The unions representing players in the MLB, NBA, NFL and NHL have officially acknowledged sports betting. The NFL Players Association posted a notice on Twitter yesterday morning containing a joint statement from the four unions:
— NFLPA (@NFLPA) April 12, 2018
If that tweet doesn’t load for you, here’s the full text of the statement:
“Given the pending Supreme Court decision regarding the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), representatives of the MLBPA, NBPA, NFLPA and NHLPA have been working together on the legal, commercial, practical and human consequences of allowing sports betting to become mainstream.
“The time has come to address not just who profits from sports gambling, but also the costs. Our unions have been discussing the potential impact of legalized gambling on players’ privacy and publicity rights, the integrity of our games and the volatility on our businesses.
“Betting on sports may become widely legal, but we cannot allow those who have lobbied the hardest for sports gambling to be the only ones controlling how it would be ushered into our businesses. The athletes must also have a seat at the table to ensure that players’ rights and the integrity of our games are protected.”
Interpreting This Statement
The statement published on Twitter does not leave us a whole lot to work with, officially. All we can say for sure at this point is the players’ unions are letting us know they are here and they plan to be involved in shaping the burgeoning sports betting industry.
What’s not in the statement are any details regarding what the unions want, what they believe should happen with legalization efforts or even an official stance on whether or not sports betting should be legalized.
The statement strikes a somewhat combative tone with language such as “we cannot allow those who have lobbied the hardest for sports gambling to be the only ones controlling how it would be ushered into our businesses,” but also manages to be fairly conservative in terms of making actual demands or even taking a position on the issue of sports betting.
This first statement may not make any concrete demands, but a careful reading of it does reveal a clue or two that we may use to make a couple of guesses. This press release contains certain key phrases that we’ve seen before and can use to predict what the unions may be thinking. This is just speculation, but we’ve seen these phrases often enough that it’s possible to make an educated guess or two.
As soon as I read the part of the statement mentioning “the integrity of our games and the volatility on our businesses,” my mind immediately went to the integrity fee the leagues have been requesting lawmakers insert into sports betting bills across the nation. The phrasing used in this statement is similar to the verbiage used by the leagues in justifying the need for an integrity fee.
The NBA and MLB have been the two leagues promoting the integrity fee the most. Representatives of both leagues have argued that an integrity fee is necessary to assist the leagues in protecting their games from protection and also to help offset the risks to their businesses presented by betting.
NBA spokesman Mike Bass once said the integrity fee is necessary because “we will need to invest more in compliance and enforcement, and believe it is reasonable for operators to pay each league 1% of the total amount bet on its games to help compensate for the risk and expense…”
The statement’s inclusion of wording such as “integrity of our games” and references to the “volatility” on their business is no accident. I believe the players’ unions will be looking for a piece of any integrity fees the leagues manage to collect.
Players’ Privacy and Publicity Rights
The players’ unions may also be preparing to demand royalty payments of some sort from the operators who will be taking wagers that ultimately depend on the performances of those players. The part of the statement referring to “players’ privacy and publicity rights” seems to be a preview of a future demand along those lines.
If the players’ unions do end up demanding compensation from operators, it wouldn’t be the first time we’ve seen such demands. In 2015, a former college athlete initiated a class action lawsuit against FanDuel and DraftKings alleging the fantasy sites unlawfully profit off athletes’ names and likenesses without their permission.
The US District Court of the Southern District of Indiana dismissed the case, but the plaintiffs have since appealed to the 7th Circuit court of appeals. This case deals with fantasy sports in particular, but it could almost be applied to regular sports betting word for word. The outcome in that case will undoubtedly impact the likelihood of players’ unions successfully demanding royalties from betting operators, if that is indeed what the unions seek.