“I see this as a benefit to the state in terms of revenue. And for us, the benefit is fan engagement – connecting with our young fans and following other states,” McKay said.
Hawks CEO Steve Koonin and Braves President and CEO Derek Schiller said teams in states with legal sports betting would benefit from increased fan engagement. In general, increased engagement can translate to improved TV ratings, digital audiences, attendance, team revenue, and franchise values.
“One hundred percent it will be a competitive disadvantage” for Atlanta teams if the state remains without legal sports betting, Koonin said. “Look at Tennessee; look at Indiana,” he added, naming two states that have it. “We are a bigger state, and I believe we are falling behind.”
Often, the issue of mobile sports betting has seemed tied to casino gambling and other issues in Georgian politics.
“I think there are things that have nothing to do with just the mobile sports betting perspective that probably caused some of the challenges,” Schiller said. “Legislation is not easy anywhere. In the state of Georgia, it’s not easy.
For now, the home teams are trying to figure out their next move.
“The Braves are taking a step back and just trying to figure out what’s the best way to go about it,” Schiller said. “There is no doubt that the desire is as strong, if not stronger, than it was three years ago, but we have approached this in essentially the same way for three years now and have achieved the same result. So I think we’d be stupid not to try to think about what we can do differently. I don’t have that answer.
McKay said the Falcons and Atlanta United, both owned by Arthur Blank, will “regroup” and “talk strategies” with the other teams over the next few months.
“It’s so frustrating,” Koonin said of the effort so far.
The positions of Atlanta’s teams are widely shared in American professional sports, where almost every major entity – NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, MLS, the PGA Tour and NASCAR among them – have commercial agreements with related companies. playing in recent years. years. This represents a dramatic reversal for the leagues, which for many decades opposed any expansion or affiliation with gaming interests.
McKay, an NFL executive for more than 30 years, knows this story well. He said the NFL has long been “afraid” of the game integrity issues associated with gambling, “and the easiest way to avoid having questions about these issues is to simply go there. absolutely oppose and not embrace it in any way, shape or form.” But after observing legal gambling regulations in Europe and elsewhere, “I think we’ve all kind of gotten over that hump,” he said.
“Look at how much money is bet – and has been bet every year for the last 10 or 15 years – illegally,” McKay said. “So why not subject it to a legalized, more regulated, sun-kissed system?”
Says Koonin: “When you have legal gambling, you have the best processes in place to manage integrity.”
Professional sports’ complicated relationship with gambling was underscored in March when the NFL suspended Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley through at least the 2022 season for betting on last year’s games. Ridley’s bets were reportedly exposed by one of the NFL’s legalized gambling partners.
“I don’t want to comment on Calvin’s individual situation,” McKay said, “but I think one thing the league has been consistent on from an integrity of play standpoint is that we’re going to retain all members. of the league – this includes the people who work for the teams, the players, the coaches – to a very strict standard of play: what is allowed, what is not allowed. And that is necessary for ensure that the public has confidence in the integrity of the game.”
Despite the NFL’s business dealings with gaming companies, players betting on NFL games, even if legal, are still considered a serious violation of league rules. The NFL, like other leagues, is ready to navigate this delicate balance and make money from gambling interests.
Atlanta teams already have sponsorship and advertising deals with Harrah’s Cherokee Casino in North Carolina and would surely enter into more such deals if sports betting were legalized in Georgia. Koonin said gaming-related businesses would likely be one of the top 10 sponsorship categories, but would still be significantly overtaken by others.
It is more difficult to quantify the extent to which legal gambling would increase the teams’ other sources of income. “We’re not going to collect sports bets, and we’re not going to receive a percentage of them,” Schiller said. But if teams are right about legalization leading to increased engagement because fans are more likely to watch games if they have bets on them, it’s unquestionably a monetizable commodity.
If the Braves and Hawks TV ratings grow on Bally Sports, for example, their broadcast rights fees would ultimately be worth more. Speaking about Bally-branded regional networks, Koonin said, “How about that for irony? Braves games and Hawks games are brought to you on Bally’s, which is a sports betting company. That’s how ubiquitous it is.
The spread of legalized gambling has been a factor in the skyrocketing valuations of American professional sports franchises in recent years.
Atlanta teams do not necessarily plan to install betting kiosks in their halls one day. Schiller noted that almost all fans already arrive with the device they would need to place mobile bets: their phone.
For many Braves fans, Schiller said, the experience of attending games would not change with legalized sports betting. But other fans, he said, could place bets via their phones on the outcome of a game or micro-elements in the game – whether a pitcher will retire a particular batter or whether a batter will deliver a sure shot in a specific situation, for example.
“Either way, it only strengthens the bond a fan would have with the game and the team,” Schiller said.
“Our fanbases continue to age a bit, and as they do, you have to continue to find ways to connect with younger people,” said McKay, who believes fans interested in betting on sports are leaning towards the 25 to – 40 year old group.
The national trend leaves local teams optimistic sports betting will be legal here – eventually.
“It will happen,” Koonin said. “There will be a moment. I just hope it will be in the next one or two (legislative) sessions, not in the next decade.