Hours before the NFL season kicked off Thursday night at Soldier Field in Chicago, Buffalo Wild Wings unveiled an historic partnership with MGM Resorts that may transform the nation’s largest sports-bar chain into a haven for betting on sports.
On Thursday morning, Buffalo Wild Wings (BWW) announced that it is joining forces with MGM Resorts International and Roar Digital, the gaming company’s sports betting venture, to create a unique strategic alignment focused on engaging customers through sports gambling.
In the not-so-distant-future, certain BWW locations will begin to display custom sportsbook content provided by BetMGM on televisions inside the restaurants. More immediately, the companies will collaborate on a sports betting test in New Jersey before the end of the year with the intention of moving into other states, as legislation allows, according to a joint statement.
BWW set to offer free contest
Beginning this week, BWW will offer a nationwide free-to-play contest that will award prizes to entrants who hit the most number of props and spread bets over a given period. The contest will be available on the BetMGM app, which was rebranded from “PlayMGM” this week. MGM also plans to offer customers sweeteners such as enhanced odds and free bets, when the app is accessed inside a Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant.
The sports betting experience is coming to a Buffalo Wild Wings near you via one of America's largest bookmakers.https://t.co/tnhMaupaOx
— David Payne Purdum (@DavidPurdum) September 5, 2019
The partnership appears to be mutually beneficial for the companies on multiple fronts. Buffalo Wild Wings President Lyle Tick, who lauded MGM for its expansive suite of sports betting products, believes there is no other counterpart in the industry with the “scale and expertise of BetMGM.” MGM, meanwhile, commended BWW on its “superb estate of sports bars,” and ability to engage customers.
“From our perspective they are the perfect partner in a retail environment,” Roar Digital CEO Adam Greenblatt told Sports Handle.
Buffalo Wild Wings first expressed interest in adding sports betting to its restaurants last August in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. Months earlier, the Arby’s Restaurant Group completed a $2.9 billion acquisition of Buffalo Wild Wings Inc., then subsequently renamed the parent company Inspire Brands, Inc.
Scott Butera, president of interactive gaming at MGM Resorts, emphasized that the company has been intrigued by Buffalo Wild Wings for quite some time, particularly after the purchase by Inspire Brands. In states where real-money sports wagering has been legalized, MGM intends to offer mobile sports wagering inside BWW restaurants through the BetMGM app. In states that have yet to approve legal sports betting, MGM will focus on the free, predictive contest.
Ultimately, Butera views the partnership as an ideal way to bring two leading brands together in the food and beverage industry, as well as the sports and entertainment space together under the same umbrella.
Dominating the Midwest corridor
Another aspect of the deal that appeals to MGM is Buffalo Wild Wings’ presence across multiple regions throughout the country. Butera is encouraged by the fact that the partnership gives MGM access to BWW’s empire of approximately 1,200 chain restaurants nationwide.
Buffalo Wild Wings is ubiquitous across the Midwest where the chain operates more than 400 restaurants in close to a dozen states. Of the top five U.S. states ranked by total number of BWW restaurants, three are located in the region — Ohio, Illinois and Michigan, according to data company ScrapeHero. With roughly 90 locations, Ohio is tied for second in the nation with California in terms of BWW locations, according to ScrapeHero, while Texas is the nation’s leader with 101 BWW restaurants.
In Illinois, there are nearly 75 BWW locations, including three in the Chicago area. One location inside The Marshall, a Downtown shopping area, is less than two miles from Soldier Field. As Illinois proceeds cautiously with its plans to roll out legalized sports betting, many residents of the Prairie State are planning to travel across the border into Indiana to place their wagers. For them, there is a Buffalo Wild Wings in Hammond, Ind., a border city approximately 20 miles south of Chicago.
The restaurant chain also has a considerable presence in other states bordering the Midwest region. Two states, Pennsylvania and Tennessee, stand out due to recent legislation pertaining to mobile sports betting. After months of controversy, mobile sports betting launched in Pennsylvania in May. Although sports betting is technically legal in Tennessee, state laws require the Tennessee Education Lottery Corporation to create regulations allowing gambling statewide — a process that could take months. Tennessee is the only U.S. state that has legalized online-only sports wagering, while also prohibiting gambling at physical locations.
Challenges posed by mobile betting
When asked how MGM can deter BWW customers from using other sports betting apps inside the restaurants, Greenblatt acknowledged that it is a difficult, important question. Rather than seeking to change the vibe inside the sports bar environment, MGM is looking to augment it, he said. For now, MGM is not looking to open any bricks-and-mortar sportsbooks inside Buffalo Wild Wings, Greenblatt added.
The topic of geofencing is thornier. As a free-market advocate, Greenblatt would rather develop the best product in the marketplace than restrict competitors such as William Hill US, DraftKings and FanDuel within the walls of BWW. Still, Tick noted that Buffalo Wild Wings may look into geofencing outside the restaurants in states that allow it. Customers that ignore the MGM activations, though, will miss out on certain boosted-odds promotions and other offerings.
MGM, Buffalo Wild Wings ink sports betting partnership. But there can be no wagering at the chain's lone D.C. sports bar. https://t.co/dwOXSx06CO
— Louis Kwok (@loukwok) September 5, 2019
Inspire Brands does not have any plans to expand its sports betting operations to other restaurant chains beyond Buffalo Wild Wings. The private company, which is owned by private equity firm Roark Capital Group, is also the parent company of Arby’s and Sonic Drive-In.
“Obviously, this is intrinsic to Buffalo Wild Wings,” Tick said. “When there might be commonalities, we will find them, but sports betting is a natural fit and gaming and engagement is a natural fit uniquely to Buffalo Wild Wings within our portfolio.”