A website from the NFL and the children’s TV network Nickelodeon appears to expose kids to sports betting-like products and prediction games.
ViacomCBS will run a kid-centric production of an NFL Wild Card game on Nickelodeon Jan. 10 at 4:30 p.m. The programming will have everything you’d expect from a Nickelodeon sports broadcast: stars from the network, a Spongebob Squarepants-themed countdown show and, of course, slime.
The network also launched NFLNickPlay.com, which includes more kids-themed cartoons, NFL trivia and a Pick’em contest.
Both the NFL and ViacomCBS provided brief statements when contacted by LSR:
“We have worked (and will continue to) with CBS/Viacom on the elements in and around this game and there is nothing gambling-related or intended,” said Alex Riethmiller, VP of communications for NFL Media.
“We have no other details to announce surrounding the game at this time, but you can keep an eye on https://www.nflnickplay.com in the coming weeks,” said Bailey Knecht, communications coordinator for ViacomCBS.
Nickelodeon site includes sports betting terminology, feel
There are multiple areas of the website that feature elements of free-to-play prediction games or gambling in general:
- Users are encouraged to “Smash Your Pick” on who will win games. The site also shows how your pick compares to the public. Users can “smash” their picks as much as they like and get points for each selection.
- A printable Weekly Pick’em card, which very closely resembles Pick’em and parlay cards offered by legal US sports betting operators.
- Along with a points system for interacting with just about everything on the website, there are also rewards for returning every week.
- There will be live, in-game content accessible on the website during the game. ViacomCBS didn’t explain what that will be when asked. But if the Nickelodeon website is comfortable with sports betting-like topics such as picking a winner, asking users to pick who might score the first touchdown or run for the most yards during the game seems possible.
Brianne Doura-Schawohl is the VP of US policy and strategic development at EPIC Risk Management. She didn’t think there’s any malice behind the website but did take issue with it.
“Obviously someone is well versed in sports betting to have the offerings the way that they are,” Doura-Schawohl said. “I just think because they don’t feel there’s any money being exchanged that it negates the harm.”
“I do think there’s a grooming or habituation aspect to this, so it is a little bit of a concern,” added Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling.
Nickelodeon and prediction game combination ‘jarring’
Whyte was unaware of NFLNickPlay.com, which was a surprise considering the league is a member of the NCPG.
Whyte called Nickelodeon a brand that parents trust and called the combination of the brand and prediction games jarring.
“We’re talking to them intently about full-scale sports betting involvement with their teams and then we find out – from you guys – that they’re also pursuing prediction partnerships with Nickelodeon,” Whyte said. “It seems jarring. And again, [sports betting and prediction games] are not the same thing but they shouldn’t be unrelated.”
Youth gambling exposure can lead to future problems
The majority of people with a gambling disorder report earlier exposure to gambling than those without a disorder, Doura-Schawohl said.
“If we’re exposing kids to the terminology and the access and thrill, we’re setting them up for potential harm,” she added.
Jamie Salsburg, a former gambler who founded AfterGambling.com, sees some red flags for concern on the website. Even a seemingly harmless activity like picking weekly winners with no monetary compensation could create problems down the line, he said.
That’s especially true if a kid thinks he’s good at it, he added.
“You start to connect those dots at an early age saying ‘I’m good at this,’” Salsburg said. “And that’s a story that you’ll hear repeated from a lot of gamblers that get into problems is there was a belief, often at a very young age, that they had some sort of knack or skill for what they’re doing.”
Website is tracking data
The user first encounters a sweepstakes for a chance to win a signed game ball and more. Children aged 6 to 14 can enter with their first name, their email and a parent’s email.
The website remembers if a device has submitted a sweepstakes entry or not, which suggests it is tracking each user’s activity on the website. Nickelodeon confirms it does track data in the sweepstake confirmation email:
“That’s why we’ve set up a system by which parents can refuse to permit NFLNickPlay.com to collect personal information from your child and can request that NFLNickPlay.com deletes from our records the personal information we have collected. If you have any questions or concerns about Nickelodeon’s approach to children’s privacy, you want to access the data of your child collected on NFLNickPlay.com, or request the deletion of your child’s data collected on NFLNickPlay.com, please contact us at [email protected]”
So far, emails to that address questioning what data has or will be collected have not been returned.
Not the first time NFL tiptoed the line with kids
NFLNickPlay.com is the NFL’s latest attempt to interact with kids with gambling elements tied in, not the first.
The league launched NFL Rush Fantasy in 2014. The product included a fantasy sports game for 6 to 13 year-olds with weekly and season-long prizes.
The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood brought light to that issue and more in its 2015 “Out of Bounds: The NFL’s Intensive Campaign to Target Children.”
The National Council on Problem Gambling joined the fight in 2016. The NFL agreed to drop its fantasy football marketing to children later that year.
“The NFL appears to have learned a number of lessons from the discussions we had around NFL Fantasy Rush, so I think there’s a lot less risk in this current promotion,” Whyte said. “But that doesn’t mean there’s no risk.”
Not all RG voices think NFLNickPlay.com is bad
While Doura-Schawohl and Salsburg saw issues with the website’s content, not all problem gambling experts agreed.
Seth Palansky recently joined GeoComply‘s Conscious Gaming as its VP of corporate social responsibility. He’s been on both sides of the issue before with previous stops at Caesars as well as the NFL.
Palansky likened the website to other youth engagement tactics the NFL has previously undertaken.
“The website is just a tool to build education for the most part,” Palansky said. “I didn’t find the Pick’em game as the central element there, yet I can see their heads spinning on ‘let’s find something weekly that they could do to follow along.’”
“I don’t think there’s any evil geniuses there trying to lead them to sports bet, that’s not the goal of the NFL or Viacom,” Palansky added. “It’s certainly to get you to tune into their product and be more aware of their product and that’s OK.”
Adding sports betting education could help
Talking points and education about sports betting and gambling on the website would be an improvement, the RG experts agreed.
“One thing we would suggest is if there is risk here and materials are similar to that of legal sports betting, there’s a great opportunity for some responsible play education,” Whyte said.
Education could be for more than just the kids, too.
“The biggest concern I have for the US when it comes to sports betting in general is partnerships with these free-to-play [games] or contests, whatever it is,” Doura-Schawohl said. “And when you have a household name like Nickelodeon engaging it’s really that red flag to me that we need to be doing much more in the country by educating both the operators and parents and children.”