We have a pretty good sense of exactly what the major North American professional sports leagues think about daily fantasy sports — and also sports betting — after recent comments by all the commissioners.
The takeaway? Support appears to be strong, even after the events of the past month.
Some of what we have learned came from a recent run of appearances by three of the commissioners on ESPN Radio’s “Mike & Mike” morning show.
Here’s a look at what we have heard from each league and their stances on DFS and sports wagering:
Roger Goodell and the NFL
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell appears to be aboard the DFS train, but isn’t hopping on the sports betting bandwagon.
NFL on daily fantasy
The NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell appear to be firmly in the corner of daily fantasy sports, although perhaps not quite to the level of the other pro sports leagues, which all have equity stakes in either FanDuel or DraftKings.
Goodell had this to say on Mike & Mike last week:
“Whether it’s gambling or not, it’s a decision made by state authorities, attorney generals — they’ve made that determination. We do understand our fans are interested in playing daily fantasy. We just want to protect our fans and make sure there’s proper consumer protection in there for them, and we’ve encouraged that and we think it’s important that our fans have that protection.”
Saying DFS is not gambling amounts to tacit support for the industry, which is certainly a good thing. And Goodell stopped short of calling for all-out regulation.
Of course, whether attorney generals have actually made a “decision” about DFS is a tenuous argument. It’s safe to assume many state AG’s had never heard of or considered DFS until this year. The AG’s in both New York and Illinois, at a minimum, are considering the industry, while Nevada’s AG said DFS is gambling under state code.
We’re also heard from Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and the president of the New England Patriots and the Kraft Group, Jonathan Kraft, who have both come out in support of DFS, the latter calling for regulation. Jones is invested in DraftKings via Legends Hospitality, as is the Kraft Group (which includes Patriots owner Robert Kraft).
In the past month, though, the NFL has also sought to create a bit of distance between itself and daily fantasy. When a report said the NFL was trying to “ward off” Congressional issues, the NFL took issue with that framing via spokesman Brian McCarthy. From ESPN:
“We have been informing [Congressional] staff that the league and clubs have no equity interest,” McCarthy told ESPN in an email. “We explained the difference between the daily fantasy games and the fantasy offerings from the league. It is up to the members if it has a hearing. We were communicating with staff to make sure it had our information.”
McCarthy has also consistently drawn a bright line between DFS advertising deals and “sponsorships,” even if that’s just semantics. More from McCarthy:
“Daily fantasy is considered a game of skill. There’s no league sponsorship agreement or investment in those companies. Clubs may accept traditional advertising within their controlled media properties, including TV, radio, digital, print and stadium signage, provided no club or league marks are included in such advertisements. The daily fantasy marketplace is in its infancy and we continue to follow developments.”
The support does not appear to be unconditional. But for the time being, it seems like DFS can count on the NFL during these turbulent times.
NFL on sports betting
There is no mistaking Goodell’s tone on this issue. The NFL still wants nothing to do with legalizing and regulating sports betting in the U.S. From Mike & Mike:
“We are not in favor of legalizing sports gambling. We think that is a mistake for sports. The integrity of our game is the most important thing and we want to make sure that our game is above any sort of influence and we do not want to participate in that.
It does not appear that Goodell or the NFL will change their minds on this issue any time soon, despite the league hosting games in London, where sports betting is legal.
NBA and Adam Silver
There’s nothing wishy washy about NBA Commissioner Adam Silver on these topics (other than his league’s participation in a lawsuit seeking to block sports betting in New Jersey). He wants legalized and regulated DFS and sports betting.
NBA on daily fantasy
Silver is behind DFS. But he’s also actively calling for regulation, of some sort, of the industry. From Mike & Mike:
“You are putting money at risk, and so from that standpoint, I think in terms of the integrity of those businesses, the confidence that fans have, that consumers have in playing those games, I think regulation is in order. People should know what percent of the pool of money is paid out in the same way you would at a track or at any other event where wagering is involved.”
“There should be a regulatory framework. There should be increased transparency for consumers. I think it would ultimately aid the industry. In fact, I think we’re seeing the marketplace impacted, because there’s not a clear regulatory framework right now.
…“[The NBA is] not considering withdrawing or backing off our relationship with the industry. It’s something that we’re monitoring very closely. And it’s something that we’re deeply engaged in on the broader subject of daily fantasy-slash-sports betting.”
NBA on sports betting
Silver’s stance can’t get much clearer than this. Last year, he penned an article called “Legalize and Regulate Sports Betting” that ran in the New York Times.
If there was a legitimate effort to repeal the law that prevents nationwide sports betting — the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act — Silver would be at the front of the line to direct traffic.
Rob Manfred and MLB
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred is bullish on DFS, and a bit more tepid on sports betting.
MLB on daily fantasy
Manfred has stood staunchly behind the DFS industry, including its partner DraftKings. Manfred defended the legality of DFS in comments in October. From ESPN:
“I think fantasy is an important source of fan engagement and has been for a long time,” Manfred said. “We did thoroughly investigate the games that were available on the site [DraftKings], and we were completely comfortable with the idea that those games were consistent with the existing federal law.
“Put the law to one side. There’s a huge difference between Rob Manfred, citizen, betting on whether Kansas City beats Toronto or whomever on the one hand, and Rob Manfred picking nine guys off 18 teams to try to see if he can accumulate more points within a given set of guidelines than 100 other guys trying to do the same thing. Forget the law for a minute. I see those as two completely different dynamics.”
And here is what he said on Mike & Mike, regarding all the recent scrutiny:
“I think the biggest concern is the one that attracted the most publicity. You want to make sure that the fantasy organizations have appropriate safeguards in place to ensure that things are fair, that there’s not an inappropriate use of information and that fans who engage on these platforms have an opportunity to win.”
Unless there is a massive change in the DFS landscape, Manfred and MLB seem to be solidly behind the industry, and its partner, DraftKings.
MLB on sports betting
To get to what Manfred is thinking on sports betting, you have to read tea leaves. Here is what he said on Mike & Mike:
“What I’ve said about legalized gambling is that the landscape is changing and that baseball, during this offseason, principally will take a look at its relationships with legalized gambling — whether it’s sponsorship, whatever — and re-evaluate given that the country has changed in terms of its approach to legalized gambling.”
Earlier this year, Manfred spoke to ESPN and also seemed to be moving away from a hard-line stance against sports betting.
“Gambling in terms of our society has changed its presence on legalization, and I think it’s important for there to be a conversation between me and the owners about what our institutional position will be.”
It’s not clear if MLB and Manfred are ready to actively back regulated sports betting yet, but it’s certainly at least a possibility.
NHL and Gary Bettman
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has been a bit more off the radar than his commissioner counterparts.
NHL on daily fantasy
He hasn’t been asked to comment over the course of the past month, and the deal with DraftKings appears to be full-steam ahead. So, there’s no reason to think the NHL isn’t in support of DFS.
NHL on sports betting
Bettman appears to be non-committal. Last year, he weighed in, saying the “issue of legalized sports betting needs a lot more discussion before any decisions about government legalization and regulation can be made.”
So what’s it all mean for the prospects of DFS and sports betting?
For DFS, it’s clearly good news. If the leagues had been more tepid in their comments about DFS, it would have been a major red flag. Instead, the two major DFS operators have seen the pro leagues dig their heels in and go to bat for them publicly; albeit with the caveat that perhaps some changes are needed.
The leagues’ public support of DFS has been invaluable in helping set a firewall against further immediate action. And the alternative — pro sports leagues seeking to distance themselves from DFS — could have been extremely bad for the industry.
Also of note: The deals between FanDuel or DraftKings and pro teams remain intact in states where there has been some sort of negative news (and where some operators have pulled out) — like Michigan and Florida. That has to be considered another good sign for the industry.
How much the leagues’ support will translate into actions behind the scenes — in lobbying at the state and federal level — is an open question, and one we’re not likely to have a ton of visibility into answering. But, if nothing else, the public comments themselves go a long way.
The leagues and the future of sports betting is still murky, with the NBA and the NFL diametrically opposed — at least in their commissioners’ public comments.
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