NBA commissioner's stance at odds with testimony from NBA, MLB lobbying on sports betting
Legal Sports Report

NBA’s Silver, League Lobbyists Singing Different Tunes On Sports Betting

NBA lobbyists different tune on sports betting

NBA commissioner Adam Silver has grand visions for the future of basketball viewership.

One of Silver’s plans involves microtransactions, where paid content is broken down into small, inexpensive pieces. At last year’s CES conference in Las Vegas, he suggested allowing fans to purchase parts of a single broadcast rather than a season-long package.

A year later, that vision is a reality. The league began testing the sale of short segments through NBA League Pass for the first time last month.

But Silver’s ideas are still coming together, and the sudden movement toward legal sports betting might create additional possibilities. Speaking with reporters after a recent event, Silver discussed the potential for incorporating micro-betting transactions into digital broadcasts.

Although the NBA supports legalized sports betting, the idea of marrying the two so closely doesn’t mesh with recent messaging from league lawyers.

Silver on microtransactions

The event that drew Silver’s comments was a launch party for the new Bleacher Report Live service, which is a product of Turner Sports.

B/R Live is an OTT (over-the-top) platform that aggregates scores and streams into a customized console. Essentially, it is an interactive way to ingest sports, more on pace with consumers’ wants and needs nowadays. There are others like it, but B/R Live has secured a license to broadcast NBA games.

Playing off the success of platforms like Twitch, the NBA is modifying its digital products to include microtransactions. Starting next season, fans will be able to buy a pass to watch as few as five minutes of a game as an alternative to the existing (and pricey) subscriptions.

It’s a shrewd move, and likely a necessary one. Viewer attention spans have grown shorter, and free time is in high demand, so content is being consumed in smaller doses. Even our social exchanges are boiled down to 280 characters.

What’s more, technological advances have instilled an expectation for interactivity in younger generations, something the NBA is keen to provide.

Micro-betting transactions?

Silver is “not a technologist” by his own admission, but he knows his market intimately. “Under this notion of microtransactions, let’s sell the fan what it is they want,” he said plainly.

He seems to have the right motives, at least publicly: “We didn’t begin this just as a business opportunity. It began as an opportunity to engage more fans.”

But Silver took the concept even further, indicating that he’s open to the idea of including betting-related transactions within the broadcast interface. He cited the market in Europe, where sports fans can both watch and bet on games in the same window.

“That could conceivably be another form of a microtransaction,” Silver said. “And much of the sports betting has moved to in-play, which is one of the reasons why people want to watch the live feeds.”

The commissioner is known to be progressive on sports betting, the earliest league voice to tout regulation as a way to address the black market. And he’s correct to correlate wagering with fan engagement and associated sources of revenue.

Although there is some transitory benefit (people who watch sports are also more likely to wager on them), the forces primarily pull in the direction Silver highlights. Bettors are overwhelmingly consumers.

There’s also this passage from SportTechie:

Silver gave a couple hypothetical examples of in-play betting — that instead of simply betting on standard categories like win or loss, point spread and over/under, a fan could wager on the number of points a particular player will score in the next quarter or even if a shooter will make the next two free throws.

Well isn’t that interesting?

League lawyers not so ambitious

In-game betting has been the subject of much discussion lately.

As states weigh sports betting bills, the NBA and other leagues are fighting for control over the permitted bet types. Citing integrity concerns, they’re specifically looking to curtail in-game betting. The official stance is that sports betting poses a direct threat to the integrity of sports, and in-game wagers are especially risky.

This is from the record in a recent New York sports betting hearing:

Third, leagues should have the right to restrict wagering on their own events. Certain types of bets are more susceptible to manipulation than others, such as whether a player will commit the first foul of the game.

Silver’s vision seems to contradict league counsel. If not in exact language — lawyers aren’t necessarily saying they want to disallow all in-game betting, but they do want the discretion to do so — then certainly in tone.

The cited examples aren’t direct matches, but there isn’t much practical difference between betting on a foul or a free throw. Both carry increased risk of manipulation by unscrupulous players or bettors, the primary concern of league counsel while lobbying for legislation.

Based on Silver’s statements, he and his legal department may have different expectations from a legalized betting market.

Eric Ramsey
- Eric is a reporter and writer covering poker, sports betting, and DFS. He comes from a poker background, formerly on staff at PokerNews and the World Poker Tour.