The NFL's Stance On Sports Betting
The NFL’s stance on sports betting is markedly different from the four other major US sports leagues (NCAA, MLB, NBA, NHL). Instead of advocating for a so-called “integrity fee” that – so far – seems to be completely economically infeasible (as the leagues want to split 1% of the total betting handle among themselves, which amounts to 20% of the profit margin of most sportsbooks), the league has come out with a public stance that states allowing sports betting should all be bound by the same federal laws, and that the states themselves should not have the authority to institute their own rules and regulations for the activity.
Of course, part of the impact of the recent Supreme Court ruling overturning the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA, 1992) is the fact that it returns to the states what is their constitutional right. Nowhere does the US Constitution give the federal government any authority to regulate gambling, and policing the activity (or not) is specifically given to the states in the 10th Amendment. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell wishes to reverse this, simply trading one terrible federal law governing sports betting for another.
Goodell “believes” (incorrectly or dishonestly) that federal legislation is required for legal sports betting standards to be maintained for West Virginia sportsbooks. How his and the NFL’s stance on sports betting arrived at this conclusion is anyone’s guess, but there is no actual evidence that permitting states to proffer their own sports betting laws would be worse or “more corruptible” than having a federal mandate to which all states must equally adhere.
Indeed, having the federal government – which with PASPA already proved itself entirely unequipped to police sports betting or make sound economic decisions concerning the activity – involved in the process is simply not ideal for any state. Further, because the economics of each state are drastically different from each other, such a one-size-fits-all approach to the implementation of sports betting is sure to be counterproductive. With this in mind, it seems that the real intent here is for the NFL to limit its negotiations to one party – the US congress – instead of 50 different state legislatures.
The NFL has loosely defined its four core principles of sports betting legislation. The following represent the bullet points re the NFL’s stance on sports betting, and they’re what Goodell and the league wish to see addressed in any potential federal legislation that would replace PASPA:
1. Leagues should have full protection of their “content and intellectual property from those who attempt to steal or misuse it.”
This is vague, and the NFL has not been forthcoming about what exactly it means here. Most analysts assume that the league is talking about its logos and player names and things like that. Logos are one thing, but player names – the names of public figures – cannot be shielded from valid news reporting.
Further, as sports wagers are predicated on lineups and known player/team scenarios pre-game, odds boards for events that haven’t yet occurred are similarly public information. After all, sports betting is literally the reason the NFL mandates that each team issue a comprehensive injury report to the media each week of the season.
The NFL will undoubtedly be able to protect its logos and trademarked properties, but these are unnecessary for sportsbooks to use, and they traditionally do not use them. Why the NFL couldn’t enter into voluntary licensing agreements offering sportsbooks the use of these logos and trademarks remains a mystery.
2. The legislation must provide “substantial consumer protections.”
This is extremely vague, and the NFL has made no effort to elaborate on what “substantial consumer protections” constitute. It would seem that poker rooms, casinos, racetracks, and legal bookmakers have been doing an adequate job in this arena for decades, and it makes little sense that adding a sportsbook service would change their general approach to the matter. This seems like pandering fluff – buzzwords to inspire the cooperation of emotionally-manipulative congresspersons – and little more.
3. Fans must have access to “official, reliable league data.”
This point is the NFL’s main gambit here, as it’s what they’re relying on to generate massive revenue for the league (on top of the billions of extra dollars in audience interest and ad revenue they’ll get now that folks all around America will openly have skin in the game).
The takeaway is this: The NFL wishes to be the sole custodian of its statistical data, which it wants to “license” to sportsbooks (presumably exclusively, by order of the federal government). In this way, the league would set up a service to disseminate (in real time) all the data from each play of every game. They would, naturally, do this for a hefty fee.
Of course, there are already many companies that provide this exact service to bookmakers all over the world, and it seems unlikely that the NFL could offer a better product right off the bat. If they could, they would, and no federal legislation would be required if their service were significantly better and priced competitively.
Nevertheless, the NFL has tremendous leverage here when it comes to legal precedent, as they can lean on a US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ruling that found the PGA Tour had a valid claim as owning the exclusive rights to their data (i.e. scoring outcomes).
4. Law enforcement must have the appropriate resources to “protect our fans and penalize bad actors...at home and abroad.”
This is more meaningless puffery. The NFL is not interested in protecting its fans from anything. It is interested in controlling its image. Further, law enforcement is already equipped to handle whatever it is the NFL claims needs handling. On top of that, the funding of law enforcement does not come from private companies, so this proposal seems to be – in effect – a taxation scheme targeted at bookmakers and, ultimately, private US residents.
It is unlikely that the NFL will get the above sports betting legislation passed in its current loose and rambling form. Additionally, at least right now, there seems to be no impetus at the federal level to hear bills about sports betting, while dozens of states are eagerly planning and implementing their own strategies. This system works and is how such matters were designed to be reconciled in America.
Further, the NFL’s stance on sports betting that it owns its data (i.e. the news of its players’ and teams’ performances) is spurious, and the legal precedent bolstering this claim is being actively appealed, perhaps even to the Supreme Court itself.
Still, the overarching theme of this proposal is quite cynical, as three of the four “core principles” are actively being addressed by every single state that has passed (or is debating) its own sports betting laws, rendering federal intervention a moot point. The sole goal for the NFL here is to get a mandate that it has the exclusive right to aggregate and disseminate all statistics and datasets that come out of its games.