In the wake of the US Supreme Court’s decision striking down the federal ban on sports betting, the NFL has appealed to Congress for a unified set of industry controls.
Last Monday, the league responded to the SCOTUS ruling with newfound support for superseding regulations. Today, commissioner Roger Goodell released a follow-up statement laying out some legislative requests.
We have spent considerable time planning for the potential of broadly legalized sports gambling and are prepared to address these changes in a thoughtful and comprehensive way, including substantial education and compliance trainings for our clubs, players, employees and partners. These efforts include supporting commonsense legislation that protects our players, coaches and fans and maintains public confidence in our games. We are asking Congress to enact uniform standards for states that choose to legalize sports betting that include, at a minimum, four core principles.
Four core principles, you say?
What does the NFL want?
Goodell and the NFL offer these bullet points:
- There must be substantial consumer protections.
- Sports leagues can protect content and intellectual property from those who attempt to steal or misuse it.
- Fans will have access to official, reliable league data.
- Law enforcement will have the resources, monitoring and enforcement tools necessary to protect fans and penalize bad actors at home and abroad.
The NFL’s blueprint is similar to the one pitched by the NBA and Major League Baseball, with one key exception. This list is one item shorter, excluding integrity fees from direct mention.
Still, adoption of theses principles wouldn’t exactly leave the NFL empty-handed.
Reading between the lines
Nobody would argue against consumer protections designed to ensure the validity of the actual transactions. Operators need to know who is betting, and bettors need confidence that winning tickets will be paid. So that’s the first bullet out of the way, agreeable all around.
Things get a little more interesting as we go down the list, though.
NFL on data and “intellectual property”
Core principles two and three go hand-in-hand from the leagues’ standpoint. Let’s start with the third: “Fans will have access to official, reliable league data.”
The leagues are aligned on this request. Each has partnerships in place with leading sports data firms that collect and distribute statistics in real time. Teams themselves use this data, as do media outlets and daily fantasy sports sites, among others.
Sportsbooks need sports data, too, and the leagues expect them to pay for it. Here’s the read-between-the-lines version of that NFL bullet: “Sportsbooks will be required to license official, reliable league data.” Nevada sportsbooks are under no such obligation, though the suggested mandate does have some precedent in limited markets abroad.
As per the second bullet, the NFL would also expect the power to challenge the unauthorized use of its stats.
Legally speaking, it’s not exactly clear where the line falls between public information and protectable, proprietary league data. Third-party providers can collect the majority of information without needing a league partnership, after all. So how much of it is actually the “intellectual property” of the leagues?
Courts have previously ruled against the NBA and MLB in matters concerning box scores, but the PGA Tour has won an important case regarding live, in-game feeds. Don’t be surprised if leagues and operators come to judicial blows about the issue once again.
NFL on monitoring and enforcement
The NFL’s last bullet seems to diverge from the stance of the other US leagues. Goodell asks the federal government to allocate resources to law enforcement for monitoring games and betting markets.
The NBA and MLB have a bullet point about additional fees, too, but theirs would pad their own pockets. Here’s the language from their lobbying document: “Sports leagues should be compensated for their investments, risks, and integrity expenses.”
The NFL version sounds similar, but it doesn’t seek direct compensation. Money would be put aside for law enforcement rather than the leagues. Goodell’s wording does, however, seem to pass the buck for integrity monitoring to some extent.
No integrity fees for NFL?
The NFL appears disinterested in integrity fees, which would be consistent with chatter from those close to the situation. ESPN reporter Don Van Natta says a “top NFL executive” inside the league office wants no part of them.
Here’s Van Natta, speaking on an episode of Outside the Lines:
The NFL just doesn’t think an integrity fee, a one percent fee, is in anyone’s interest. As you heard from the legislator in NJ, it doesn’t work from a political perspective. No legislative body wants to be seen shoveling money at leagues and billionaire owners.
Interestingly, the NFL also wants the legal sportsbooks around the country to succeed. And they see this one percent integrity fee as another fee that would go on top of the 10 percent vig. And so, if the takeout by the legal bookmakers is too high, then the illegal, offshore bookmakers will offer more value to bettors and won’t be put out of business.
The league is right about the optics, first of all. Lawmakers have mostly scoffed at the idea of paying sports leagues directly, to the point of creating some negative press for the NBA and MLB. The NFL certainly doesn’t need any more of that right now.
More importantly, the league seems to realize that the primary reason to regulate sports betting is to choke off the illegal, unregulated industry — undercutting established offshore sites and local bookies. In order to do that, fees levied against operators must be kept manageable, and the proposed integrity fees are simply counterproductive to that goal.
Van Natta quoted the same NFL source as reiterating, “We want to put the illegal bookmakers out of business, and we want the legal bookmakers now to succeed.”