HPA Tech Retreat: How Legalized Sports Betting Will Change the Content-Creation Game

Broadcasters and streamers take major steps with an eye toward a potential windfall

Regulatory constraints are being removed from the gaming industry, and technology makes it possible for fans in some states to place bets in real time from any device as an integrated event experience. With legislation and technology advancing rapidly, the sports-media industry is gearing up for a potential windfall demand for sports-betting content.

Thus far, NBC Sports Regional Networks has begun producing betting-specific and predictive-gaming telecasts; digital outlets like The Action Network, SportsGrid, and VSiN are creating content focused on betting data and analysis; and major sports broadcasters like ESPN and Fox have launched betting-focused studio shows with The Daily Wager and Lock It In, respectively.

At the HPA Tech Retreat’s opening day of TR-X sessions, executives from Sinclair Broadcast Group (which is bullish on sports betting after acquiring Fox’s 21 RSNs last year), betting-data provider Sportradar, research firm EK Gaming, and sports-betting–focused streaming company InPlay Studios took the stage to discuss the basics of today’s technology, where the best business opportunities are in sports betting, and how betting data can be used to drive storytelling within the game. Here’s a look at some of the take-aways from the session.

Chris Grove, principal, sports and emerging verticals, EK Gaming, on the rapid legalization: “Sports betting is spreading across the U.S. at a pace that has historically been unmatched by other forms of gambling expansion. The short way to put it is that sports betting simply does not play by the same set of political or cultural rules that other forms of gambling play by in the U.S. We’re seeing the bulk of this expansion happening east of the Mississippi, and that’s the trend that we expect to continue for the next few years. There’s also a great deal of uncertainty among the [most populated] states — California, Texas, Florida, and New York — [in terms of] mobile sports betting. While we are generally bullish about the path sports betting has across the U.S., it does come with the caveat that the major markets may end up being a lot trickier than some people suspect.”

InPlay Studios’ Ron Luniewski. Photo: Morningstar Productions

Ron Luniewski, CEO, InPlay Studios, on how the rise of in-game betting will change the content-production business: “70% of European [wagering] is in-game betting, and the U.S. market is projected at $100 billion in wagering, so that’s $70 billion that’s going to be in play. Right now, [content] production is still heavily [focused on] pregame; there’s not a lot of in-game production about the wager. I think you’re going to see a shift occur. Play-by-play [announcing] is still going to be [traditional], but you’re going to see smaller niche channels develop that are going to be dedicated to in-game [betting].”

Del Parks, EVP/CTO, Sinclair Broadcast Group, on how the sports-betting ecosystem in the U.S. is still in its infancy: “We are really at the beginning of this process. I’ve been [in the broadcast business] for a lot of years, and I can tell you that we don’t know what we don’t know right now. We can look at Europe, but Europe has been betting for [several decades] … so I think we’re at the very beginning and need to look at what sports betting is and what it’s going to become. And I think the U.S. market is very different than Europe.”

Steve Byrd, head of global strategic partnerships, Sportradar, on what the U.S. market can learn from Europe and how betting-centric content will vary from sport to sport: “If you look at soccer broadcasts in Europe, you see [sports-betting] advertising and sponsors on the jersey and [LED] boards, but the production is not [centered] around betting. I think that’s because it’s already the culture over there. They don’t need a separate broadcast [because] they’re already betting on the game. That’s why I think you won’t see the NFL really change because everybody’s already betting on football … and they’re already engaged.”

Sportradar’s Steve Byrd. Photo: Morningstar Productions

Byrd on how leagues besides the NFL could embrace sports betting within game coverage: “The other sports [leagues] see betting as a way to get more fan engagement, so I think they’re going to be more creative [in serving] these sorts of niche deliveries. Whether it’s doing more [betting content] with the NBA League Pass out-of-market product or doing the alternative [broadcasts] like NBC [Regional Sports Networks]. I think you’re going to see a little bit different [approaches] depending on the sport.”

Grove on whether there will be demand for betting-specific sports broadcasts in the future: “We can look to really mature betting markets in relatively analogous cultures across Europe, and the answer that we get from those markets is that there does not seem to be a tidal wave of interest in a betting-centric broadcast. There is certainly a saturation of advertising for betting around sports media, and it permeates the commentary, but … there isn’t going to be a willingness to embrace betting directly in the broadcast — certainly not from a league-sanctioned [standpoint].”

EK Gaming’s Chris Grove. Photo: Morningstar Productions

Grove on the promise of predictive-gaming content vs. betting-specific content: “Where I think you are more likely to see integration [into the broadcast] is with gambling-adjacent products that are sports gaming as opposed to sports gambling. Major broadcasters think little to nothing of heavy integration of fantasy sports alongside broadcast, even though those are clearly real-money products for the majority of participants. And I think you’re going to see a lot more direct integrations like the one you’re seeing with Fox Sports [and Fox Bet], where you have a free-to-play prediction game that is heavily advertised and promoted throughout the broadcast. I think you will see heavy integration of products that sit at this intersection of games, predictions, and prizes.”

Luniewski on how the influx of casual bettors will create an opportunity for content creators: “[With] in-game wagering, as latency decreases and prop bets become more popular, you’re going to see more ‘jersey-wearers’ [casual-betting fans] placing more bets than they would normally. I think there will be opportunities … [to produce] shows that are built around proposition wagers.”

Parks on how Sinclair is preparing for the rise of legalized sports betting from a technology perspective: “We just acquired the RSNs, but we’ve owned the Tennis Channel now for several years, … and we have our Stadium OTT product. We have all of these content options available to us … so the question that Chris [Ripley, President/CEO, SBG] is laser-focused on is, ‘How do we build a business out of this?’ That’s where I come from technologically: what do we need to do with the data, and how do we need to treat it?”

Sinclair Broadcast Group’s Del Parks. Photo: Morningstar Productions

Parks on how ATSC 3.0, which Sinclair has been a big proponent of, and next-gen technologies could drive interactive betting content: “By the way, [Next Gen TV] over-the-air broadcasting with ATSC 3.0 will have very little latency and [the capability for viewer] interaction. So I can’t sit here today and tell you what it’s going to look like in two or three years, other than we have to be technologically ready and to be smart about how we approach our partnerships and how we approach this paradigm laid out for us.”

Byrd on how content creators can appeal to mainstream fans with their sports-betting content: “If you’re creating [content] and you’re targeting the hardcore bettor with your broadcast, you’re wasting your time, because they’re already watching and engaged, and they’re getting information beyond what you’re going to put in front of them. They’re also a small number. You need to be making a very broad [effort] to get more engagement of the general fan or the fantasy-sports player who will convert into betting.”

Grove on the lack of established standards for what makes “entertaining” sports-betting content: “No one really [knows] what’s going to make for entertaining sports-betting content in the U.S. Penn Gaming … thinks that the Barstool model is going to be what translates into entertaining sports-betting content. Action Network has their own idea that it’s going to be more stats- and information-driven. There’s a little bit of this cart-before-the-horse dynamic, and you can’t really say what the landscape is going to look like, because we still have that underlying, fundamental question of what makes for entertaining sports-betting content. Does such a thing even exist? Or is there nothing at that intersection? Is the bettor just interested in being entertained and engaged by the sports content itself, and, once they place the bet, they’ve exhausted the amount of entertainment that they can get from the betting.”

Grove on the ease and profitability of simply accepting sports-betting sponsorship dollars instead of creating original content: “The economic reality from a content producer’s perspective right now is, the most money you can make with the absolute least effort is by slapping a FanDuel logo on an existing broadcast and [being] paid handsomely. I think that, as long as those two dynamics continue to exist as they do, no one [will] know the answer to what makes for entertaining sports-betting content and everyone can make a lot of money by just taking sponsorship dollars and applying it to existing content. I don’t think that we’re going to see that much of a change in terms of how the injection of legal sports betting ends up altering the landscape of sports media and entertainment.”

Byrd on the need to improve the video-viewing experience for sports-betting consumers: “We’re talking to the leagues and the rightsholders about improving the video experience, which everyone has done a great job at, but it’s not a truly interactive gaming or betting experience yet. Take that interactivity and information, combine it with all the latest and greatest that is coming out with the OTT platforms, and you’ve got a super-engagement platform that’s going to be very successful down the road.”