Why is a Major League Baseball team investing in a company that enthusiastically provides odds for offshore sportsbooks?
That’s the question I have in the wake of sports betting media company The Action Network completing a $17.5 million Series B funding round.
The Action Network + an MLB team
That funding round, Action Network loudly declared that money largely came from places with ties to professional sports teams, or teams themselves, including, among others:
- Fertitta Capital (led by the Fertittas, who used to own the UFC and still own Station Casinos in Nevada)
- David Blitzer of Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment, which owns a stake in the Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Devils
- The Chicago Cubs
The direct tie to a sports team is interesting for a couple of reasons.
Action Network + offshore betting
The Action Network’s business is sports betting content and providing tools and odds for bettors. That’s a perfectly fine business to be in, but they do provide tools, odds and other functionality that makes it easier to bet at offshore sportsbooks that serve US jurisdictions illegally.
- You can customize your odds feed on the app, and include the lines for just about every offshore sportsbook in existence.
- The site and its contributors are often talking about their bets at offshore sites on social media.
- You can use a feature called BetSync on Action Network that links your account to an offshore sportsbook. Here’s an example of how you do it from offshore book 5Dimes. (That link is now dead since this story was published; you can see the content here.) And here’s a landing page where you can link a BetOnline.ag account.
So why should anyone care?
Pro sports + offshore betting
Whether or not The Action Network actually makes money from offshore sportsbooks is beside the point. (I have no insight into their financials on this front.) And even including odds wouldn’t be that big of a big deal, in my mind if not for this new tie-in.
But now the Cubs are involved, and pro sports leagues like MLB have been saying a lot of things about betting:
- During the federal court cases regarding the now-defunct federal sports betting ban, MLB argued that sports betting, if offered by New Jersey in an unregulated fashion, would create “irreparable harm” for their leagues. So, does that not go for media companies that promote offshore betting?
- For much of the past year, MLB, NBA and the PGA Tour have been lobbying for regulated markets to displace unregulated ones. The Action Network is not helping on that front.
- The MLB has been asking for an integrity fee or royalty to be paid to them in new state laws about sports betting. Why would they deserve that if they aren’t doing everything in their power to promote legal books and not promote illegal ones?
The bottom line is it is hard to take MLB seriously if it’s going to allow its teams to encourage offshore sports wagering via an investment in another company.