Court decision in the New Jersey sports betting case, which could open up wagering in other states that act to legalize it. The NFL is one of several pro leagues — along with the NCAA — that has tried to keep NJ from offering single-game wagering within its borders.
The last time NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell addressed the subject — a couple months ago — he avoided his league’s stance and simply said he was concerned with integrity.
Getting on the “intellectual property” train?
Goodell still isn’t ready to proclaim what the league will do if NJ wins its case. And it probably won’t until after a decision in the SCOTUS case, Murphy vs. NCAA.
The league is slow to change on any issue. It’s almost certainly not going to join the barnstorming campaign that NBA and Major League Baseball are on in states around the country, calling for legal wagering within the parameters they define, right now.
But it is getting ready to join them on one of their talking points, potentially.
More from the WSJ:
One owner, speaking anonymously, suggested the league will have to seek some sort of deal: “Why would we let other people have all the benefit of something we’re creating?” …
“We have to be prepared for any alternative,” Goodell said.
Getting paid for creating the games
MLB and the NBA have sounded similar calls in state legislatures, asking for an “integrity fee” in which sportsbook operators would pay the leagues directly for offering wagering on their games. They now also insist this amounts to a “royalty” or “rights fee” (the latter came up in a new sports betting bill in Kansas) — because they put on the games.
Those two leagues seem bent on making sure any data or statistics that come from their games be called their intellectual property. It’s an issue on which some of the leagues have already lost in court.
If one owner is sounding this bell in the NFL, it’s not a leap to think the pro football league will join its brethren on this issue.
Whether the NFL actively calls for legalization of sports wagering is a different question, however.
What’s next for the NFL?
It’s unlikely we’ll see any public movement from the NFL until the SCOTUS case is over. The next time a decision could be given is April 2. We also could be waiting until the end of June to learn the fate of the federal sports wagering ban.
After the decision comes, then we’ll be reading tea leaves from Goodell, and seeing if they join in with the NBA and MLB on lobbying efforts.
It could be too late for the NFL to have any impact, at least at the state level. A number of states — like Pennsylvania and West Virginia — already have sports betting laws waiting in the wings.
The NFL might want to lobby Congress on the sports betting issue — that’s less messy, potentially than state lobbying. We’ve already seen MLB successful lobby to pay minor league players less than minimum wage, just last week.
No matter what happens, the NFL’s says of relative silence on the issue of sports betting could be numbered.