Looks like the old “tastes great, less filling” arguments of yore are going to be joined by “straight bets, more teasers” discussions during NFL broadcasts this season as the NFL — after decades of railing against the notion of legalized sports betting — is now welcoming seven different sportsbooks to its commercial airwaves.
Expect to see six sportsbook ads per game this year. Why only six? Because that’s the limit the NFL is placing on the books. The reasons for this are twofold, an NFL source told SportsHandle: One, because not all fans are interested in sports betting, and two, because there are still fresh memories of the ridiculousness of the DraftKings–Fanduel DFS wars back in 2015, when the two companies spent more money than the entire beer industry on television advertising from Aug. 15 to the first week of the NFL season.
But there may be a third reason, as pointed out by Adam Armbruster, a television ad expert of Eckstein, Summers, Armbruster & Company.
“If they limit the supply, the pricing will be at a premium,” Armbruster pointed out.
Here are the basic details: The NFL is allowing FanDuel, DraftKings, and Caesars — the official sportsbook partners of the NFL — along with FOX Bet, BetMGM, PointsBet, and WynnBet to advertise during NFL games. The latter four are being allowed to join in the fun because they’ve agreed, per a press release, to “adhere to the NFL’s core integrity policies, use official NFL data, collaborate with the NFL on information sharing and advocacy efforts and support the NFL’s responsible gambling efforts. All operators will also license Official League Data from the League’s Official Data provider, Genius Sports.”
And make no mistake: These sportsbooks are champing at the bit to get their advertising out to a national audience in an effort to gain as much market share as possible.
“When it comes to sports betting action, the NFL remains a leader among all sports,” read a statement to SportsHandle from the Caesars Entertainment PR desk. “Having far-reaching visibility with NFL fans this season presents a great opportunity for potential growth. Caesars Entertainment will have a wide-reaching branding push this NFL season. As the official casino partner and an exclusive sports betting partner of the NFL, complimented by a full roster of partnerships with individual NFL teams and having the naming rights to the Caesars Superdome, all anchored by a national advertising campaign and new promotions for Caesars Sportsbook, Caesars will have strong visibility with NFL fans this fall.”
DraftKings is also ready to dive in headfirst with its national campaign.
“In-game NFL ads provide an excellent opportunity to get our brand in front of engaged audiences consuming live sports,” said Stephanie Sherman, DraftKings’ SVP of channel marketing. “Doing so nationally is newly available this year and a critical area for us to test. So, we’re going to invest and measure in real time like we always do with an analytical lens.”
But while the likes of Caesars and DraftKings are readying their campaigns, the NFL’s braintrust is still showing some hesitancy by limiting the number of ads.
People shouldn’t be so sensitive. Let’s take over the world! https://t.co/AmHkLCLuJM
— Ariel Epstein (@ArielEpstein) August 24, 2021
In short: The league doesn’t want a repeat of 2015, and certainly doesn’t want Seth Rogen and John Oliver doing a longform video about the risks associated with gambling.
The bad ol’ days
Ah, 2015: a time when daily fantasy sports was taking over the national television airwaves. The numbers were truly staggering. According to a CNN report from the time, DraftKings spent $131.4 million on national television advertising — which added up to over 40,000 airings. Not to be outdone — although they were — FanDuel spent $74.5 million for over 21,000 national airings.
To provide some frame of reference, according to a Nielsen report, in Q1 2021 there was a little less than $6 million spent on national advertising by the sports betting industry. And with all those ads came plenty of backlash, and not just from John Oliver: In fact, the entire industry almost crumbled due to a not-quite scandal and a whole lotta political hand-wringing.
Quick recap: A DraftKings employee tweeted out player ownership data between the 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. slates — including the data for the 4 p.m. games, which would theoretically give sharper players an advantage for late-swap purposes. While this accident was damaging enough, what really caught everyone’s attention was the fact this employee then went ahead and won $350,000 playing in a FanDuel tournament.
And while it certainly looked bad, it wasn’t all that bad. The employee didn’t change any of his lineups, everything was locked as per FanDuel’s rules at the time, and there was seemingly no way he would’ve been able to use the information for nefarious purposes. But it didn’t matter: Non-gambling media caught wind of the story, didn’t entirely grasp it, and nearly ended up torpedoing the DFS world as state and federal legislators sought to ban the action.
Thankfully, during a GOP presidential debate, then-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie put everyone in their place, thus starting to pave the way for lobbyists to do their thing and get DFS officially legal — and not just due to a loophole — in 44 states.
And while legalized sports betting is certainly not in current danger of expanded federal oversight or threat of being banned (see Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association) there are still plenty of states where sports betting is not legalized — and the last thing the industry needs is a barrage of television ads that everyone will end up hating.
Do as I say … and as I do
For the sportsbooks, partnering with the NFL on television advertising is less a partnership and more of a parent-child relationship. After all, the NFL is retaining final approval on any ads that are set to run.
“They’re treading lightly and will see how the public reacts to it,” Armbruster said. “Are they going to be besieged with resistance? Probably not, as the natural evolution of society clearly wants access to this, and it’s going to be very lucrative.”
As for DraftKings and Caesars, both companies are going with a more soft-sell approach to the wide world of gambling instead of concentrating on would-be riches.
“The Caesars Sportsbook advertising campaign is episodic in nature, and over the course of the season will evolve with new creative elements and storylines that will help build brand awareness, inform customers about the product and drive first-time downloads,” according to the Caesars statement. “The promise that every Caesars Sportsbook customer is treated like royalty will be rolled out through a series of new creative spots throughout the season, all focusing on entertaining the audience with fun and engaging content that drives home the message that we are all Caesars. Caesars Sportsbook puts the bettor at the center of everything.”
Meanwhile, DraftKings is going for a bit of comedy, with a series of ads starring Martin Lawrence.
“We’re focused on elevating our brand, creating the best experience for our customers, and continuing to give them best-in-class products and promotions,” Sherman said. “We’ll lean into our status as the official partner of the NFL to further emphasize DraftKings as the premier place for ‘skin in the game’ sports fans to elevate their NFL game-watching experience.”
In the end, though, what all these sportsbooks are after is simple: market share. And for a veteran TV ad man like Armbruster, he sees DraftKings, Caesars, and the other NFL-partnered sportsbooks doing very well for themselves this NFL season.
“TV does build credibility; it’s really amazing at that,” he said. “These services will be seen as more credible. That will happen.”