TV and league execs say sports betting will 'upend' traditional viewing experience

Lef to right: Jon Litner, David Levy, Chris Ripley, Sarah Kustok, Gary Bettman, David Stern

Television big shots and sports insiders want advertisers to be just as excited about legalized sports betting as they are.

Executives from the NBA, NHL, Sinclair Broadcast Group, Yes Network and the Brooklyn Nets gathered during Advertising Week New York to collectively predict how the new world of live sports gambling could look, and how it should draw in larger audiences.

“When sports started getting involved with ad agencies ... the conventional wisdom was that you should not try to convert non-viewers into viewers; it's a waste of time,” said former NBA commissioner David Stern, who still holds a senior advisor role at the league. What you should do is take your viewers and get them to watch more games and longer.

"Sports betting upends that traditional notion.”

Stern believes betting will attract new viewers and heighten engagement of established fans, as they all now have skin in the game. Plus, networks will reap the “extraordinary” benefits of new gambling-focused advertising opportunities.

The NBA is already beginning to approach gambling advertisers and build out free-to-play offerings to spur fan engagement.

Jon Litner, president of the Yes Network, said integrating these new experiences into game broadcasts or other programming should be a win for regional sports networks (RSNs), as it provides a tertiary revenue stream beyond subscriptions and advertising.

“This [creates an] ability to use this captive audience, local audience, an audience that really knows the players, to tap into a third-line of revenue: transactional revenue,” said Litner. “Whether that's gambling, fantasy or some other thing that we can develop through interactivity.”

Sinclair, which recently acquired 22 RSNs from Disney, sees sports betting as a major growth opportunity, with chief executive officer Chris Ripley saying it will “change the way people interact with sports forever”.

The NHL has been testing puck and player tracking technologies that commissioner Gary Bettman said will be live, in real-time, in every stadium come playoff time. He said all the data points the technologies capture were originally meant as broadcast enhancements, but now they can create more in-game gambling opportunities for people looking to make prop bets, or side bets.

This vision of data-infused sports broadcasts partly on ATSC 3.0, a next generation broadcast TV standard currently in development.

While admitting it will take some time to integrate, Ripley said the new standard should make cross-screen viewing easier by cutting latency so an over-the-air broadcast is synchronized with an over-the-top stream.

Stern said this will give consumers choice in how they watch games.

“You're going to be able to watch the game, choose your broadcaster, choose your feed, chat with somebody and ultimately be able to get the odds and make the bet,” said Stern. “It's all going to happen in one beautifully synchronized way.”

Broadcasters already see sports gambling as a potential money-maker. Fox has recently backed The Stars Group to launch an online sports book.

“You're going to have an entirely different experience, an immersive [and] integrated experience where you're going to get new sets of data that you've never had before,” said Ripley. “You're going to have new storytelling that you've never had before. You're going to have the ability to engage deeper with the sport, and then you're going to able to interact with it, either on a free-to-play basis or a [paid] basis.

“Having that in an immersive experience will undoubtedly be the biggest impact we see coming our way next three-to-five years.”

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