With Eye on Sports-Betting Future, NBC Sports Washington To Air Its First Predict the Game Wizards Telecast Tonight
The RSN views the format as a gateway to more sports-gambling–focused telecasts
Tonight, NBC Sports Washington will embark on one of the most significant in-game sports-betting experiments of any U.S. sports network to date. During this evening’s Washington Wizards–Milwaukee Bucks game, the RSN will debut an interactive live-game experience on NBC Sports Washington Plus, offering a free-to-play predictive-gaming contest with a $500 prize, along with real-time betting data and statistics.
CLICK HERE for a video example of the Predict the Game format
“I’ve always been focused on how we make our TV broadcasts more engaging for fans,” says NBC Sports Washington SVP/GM Damon Phillips. “We believe sports betting is going to be a valuable way to not only attract new viewers but also engage viewers for longer. The person we’re going after here is the casual bettor. We’re trying to introduce people to this new way of engaging, and, over time, we expect [betting] and microtransactions to be a big piece of what we do around these games. We feel that we need to be at the center of this transition because we have the live content.”
Tonight’s telecast — the first of eight Predict the Game broadcasts announced earlier this week — will feature a CNBC-style L-bar on-screen graphic displaying questions and various stats/data feeds throughout the broadcast. Approximately 30 questions will appear during the game, and viewers can submit their predictions online, monitoring their success via leaderboards throughout the game.
Betting-Friendly Footprint: DC, Delaware, West Virginia
Last May, the U.S. Supreme Court lifted the federal ban on sports gambling, giving states the go-ahead to allow betting on sports. Since then, legal sportsbooks have opened in more than a half dozen states, including Delaware and West Virginia (both in NBC Sports Washington’s distribution footprint). In the District of Columbia, legislation to allow sports betting has been passed and is awaiting final approval.
“With the [legislative] movement we’ve seen in our footprint, [greenlighting Predict the Game] made a lot of sense for us,” says Phillips. “The second key piece is, we have terrific partners with [Wizards and Capitals owner] Monumental Sports & Entertainment. They were behind us right from the start.”
Inside the Telecast: Informing Without Overwhelming
The Predict the Game telecasts on NBC Sports Washington Plus will overlay the main game telecast with an L-bar graphic displaying real-time data. The questions will appear in the bottom bar along with up-to-date gambling info (the spread, money line, total); game/player stats will be in the right-side bar.
“Our primary goal is to better engage fans, but we don’t want to overwhelm them,” notes Mark Friedman, director, creative services and advanced technology, NBC Sports Washington. “We’re keeping the whole 16:9 picture of the game, but you’ve got more details around the side and bottom. Think of when CNBC started putting financial-data feeds all over the screen: people thought it was nuts. Now it is the standard for getting your financial news.”
Beyond a few calls-to-action by on-air talent early in the game, no changes have been made to the production team’s workflow in the truck, according to Friedman. Production of the L-bar feature will originate from network headquarters in Bethesda, MD. Friedman will oversee playout of on-screen elements/questions, with a handful of staffers manually updating the leaderboard throughout the game.
“The goal is not to interrupt our main production at all,” he points out. “They have so many sponsor and marketing obligations to get in already; we didn’t want to clutter that up with even more [content]. The long-term goal is for this to be 95% automatic because it is all driven by data feeds; you just press a button.”
NBC Sports Washington began experimenting with a “lightweight prototype” of the format during a handful of telecasts last spring. Then Friedman and company worked with the NBC Sports Group creative team in Stamford, CT, to come up with the final on-screen look for the Predict the Game telecasts.
“We wanted to stay with the same general NBC Sports look and keep within our overall graphics package to promote the NBC Sports brand,” Friedman explains. “But we also want to keep [the viewer] visually stimulated and interested, so there are different colors and there’s a lot of movement. Every time there’s a new question, an animation will [play out] at the bottom of the screen to introduce it.”
Phillips expects the strategy to evolve over the eight-game series: “Our goal is for the eighth game to look pretty different from the first game because we’re going to continue to build upon what we learn with each game.”
How It Works: The Predict the Game Interface
Asked to predict various game and player performance outcomes through a series of questions (six to 10 per quarter, according to Friedman) appearing on screen during the telecast, fans will earn points for correct predictions, with the top eligible scorer at the end of the game earning or splitting the $500 prize.
“You don’t necessarily have to know anything about basketball or either team; you can just sit and watch and play,” says Friedman. “If we ask a question about Bradley Beal, then we expect you’re going to sit and watch the rest of the first quarter to see if he does something. Not everyone watches every single NBA game, but everyone is interested in winning $500.”
The RSN worked with Telescope to develop the real-time Q&A platform, which fans can access via mobile device or desktop. They can join throughout the game and submit predictions at nbcsportswashington.com/predict. Predict the Game leaderboards will be displayed on-air at selected times, with the winner revealed during postgame coverage.
“If you’re still up there on the leaderboard and have a chance, then you’re probably going to watch that whole fourth quarter whether the Wizards are winning or it’s a blowout,” says Friedman. “That’s the short-term goal: to keep people involved. The long-term goal is to give people a taste of sports betting. It’s not as big in American culture as it is in Europe, so we want to get people used to it. And we’ll benefit because we have the games, and people will want to see their investment in action.”
On the Horizon: Applying the Format to Other Sports Properties
Although NBC Sports Washington’s plan to produce eight Predict the Game telecasts marks a significant commitment to integration of in-game betting, the RSN views it as just the beginning.
“Right now, we’re looking at this as an NBA product,” says Phillips, “but we expect it to be a multisport product over time. As we look out at the horizon, there is opportunity to do more of these and to make them better. Social is another big piece of this. People want to know how they’re doing against their friends and against other people. So, making this more social is going to be an important part of the product-development process.”