FanDuel’s announcement on Monday that it had signed a promotional agreement with the the NFL’s Denver Broncos brings full circle the league’s turnaround on how it treats sports wagering. Or at least how it treats it publicly.
Twenty-eight years ago, Congress passed the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, banning states, Nevada excluded, from permitting full-fledged sports betting. Two years ago in Murphy v. NCAA, the Supreme Court overturned the 1992 law and that changed everything, giving each state the option to determine if wagering is a good fit.
So far, 21 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico have either expressly legalized sports betting or allowed it to go live under existing laws. Another 16 have active sports betting legislation in their state capitols.
During most of the journey, the NFL has fervently opposed legal sports betting; it even sued two states over it. But as soon as the Supreme Court struck down PASPA, it immediately began lobbying in favor of a federal framework for sports betting. As more and more states legalized — from Washington to West Virginia and Montana to Michigan — the NFL appears to have adopted the old adage, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”
“FanDuel has built a strong reputation as a premier gaming destination for sports fans,” Denver Broncos Chief Commercial Officer Mac Freeman said via press release. “The ways they smartly reach people through engaging and entertaining content is in line with the Broncos’ innovative thinking when connecting with our fans.”
NFL has agreements all over sports betting landscape
The Broncos’ partnership with FanDuel marks the first between a sportsbook and an NFL team since the league in February told teams they could form such partnernerships. FanDuel also has partnerships with Major League Baseball, the NBA, the NHL, and the XFL. It has individual agreements with Madison Square Garden and the New Jersey Devils. It was also one of four operators to launch mobile/online sports betting in Colorado on May 1.
🚨 BIG NEWS 🚨
We're excited to announce our multi-year partnership with the @Broncos, the first official sports betting partnership with an NFL franchise.
— FanDuel Sportsbook (@FDSportsbook) June 15, 2020
“Colorado is home to a passionate sports fan base and independent spirit, and, together with the Broncos, we’re going to take the fan experience in Colorado to the next level,” FanDuel Group CMO Mike Raffensperger said via press release Monday. “With the NFL season just around the corner, partnering with an innovative organization like the Denver Broncos allows us to offer engaging fan experiences both inside and outside the stadium and access to unique betting promotions and content.”
Since the fall of PASPA, the NFL hasn’t been shy about partnering with others in the industry. In August 2019, the NFL entered into a deal with data and content provider Sportradar giving the company exclusive rights to sell NFL data. In Illinois, Michigan, and Tennessee, law requires that sportsbooks purchase data directly from the professional leagues or their partners. And in January 2019, the NFL made Caesars Entertainment its first casino partner.
In the last year, two states — Illinois and Virginia — have made it legal for sportsbooks to be located in NFL stadiums. The District of Columbia was the first to make it legal to have a sportsbook in a professional stadium. There is no NFL team that plays in the District, but Ted Leonsis plans for his Capital One Arena (NBA Wizards, NHL Capitals) to be the first in the nation to have a live sportsbook when reduced COVID-19 concerns permit the unveiling of the arena’s William Hill Sportsbook.
— 106.7 The Fan (@1067theFan) March 27, 2019
A Timeline: How NFL came to embrace sports betting
So, how did we get from dire warnings about the ills of sports betting to a warm embrace? Here’s a look at some of the tentpole events.
October 1992: Congress stamps PASPA, President George H.W. Bush signs, and it becomes effective. Then-NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue testified before Congress in support of the bill (emphasis added):
“Sports gambling threatens the character of team sports. Our games embody our very finest traditions and values. They stand for clean, healthy competition. They stand for teamwork. And they stand for success through preparation and honest effort. With legalized sports gambling, our games instead will come to represent the fast buck, the quick fix, the desire to get something for nothing. The spread of legalized sports gambling would change forever—and for the worse—what our games stand for and the way they are perceived.
Sports gambling threatens the integrity of, and public confidence in, amateur and professional sports. Widespread legalization of sports gambling would inevitably promote suspicion about controversial plays and lead fans to think “the fix was in” whenever their team failed to beat the point-spread.
July 2009: Fast forward 17 years when Delaware was contemplating expansion of its NFL parlay wagering offering, which had been “grandfathered” (i.e., allowed to continue) when PASPA became law. The NFL, alongside the NBA, NHL, MLB and the NCAA, sued Delaware Gov. Jack Markell to enforce PASPA and stop Delaware in its tracks. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell wrote in an eight-page declaration:
“State-sponsorship of sports gambling threatens to confuse fans into believing that the NFL supports sports gambling, thereby allowing casino operators and other sports-betting operations to trade unfairly on the NFL’s goodwill and image of fairness.
“Because of the threat that sports gambling poses to the goodwill and integrity of NFL [f]ootball, and to the fundamental bond of loyalty and devotion between fans and teams that the league seeks to maintain, the NFL has repeatedly and consistently been a leading opponent of legalized sports gambling.”
August 2012: In what is now known as Christie I in the legal saga of the sports leagues versus New Jersey, the same leagues involved in the Delaware matter sue the state of New Jersey two months before it is set to take applications for sports betting licenses. The state was gearing up to offer legal sports betting at licensed casinos and horse racetracks in the state. The leagues win.
October 2014: The NFL and other professional sports leagues sue the state of New Jersey (again) to prohibit sports betting after Gov. Chris Christie signed into law a bill that, in a roundabout way, would have allowed sports betting at licensed casinos and horse racetracks. The leagues win.
June 2015: This happened, because the league was concerned with how it might “appear”:
— Yahoo Sports (@YahooSports) June 6, 2015
Tony Romo on NFL canceling his fantasy football event in Vegas: When they look back, they'll be very disappointed with how they handled it
— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) June 9, 2015
March 2017: The NFL becomes the second professional league in a year to approve a team’s move into the Las Vegas market. On June 22, 2016, the NHL owners voted to allow an expansion team in Las Vegas. On March 27, 2017, the NFL owners approved the Raiders’ move to Las Vegas. The 2020 NFL season will mark the team’s first on Nevada soil.
March 2018: NFL owners begin to utter the truth, out loud, behind closed doors:
What kind of biz opp is there for the NFL in legalized sports gambling is up for debate. Chiefs CEO Clark Hunt told me he believes it’ll be in growing the game in new frontiers like China. Another exec said he thinks it’s how Roger Goodell can get to $25 billion in revenue.
— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) March 27, 2018
May 2018: New Jersey’s appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court in Christie v. NCAA is granted in 2017. The next year the court overturns PASPA, making the issue of sports betting a states’ rights decision. Within months, sportsbooks in four states — Delaware, New Jersey, Mississippi, and West Virginia — begin taking wagers.
January 2019: The NFL announces a partnership with hospitality giant Caesars Entertainment, making it the league’s first casino partner.
August 2019: The NFL partners with Sportradar, making the company its exclusive data provider. This means that in states that mandate the use of official league data, Sportradar will be the middleman and the league will have a monopoly.
December 2019: The NFL announces it will hold its draft, its premiere off-season event, in Las Vegas in 2020. The draft was subsequently moved to remote locations due to the coronavirus pandemic.
January 2020: It’s official: The NFL announces that the Las Vegas Raiders will begin play in their new stadium in the fall. Tony Romo presumably will appear at some point to add color commentary during a CBS broadcast.
February 2020: The NFL tells its teams it can partner with sportsbooks. So far, law would allow for physical sportsbooks inside professional sports stadiums in only three jurisdictions — Washington, D.C. (which doesn’t have an NFL team), Illinois, and Virginia.
June 2020: The Broncos and FanDuel team up. To be continued…