Fox Sports announced on Wednesday that it is partnering with The Stars Group to launch Fox Bet, which will be a mobile gambling app that will function as a sportsbook in states where that’s allowed and host free-roll games where it’s not. While the true impact of this news likely won’t be harnessed for at least a couple of years, the news is nonetheless seismic in the space given Fox’s status as a premium live rightsholder across the sports spectrum. In no particular order, here are my takeaways:
1. Fox has a strategic template for excelling in the rat race for sports betting market share.
There are going to be zillions of these betting apps. There’ll come a point where you could get a bee sting and by the time the bump goes away a dozen new ones will have popped up. At some point it will become a commodity business, consolidation will occur, and there will be an oligopoly of big players left standing. Fox is well positioned to be one of them.
First, Fox has a good idea of how this will work because the company has already had a successful partnership with The Stars Group and Sky Sports UK.
Another massive advantage Fox will have is that they will be able to use their extensive live rights to funnel viewers into their app. In the Fall alone, Fox will have the NFL on Thursdays and Sundays, the World Series, WWE SmackDown, and college football from the Big Ten, Big 12, and Pac 12. The XFL is coming too, and Fox has both the men’s and women’s World Cup. Add all that together and it’s a lot of times that a lot of viewers are going to hear an ad read for this app with an accompanying chyron on the screen.
Fox will also be able to use the daily viewers of Lock It In on FS1 and any other gambling-focused content they are cooking up for television and/or digitally to funnel them into the app.
2. The aspirational model
At this point, we’re all accustomed to seeing network sports apps being pitched on just about every game we watch. You see them on Fox, NBC, CBS, ESPN, and Turner Sports. In my opinion, what Bleacher Report accomplished in this space will be the aspirational model for this for what Fox is trying to do in the betting space. According to Comscore, 4.8 million people used the Bleacher Report app in March.
Bleacher Report leveraged the NBA, MLB Playoffs, and NCAA Tournament on Turner Sports to turn people’s time spent with them watching the games into time spent with them on their phones. While the platform does originate content, the biggest draw is arguably that it is extremely fast at aggregating breaking news and sleekly categorizing it for your favorite sports and teams.
It won’t just be enough for Fox to tell people to download their gambling app — it will have to be well organized, fast, and offer competitive lines and VIGs. Bettors with any sophistication will hop like jackrabbits around eight different apps for the best line on the side they want.
3. The success of this venture is incumbent on widespread legalization of mobile betting.
If you go to casinos regularly like I do, it’s striking that you do not see very many people who appear to be under 30 or even 40 in them. You didn’t have to read the depressing New York Times profile about how sports betting hasn’t delivered gobsmacking numbers to towns like Tunica, Mississippi to know that the gold rush is only going to manifest if and when people can do this stuff on their phones.
Right now, you can only legally bet on mobile in New Jersey and Nevada. More are coming, but at what pace is anyone’s guess. I asked Brett Smiley, who founded the sports betting trade publication Sports Handle which has a very helpful legislation tracker, what’s on the horizon. He summarized:
- Pennsylvania – coming very soon
- West Virginia – had been one live, but legal dispute arose, went down, now all operators in weird holding pattern re: Wire Act re-interpretation
- Rhode Island – regulations and legal challenges before rollout
- Indiana – regulations need writing before rollout
- Tennessee – regulations need writing before rollout
- Washington D.C. – regulations need writing before rollout
- Iowa – just waiting on governor’s signature (or expiry of window to veto) and will be same as IN, TN
- Mississippi – you can legally bet on mobile at a few casinos, but only if on-premises at the casino itself. In other words, not from home or anywhere else.
Nevertheless, anyone who has looked at the electoral college will notice that the massive population centers of New York, Texas, and California are not on that list.
New York does have pending legislation, but for the time being it doesn’t look like mobile betting will be permitted. People in New York City can — and, anecdotally, do — take the PATH to New Jersey, get off on the platform at the first stop and place a few bets on their phone before hopping on the train back, but that doesn’t quite compare to the comforts of your home or a neighborhood bar.
Texas and California, meanwhile, have had no material movement on sports betting and it’s anyone’s guess as to when they’ll get around to it and, beyond that, if and when mobile will be included.
Thus, Fox Sports is making a long bet here. I like their pot odds, but it’s not a sure thing.