Compared with other U.S. sports leagues, the NFL has taken a much slower approach to the fast-growing world of legal sports betting.
The country’s richest sports league -- and the one with the most to gain from gambling -- has taken a back seat to the NHL, MLB and NBA, each of which has signed multiple marketing partnerships and deals to sell data to operators.
That approach is now changing. The NFL has signed a multiyear partnership with data firm Sportradar AG. Under the agreement, Sportradar has exclusive rights to distribute official NFL data to legal sports-betting operators in the U.S. and abroad.
The NFL has worked with Sportradar on non-gambling data since 2015, the same year it became an equity investor in the Swiss firm’s U.S. business. Hans Schroeder, the NFL’s chief operating officer, said the league’s ownership slice wasn’t a factor in evaluating different firms.
“It’s a new world and it’s a new day as far as the legalized sports-gambling landscape,” Schroeder said. “Our view is, let’s be right. When we actually go to market, we don’t want to worry about being first, we want to be right.”
Though both sides declined to comment on the terms of the deal, becoming the exclusive gatekeeper of NFL data isn’t likely to come cheap. In 2016, Sportradar signed a six-year, US$250 million deal to distribute NBA data overseas in many of the same ways. David Lampitt, Sportradar’s managing director of sports partnerships, said this NFL deal was one of the biggest in company history.
The NFL is the dominant sports brand in the U.S., where 10 states now offer legal wagering and another eight have recently passed legislation. Last year, the American Gaming Association and Nielsen studied how much each sport stood to benefit from more available sports betting in the U.S. and the NFL’s projected revenue boost was US$2.33 billion, more than double the next closest league, and four times the NBA’s opportunity.
For the past four years, Sportradar has been the NFL’s exclusive distributor of play-by-play and in-game data -- including some data from sensors inside each player’s shoulder pads -- to media outlets. That will continue under this new deal.
Now, however, Sportradar can package that data for gambling operators. That’s especially useful for betting on micro-moments within the game, such as: Will this next play go for more than five yards? Or maybe even: What will be the top speed of the punt returner on this next play?
Sportradar will also have the rights to distribute live game video to overseas gambling houses to showcase alongside odds, a first for the NFL. Those streams typically have size and quality restrictions.
“The NFL is an iconic global brand and an iconic global sports property,” Lampitt said. “This is a landmark deal for us.”
Sportradar was founded in 2003 and is based in St. Gallen, Switzerland. Last year, the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board and private equity firm TCV acquired a minority stake that valued the company at US$2.4 billion. In addition to the NFL, other investors include a trio of NBA owners: Michael Jordan, Mark Cuban and Ted Leonsis.
The company works with dozens of bookmakers, including William Hill Plc, Paddy Power Betfair Plc, Ladbrokes Coral Group Ltd. and DraftKings Inc. Its league partners include the NBA, MLB, NHL and Nascar.
Under the deal, Sportradar will also help monitor betting activity on NFL games. The company will look for irregularities as a way to spot possible fraud. That’s important for the NFL: Fear over the compromised integrity of the sport was one of the main reasons the league spent decades fighting the spread of legal sports betting.
Overall, Schroeder said the deal will help the league better serve its fans, who use its data for everything from fantasy sports to gambling, research to live viewing.
“Whether the market is big, small or somewhere in between, that doesn’t matter to us,” Schroeder said. “What matters is making sure that we’re delivering a feed and data that is consistent and best-in-class.”