The MA Gaming Commission held an expert roundtable Monday regarding marketing and advertising with legal MA sports betting set for launch early next year.
Executives from NESN, FOX25, MLB and the American Gaming Association participated.
The MA Senate attempted to ban sports betting ads during the legislative process. But that controversial policy did not make it into the final Massaschusetts sports betting bill.
Regulators troubled by influx of ads
State regulators remain concerned about the over-saturation of marketing and advertising. The battle for customer acquisition is set to begin in 2023.
“We try to remind those who want to bet in Massachusetts: we’re standing up the industry. And we’re doing so as thoughtfully and swiftly as we can,” MGC Chair Cathy Judd-Stein said.
“And if they’re placing bets right now, they don’t have those protections.”
MA’s current launch timetable has retail sports betting going live in late January. Online sports betting will go live in early March.
MA Gaming Commission authority
Much of the meeting centered on TV advertising.
MA could have up to 15 different online sports betting operators. States such as New York, upon launch, have had a blitz of sports betting ads across TV, billboards, buses, subway stations and social media platforms.
Sports betting ads are also featured on the floor at NBA games and the ice at NHL games. The Green Monster at Fenway Park featured a massive ad for MGM Resorts in 2022.
What statute says
Via the legislative language, the MGC has the authority to regulate:
(A) advertisements, marketing and branding in such a manner that it is deceptive, false, misleading, or untrue, or tends to deceive or create a misleading impression whether directly, or by ambiguity or omission; (B) use of unsolicited pop-up advertisements on the internet or by text message directed to an individual on the list of self-excluded persons established pursuant to paragraph (2) of subsection (e) of section 13; (C) any form of advertising, marketing or branding that the commission deems unacceptable or disruptive to the viewer experience at a sports event; (D) advertising, marketing and branding deemed to appeal directly to a person younger than 21 years old; and (E) advertising on any billboards, or any other public signage, which fails to comply with any federal, state or local law.
MA sports betting ads a balancing act
The overarching theme from all participants was making sure to strike a proper balance between trying to increase fan engagement but also not overdoing it, while encouraging responsible gaming when age-appropriate.
NESN president Sean McGrail noted that his network has run 4,000 responsible gaming spots in its CT feed. There is also responsible gaming messaging in every one of their pro and collegiate broadcasts, McGrail said.
“We’ve been very proactive on this front,” he added.
MLB broadcast rules
MLB VP and deputy general counsel Quest Meeks broke down the self-imposed ad restrictions that his league has imposed during game windows (pregame, in-game, postgame).
- Limited to 10 spots total
- Four total pre/post
- No more than six total in-game
- Don’t permit more than one 30-second spot per ad break
- Permit two additional in-game spots if they are responsible gaming messaging
“We have to permit enough advertising so that the legalized, regulated sportsbooks can draw customers away from the illegal market,” MLB representative Marquest Meeks said.
MLB’s issue with unregulated books
As of now, Massachusetts residents and visitors can only bet in neighboring states, their local bookie or unregulated offshore sites.
Part of Meeks’ job description is leading MLB investigations anytime there’s an allegation of wrongdoing by baseball personnel.
“The illegal offshore sites like Bovada and the others, they’re not responding to my emails when I try to get information to conduct our investigations and put us in position to levy punishment or to make sure that people are being compliant with our rules,” Meeks said. “We only get that from the legalized, licensed sportsbook partners.”
Potential problems arise
With the power vested in them, the MGC asked a couple of hypothetical questions.
One was if FOX25 was set to air an advertisement on a national FOX NFL broadcast that was not compliant with MA regulations.
“I don’t have the power as a local affiliate to circumvent that,” FOX25 VP/GM Todd Brown said.
The other was if an MLB player under 21 participated in a sports betting ad.
MLB prohibits advertising featuring people under legal betting age. However, the CBA agreement with the MLBPA does enable players to have marketing deals with sportsbooks.
Meeks noted that MLB has yet to deal with such a situation. But it would need to be thoughtful about approaching it given that many of that player’s fans would be of a younger age group.