Despite spending a century crusading against gambling in sports, many of the nation’s major professional leagues are now cutting deals with the sports betting industry, a new report says.
According to the new report by ESPN, the leagues are working with betting websites and other entities both openly and in secret to cut deals on betting online and otherwise.
The NFL, NBA, NHL, and Major League Baseball have all coordinated with the betting industry to allow the leagues to profit if sports betting is legalized by federal law as many expect will be the case in the near future.
But, as ESPN notes, as betting is still not yet exactly legal, “the deals have drawn the leagues into a shadowy, unregulated world that includes some companies that have been accused of operating illegal sports betting enterprises.”
Among the public moves made by some of the leagues, the NFL has become part owner of Sportradar US, a website dedicated to tracking player statistics, the NBA has gained a stake in FanDuel and another statistics-gathering company called numberFire, and Major League Baseball has joined forces with Sport Integrity Monitor, a company that monitors betting services for irregularities but also provides stats for betting agencies overseas.
“The partnerships, unique to each league,” ESPN wrote, “give them a foothold in an industry estimated to generate as much as five times the combined $25 billion in revenue of the four major sports.”
In fact, such deals have already provided big payouts to at least one sports league. Through a deal with Sportradar, the International Tennis Federation has raked in $70 million over five years for access to its data.
“A subtle bridge is being built,” Chris Grove, the editor of Legalsportsreport.com, an online newsletter that tracks the sports betting industry closely, told ESPN. “This sort of activity, I think we’re seeing it normalized.”
It appears by making these deals the leagues are trying to help prevent scandals from erupting in betting on sports.
Of course, the various professional sports leagues have fought against gambling for nearly 100 years in the U.S.
Take the case of Major League Baseball’s first national commissioner for example. Kenesaw Mountain Landis came to lead the league in 1920 after the 1919 Black Sox scandal where members of the Chicago White Sox were accused of throwing the World Series to help swing the outcome for crooked gamblers.
Despite that all eight Sox players were acquitted of the accusations, the newly ensconced baseball commissioner banned all eight players accused in the case. None of the players ever played major-league ball again.
Landis wasn’t alone in his campaign and to assure the integrity of their games the anti-gambling crusade was picked up by all the national sports leagues. As late as 1989 Cincinnati Reds great Pete Rose was famously banned for life from baseball over allegations of sports gambling.
But it all appears to be changing. With the growth of online sports betting, pressure is being put on federal lawmakers to approve of sports gambling. In fact, recently the current NBA commissioner called for federal regulators to give “fresh consideration” to sports gambling.
ESPN revealed the intricate details of how the various leagues are getting in bed with the sports betting industry showing that times certainly seem to be changing in professional sports.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at email@example.com