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Sportsbooks competing for content, creating another branch of sports media

DraftKings, FanDuel aren’t the only sportsbooks pushing their way into mainstream sports media, but they’re certainly the boldest.

BetRivers Sportsbook, the first brick-and-mortar sportsbook approved by the Illinois Gaming Board, opened to the public at Rivers Casino Des Plaines on March 9, 2020.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

A trend is happening in the sports-betting world that has nothing to do with money lines, point spreads or totals.

When the Supreme Court ruled in May 2018 that states could decide whether to allow sports betting, we all expected sports radio and TV to produce content dedicated to gambling. It would cater to an underserved audience and provide advertising and sponsorship dollars.

But some surprising branches have grown from the sports-wagering tree of life. Sportsbooks aren’t merely offering facts and figures; they’re creating their own content with the purpose of competing in an already-crowded sports-media landscape.

DraftKings bought Brent Musburger’s Vegas Sports Information Network (VSiN) in March. In April, it agreed to a content and distribution deal with former ESPN Radio host Dan Le Batard’s Meadowlark Media. DraftKings and Le Batard hit the air Friday with a live 24-hour show on YouTube.

FanDuel reached an exclusive deal last July with NFL punter-turned-media personality Pat McAfee to carry his talk show on its platforms. Last month, it became the exclusive odds provider for the Associated Press as part of an agreement that includes content sharing.

These aren’t the only sportsbooks pushing their way into mainstream sports media, but they’re certainly the boldest. And with partnerships in place for both with professional leagues – including the NFL, which had long eschewed the mere presumption of gambling – executives say they’re only getting started.

“Leagues and media companies are seeing an unbelievable opportunity to make a lot of money,” said Bynum Jaeger, an agent at Harlan Sports Management in Chicago. “Money drives everything in business, especially coming out of a pandemic. It was an untapped resource for a long time.”

“I still do a double-take when I’m watching ‘MLB Tonight’ and on the bottom crawl now, not only do you get the score, you get the odds,” said Joe Ostrowski, who hosts “BetQL Daily” and The Score’s “Early Odds” on Saturday mornings. “I still am like, ‘Wow, it’s amazing to think that we’re there.’ ”

How did we get there so fast?

“The pace of legalization is easing companies’ policies,” said Adam Kaplan, FanDuel Group’s general manager and vice president of content. “The added benefits of operating in a legalized market are significant, creating a safer experience and more comprehensive for customers.”

“The idea of bringing that business into the regulated market that’s taxed, that creates jobs, there’s tremendous support for that,” said Matt Kalish, president of DraftKings North America and co-founder. “And then that’s branched into the media company side of things.”

That side can create stars, at least in the gambling world. Jaeger represents Sam Panayotovich, a Chicago native and Mount Carmel grad who talks sports betting at NESN in Boston and contributes to Fox Sports’ digital operation. He worked for Musburger when VSiN started in 2017.

“Sammy has become one of the go-to guys in the space,” Jaeger said. “While he was out there in Vegas, he developed relationships with insiders from all different parts of the space. Now he’s able to educate the masses and occasionally he may be able to create an edge for people.”

McAfee already had made his mark in sports media when he made his FanDuel deal, which was described as a first-of-its-kind arrangement between a sportsbook and a sports personality. Kaplan called it the company’s most prominent and successful investment.

Former ESPN 1000 program director Adam Delevitt is mining content as the director of broadcast and streaming media at Rush Street Interactive, a Chicago company that operates gaming websites and works with BetRivers, including Rivers Casino Des Plaines.

“The demos align well,” Delevitt said. “Similar demographics consuming certain sports media are also following those games the personalities watch and play. Like buying the same brand of clothes because your favorite personality is wearing them.”

Which begs the question: With sportsbooks willing to spend, could they eventually pursue a prominent mainstream media figure to drive their business?

“I don’t wanna give away too much about our future plans, but it’s a fair question to ask,” Kaplan said. “It’s not impossible that one day someone could leave a major network to be a spokesperson for a gambling company. There’s a lot of interesting talent out there, not only across the major networks but folks that are up-and-coming or have been creating content on their own.”

Kalish said he has encountered a number of people who see the momentum behind sports betting and view it as a potential next phase of their careers. Jaeger, who already has a handful of clients in the industry, said it provides a great opportunity for talent who can leverage content.

“I don’t see why mainstream network sports talent wouldn’t want to bring their game and brand to a sports-gaming company,” Delevitt said. “As more states continue to legalize, the growth in this area will be enormous. I think we are in the top of the first inning in this rise of sports content and wagering entertainment.”