Years ago,there was a Simpsons episode where Lisa and Homer bonded over watching pro football. At one point, Homer lets it slip that he bet fifty bucks on the game to make it more exciting. Lisa was shocked and disillusioned. “What could be more exciting,” she asks, “than the savage ballet that is pro football?
America is about to get the same sort of wake up. This spring, the National Football League announced its first-ever U.S. sportsbook partnerships. Caesars Entertainment, DraftKings and FanDuel all reached agreements to become official sports betting partners of the NFL. They’ll offer retail and online sports betting and even bring betting content directly to NFL.com and the NFL App.
The first impact of this will be pretty obvious. NFL owners, already among the world’s richest humans, are about to become even richer. Analysts predict the worth of the average franchise could jump three to fourfold, into the double-digit billions.
More relevant for the average fan, though, is that the look and feel of your favorite team’s game-day broadcast could be about to change. You can already get a glimpse if you tune into a Royals game—on a sports network now branded by the Bally’s gambling empire.
Frankly, it’s been a long time coming. For a nation that prides itself on individual liberty, the United States has long clung to its Puritan roots in regards to gambling. Attitudes, however, are changing. Over the past several decades, as the country has seen a general relaxation of mores in regards to sexuality and recreational drug use, the same has happened for betting.
Look at lotteries. The first modern, U.S. government-run lottery was set up in Puerto Rico in 1934, and it was thirty years before the second was established in New Hampshire. Today, most states have them. Or look at casinos. Nevada became the only state to allow legal casinos in 1931, and it took forty-five years before New Jersey followed. Today, most states have commercial or tribal casinos. Sports betting, though, was still mostly a no-no until three years ago, when a national law that banned sports gambling most places was struck down by the Supreme Court.
The floodgates opened. Major League Baseball and the NBA have both inked massive deals with FanDuel and DraftKings. A month ago, NBA commissioner Adam Silver gave an interview to celebrate the opening of a sportsbook at the Wizards arena in Washington where he explained their rationale. Silver claimed that league participation in gambling will protect the integrity of the game. They can track crooked behavior in sports gambling, Silver said, only by participating.
There are also, of course, a few extra billions to be raked in.
The NFL is the big boy on the block, though, and their new agreements could represent a sea change in how Americans interact with their favorite teams. We’re quickly heading for a future more like Ireland or the UK, where betting parlors dot the streets and people can legally wager on practically anything—even, say, the next president or royal baby name.
What’s really creepy, though, is the possibility of full scale integration into the broadcasts themselves. It’s easy to imagine a Black Mirror-esque, dystopian future where the TV networks include betting content in broadcasts. Already busy with graphics and data crawls, we might soon see gambling prompts as well. Imagine a graphic popping up that offers a chance to bet instantly, through your phone, on whether a kicker makes a field goal or the defense can get a third down stop.
Like it or not, this is the future. We’re looking at a U.S. where betting is ever-present, government-sanctioned, and—legally anyway—seen as simply another form of entertainment, no more or less moral than seeing a movie.
For me, come Sundays in the fall, I’ll take the Lisa Simpson route. When it comes to football, it doesn’t take any more than the savage ballet.