Monday’s Supreme Court decision will surely open the floodgates for states to green-light sports gambling. A betting man would tell you roughly 20 of them are currently in play and that number could snowball if the early returns are positive. So many who have been playing the Renault-in-Casablanca role will no longer have to continue the charade. That there is betting taking place — and a lot of it — is a conversation that can move from the subtext to text.
And it’s about time. Bryan Curtis’ excellent look at how a generation of broadcasters helped play a role into legalization shows how we got to this point. Brent Musburger famously used a wink-and-nod approach to the elephant in the room. Scott Van Pelt has been more upfront about it. Social mores have changed.
But what’s next, now that the cat — or live underdog if you will — is peeking its head out of the bag? How will ESPN and FS1 adapt to this brave new world? Like any responsible, forward-thinking company, both have been bracing for this possibility for a long time. They have seen the draw of March Madness and fantasy football, as well as the new popularity of Musburger’s VSIN project and capitalizing on a rich content stream is prudent.
The most obvious change we can expect is a greater proliferation of gambling information on the tickers and update mechanisms. ESPN and FS1 would be smart to recognize that gamblers will be looking for a go-to source for lines. Linear television won’t be their first choice, but if a viewer knows they’ll eventually see it, they are less apt to turn from television to phone or browser. Not showing both the upcoming odds and the highlighted winning side when flashing scores in a gambling-friendly sports world would be malpractice.
The second no-brainer is to establish a daily gambling pre-show at 6 p.m. EST leading into the night’s games. Even on the deadest of nights in the dog days of summer, there are a handful of baseball games on the slate to preview. At times when the sports overlap, there are far more games to cover than there is time. These preview shows would be malleable as betting can be made fun and lighthearted or deathly serious and analytics-heavy.
There are many access points and room for creativity, countless self-styled sharps and recreational bettors. There is also little overhead and a large upside. With the traditional highlight show floundering, wouldn’t putting something that presents new information as an appetizer work?
Choosing to highlight games airing on the network (or leagues for which they are the rights-holder) could also serve the role of advertising. Drum up interest in placing a bet, reap the rewards when new viewers tune in and stay longer. This may be a murky editorial decision, but history suggests consumers are more than willing to be taken along for the ride when it comes to predictive programming.
If viewers watching the show make 3 plays out of all those covered, it will be difficult for them to hold it against any expert — especially if they rotate — when those sides fail to deliver. The response tends to be to cleanse and chase rather than cut bait, both with the wagering and ancillary content.
There is plenty of juice here to keep everyone fat and happy. It’s a situation ready-made to succeed and it will be shocking if both networks don’t explore the possibility when the number of states allowing betting reaches critical mass.