Bring on the sports gambling, says former NBA commissioner David Stern. The former basketball kingpin was in charge of the league from 1984 to 2014, before handing the reigns over to its current commissioner, Adam Silver, but leaving the NBA’s top position doesn’t mean that left the game. He spoke at the Sports Innovation Conference held at Citizens Bank Park in Pennsylvania this month and said that sports gambling will help “supercharge” the league.
The sports ecosystem as a whole is changing drastically. There was a time when the NBA didn’t have many options to try to attract more fans, so it decided to squeeze in more games and draw them out as long as possible in order to benefit from ad revenue. The NBA season has 82 games crammed into less than seven months, a move that was implemented about 50 years ago, and the squads have to face off against each other, on average, about four times a season.
Things could change now, especially since emphasis is being placed on “load management,” the term used to describe a team’s decision to bench a star player for a game in order to allow him to remain strong for longer runs in the season. Stern sees sports gambling as a possible catalyst to alter how the league operates and said during the conference:
“Where some people who might never watch a game decide they are going to watch the last quarter or make a prop bet. You get others who are going to watch it longer because there is action throughout the game.
“Who hasn’t noticed the entry of sponsors? FanDuel and DraftKings are beating each other’s brains out. When you enter William Hill and others there is a whole new sponsor category. In the intermediate run, it’s going to make sports leagues more valuable, increase players’ salaries and be a super-charge for the league.”
Stern certainly isn’t the only one to embrace the idea of sports betting. Jeff Morad, the former CEO and minority owner of the San Diego Padres and the Arizona Diamondbacks, both MLB teams, believes that all sports leagues should adopt sports gambling as quickly as possible. He said during the conference, “As sports betting rolls into each state and becomes legal, there’s a huge opportunity in the U.S. The U.S. leagues are on to it. They get it. It’s a real potential profit center for sports. Some teams are already there. All the leagues have turned the corner.”
When Silver took over in 2014, he almost immediately pounced on the sports gambling ball, asserting that it should be legalized. However, his stance was most likely driven by what many leagues had seen as a way to develop a direct revenue stream from all wagers placed. Silver was one of the league leaders who had pushed for an “integrity fee” on all wagers to ensure the NBA could combat potential game-fixing. That, in theory, was already part of the league’s responsibilities well before the subject of legal sports gambling hit prime time.
Sports betting is now here, and more states are expected to craft their own legislation over the next couple of years, integrity fee be damned. The leagues will simply have to figure out other ways to boost their revenues, and they already have.