NBA and MGM Sign Historic Sports-Betting Deal

An arm holding a basketball

A deal has been agreed to make MGM Resorts International the official gaming partner of both the National Basketball Association (NBA) and Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA).

The multi-year deal is the first direct partnership between a US professional sports league and an American casino-gambling corporation that includes elements specific to sports betting.

It comes ahead of the expected expansion of legalized sports wagering across much of the US.

The deal, jointly announced by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and MGM Resorts International Chairman and CEO Jim Murren in New York City on July 31, makes MGM Resorts the exclusive “official gaming partner” of the NBA and the WNBA.

Under the agreement, MGM Resorts properties in US states where sports betting is or becomes legal will use official NBA and WNBA data and branding, although on a non-exclusive basis, at all of MGM Resorts’ legal live and online sportsbooks and services.

MGM Resorts also receives the right to use NBA highlights, and will receive a direct-from-the-NBA data feed that will be incorporated throughout MGM’s sports betting services. The data feed may provide “first report” status on elements critical to gambling on NBA games, including such late-breaking topics as injury reports and inactive statuses.

The deal also includes cross-promotion efforts by both sides. According to the NBA’s announcement, MGM Resorts will be promoted across the NBA’s digital assets including NBA TV, NBA, the NBA App and NBA social media platforms. Additionally, the NBA will be promoted across MGM Resorts’ sports betting platforms.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but unnamed “league sources” queried by ESPN gambling writer David Purdum claimed the deal was for at least three years and $25m (£19m).

Embracing inevitability for profit

The NBA’s decision to do a branding and data-rights deal reflects a rapid acceptance of the reality and inevitability caused by the US Supreme Court’s abolishment of PASPA, the federal law that blocked legal sports betting across most of the US for over a quarter century.

Though the leagues fought to keep PASPA in place, they also planned for other eventualities. Silver himself, in a noted 2014 New York Times op-ed, acknowledged that PASPA was a failure, that sports betting was widespread in the US, even if illegal, and that a better solution had to be found.

The deal with MGM Resorts International represents one way that the US’s major sports associations can generate extra revenue, even if it’s not their most preferred solution.

Whether other US leagues accept and mirror the NBA’s approach remains to be seen. The NBA was generally viewed as the most likely US pro sports league to engineer such a deal, and the NBA also had an existing relationship with MGM Resorts.

MGM owns the WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces, who play home games at MGM Resorts’ Mandalay Bay Events Center

Mr. Silver said: “As the landscape for sports betting in the US continues to evolve at a rapid pace, MGM Resorts is a proven gaming leader for us to work with on this groundbreaking partnership. Our collaboration will result in the best possible gaming and entertainment experience for consumers through the use of accurate, real-time NBA and WNBA data, and our collective efforts to maintain and enhance the integrity of our games.”

Mr. Murren said: “The NBA has always been an innovator at the forefront of sports evolution, and MGM Resorts is thrilled to partner with the league to revolutionize sports betting in the United States. Integrating the NBA’s assets and having official NBA data showcased across the MGM Resorts platforms will provide us with a distinct advantage and instill more confidence in knowing that our data is directly from the NBA.”

Integrity fee a tougher sell

One bit of blowback from the deal is that it will be harder for the US sports leagues in general to secure one of their primary aims amid the US’s post-PASPA future. That’s the controversial “integrity” fee – actually a data-rights fee – that lobbyists for several of the leagues have sought to insert into sports-betting legislation now under consideration in several states.

Such a mandatory fee has been blasted by many of the legislators considering these bills, particularly in New Jersey, where legalized sports betting has gone live with no such integrity or rights fee included.

That the NBA and MGM Resorts were able to put together a branding and rights deal on a voluntary basis necessarily detracts from the leagues’ collective push for an across-the-board, arbitrary fee.

The integrity-fee battle does pop up in the NBA’s deal announcement, though just briefly: “MGM Resorts and the NBA will also partner on best-in-class practices to protect the integrity of NBA and WNBA games, including anonymized real-time data sharing.”