We’re less than a month into the season and MLS has already upped the ante and bet heavy on its future within the North American sporting landscape. Last week MLS announced a multi-year strategic partnership with MGM Resorts, officially raising the stakes and ringing in a new era of the league’s business growth and development.
In May of 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a 25-year-old law, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), that effectively limited legal sports gambling to one state. As a result of the decision, states now have the ability to decide for themselves if they will allow legal sports gambling. What does that mean? For global entertainment companies and casinos, like MGM Resorts, it means one thing: cha-ching.
In the months since the court ruling, the fall out has been staggering (as expected), as entertainment companies and sports leagues have entered a gambling arms race. As of last week, officially, the five major professional sports leagues in the U.S. have their first official betting partnerships. In August, the NBA partnered with MGM becoming the first league to announce their gambling intentions. The NHL followed suit in October and announced their deal, also with MGM. In November, MGM became the partner of MLB. At the beginning of 2019, the NFL announced Caesers as their first casino partner.
That brings us to March and the MLS deal with MGM. The truth is, MLS commissioner Don Garber has been very upfront and honest about the league’s gambling intentions. For the league, it was all about the right partner, the right time, and a little help from the U.S. government.
Now here we are. Besides having another corporate partner, what does this mean for the nascent league? Beyond MGM being the Official Gaming Partner of the league, MLS will also partner with Roar Digital, the joint venture between MGM and GVC. This joint venture sees Roar become the Official Betting Partner of MLS. Specifically, MLS, MGM, and Roar will benefit via access to the following:
- Enhanced data for MLS fans and sports betting customers
- Television-visible signage for all 100+ nationally broadcast games
- MLS-themed promotions and sweepstakes utilizing MLS prizing
- Match footage and photography
- MLS talent and a host of hospitality and event opportunities in Las Vegas and beyond
In addition, the league and its new partners will develop an exclusive “Free to play” game for fans to deepen engagement and increase awareness of sports betting in regulated states and in states where regulation is still to be adopted. MGM will also promote Roar’s playMGM mobile betting app across league media platforms and have various integrations across MLS social and digital channels.
With partnerships in four of five U.S. professional leagues, MGM has a head start on its competitors and has the ability to use league trademarks and logos in marketing. The activation assets vary from league to league, but for their MLS partnership, MGM has access to field-level signage at MLS stadiums and the ability to activate on site at big events like the MLS All-Star Game and MLS Cup.
As we recently discussed on the third episode of our GESM podcast (21:22), gambling is one of the many areas through which MLS can push the envelope as a younger league with a younger, mid-30s-aged on average demographic. In 2018, Nielsen unveiled the results of a study with a few key findings. Approximately 30 percent of the U.S. population is under the age of 35. Above the legal gambling age of 18, this Millennial segment of the population represents 44 percent of all sports gamblers, 29 percent of whom have an average household income above $100,000. Not only are sports gamblers young, they’re also affluent; key statistics as the number of both casual and avid bettors is expected to rise. For MLS, this young and affluent gambling audience is right in their wheelhouse.
For a league in its third decade of existence, the exposure MGM should provide MLS to casual fans looking to make a quick buck or win big is hard to quantify, but it makes the deal’s potential that much sweeter. It provides the league a seat at the table with the big boys, if you will, which can hardly be seen as a bad thing. Not only has MLS joined the other major North American sports leagues in the legal sports gambling world, it also joins the global soccer community and leagues like the Premier League where gambling has played a significant role for decades. Will we see gambling and entertainment companies as future jersey partners, however? The league does not currently permit this, but we could soon be on the precipice of change.
Swift are the developments among pro sports leagues in America post-court ruling. With sports betting now legal at the discretion of each state, gambling and entertainment companies like MGM keep truckin’ – they’ve got their chips cashed in thanks to the big monetary enterprise that is legal sports gambling. MLS and MGM have gambled big on the league’s future and its place within the sporting community – each should come away with nice winnings.