NHL Names MGM Resorts the Official Sports Betting Partner of the League

The NHL has named MGM Resorts as its official betting partner. Financial terms behind the deal have not been released, but the NHL announced this morning that the agreement involves cross-promotional advertising and proprietary data rights to be used for sports betting.

The leagued announced the deal this morning after teasing over the weekend that the NHL had something big in store on Monday. Speculation was that the deal would involve something involving advertising and data rights, and that was confirmed this morning by the NHL.

In a press release, the NHL explained that MGM Resorts will be able to market “many of its products and services” through various NHL media platforms and events. MGM Resorts will also be able to display official NHL branding at its land-based and online sports betting properties throughout the United States.

Additionally, the deal will give MGM Resorts enhanced rights to proprietary game data “that will be generated by the League’s state-of-the-art tracking systems currently under development.”

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said this in a statement:

“The new sports betting landscape presents a unique opportunity for fan engagement utilizing technology and data that are exclusive to our League. As a leading global gaming operator and entertainment company, MGM Resorts is the perfect partner for us to begin our transformative entry into this space. Fan engagement, technological advancement and innovation are paramount to our progressive approach and will be at the forefront of everything we do.”

Deal Punches Hole in Theory that Data Rights Should be Mandated by Government

The portion of this deal regarding data rights is particularly important as some sports leagues (most notably the NBA, MLB and PGA) have taken to lobbying states to pass legislation mandating that sports betting operators rely exclusively on data supplied by the leagues for the purpose of settling bets.

Such demands fly in the face of a free market environment in which sportsbooks would be allowed to enter data sharing agreements of their own volition, such as by contracting with third party data providers or just checking the news for sports scores to determine the outcomes of wagers.

This deal between the NHL and MGM Resorts bolsters the argument that government edicts forcing data sharing are unnecessary. Nobody forced MGM Resorts to reach this deal with the NHL; both organizations entered the agreement by choice.

In all likelihood, MGM chose to work with the NHL on data in order to gain access to live data of the type that will be used to settle in-play wagers such as the next goal, length of possession and other short-term propositions.

Betting operators have little incentive to sign expensive data sharing agreements with sports leagues for the purposes of settling standard pre-game wagers such as who will win the game. That information is widely available at no cost.

What the leagues can offer instead is data that cannot be collected by third-party providers such as average puck speed and other information not easily gleaned by simply observing games. The NHL’s references to “state-of-the-art” tracking systems almost certainly refers to data of this type, such as data that would rely on sensors implanted in pucks and in players’ gear.

Data of that type is useful in two key ways. First, it allows betting operators to offer short-term in-game wagers that would otherwise be difficult to offer in a fast-moving sporting event. Second, enhanced data can be used in a predictive manner to create more accurate lines for in-play wagers.

NHL Executive VP and Chief Revenue Officer Keith Wachtel briefly mentioned both possibilities in talking to the Associated Press this morning:

“The more data and analytics that a gaming operator can have, the better it will be in enabling them to set odds. Whether or not they’re using the data for actual purposes of creating prop bets and things like that certainly is something [that’s possible]. But more importantly, they’re going to use it to be able to set odds and proper odds that they’re going to be able to create.”

For example, MGM Resorts and the Alliance of American Football (AAF) signed a similar deal in September that involves enhanced data collected by wearables. As it was noted at the time, information such as the average speed of the quarterback’s passes might be used by sportsbooks to determine the likelihood of an interception and in turn impact the odds.

Even the NBA, which has largely led the charge for data rights and integrity fees, reached an agreement with MGM Resorts earlier this year to share data, cooperate on fighting corruption and to allow cross-advertising.

These deals, formed in the free market, punch a hole in the theory that the government needs to step in and force operators to buy data from the leagues. Instead, leagues such as the NHL and AAF are innovating to collect advanced data metrics that operators are willing to pay for of their own free will.

MGM Resorts Set to Capitalize on In-Play Betting

Despite any differences of opinion regarding the proper role of government in the sports betting market, MGM Resorts and the sports leagues are drawing ever closer via deals such as today’s with the NHL

MGM, which operates mobile betting site PlayMGM NJ, has now reached data sharing and advertising agreements with three US sports leagues: the NHL, NBA and AAF. With these deals, MGM Resorts International is setting itself up in prime position to potentially lead the market in in-play betting.

In other countries, in-play betting handle massively dwarfs the handle for pre-game wagers. For example, some have reported that upwards of 90% of basketball betting handle in Asia comes from in-play betting. UK operator Bet365 reported last year that a whopping 72% of its sports betting revenue last year came from in-play wagering.

The in-play betting market in the United States presents vast opportunity with the majority of its potential still untapped. William Hill in Las Vegas still only collects about 22% of its total betting handle from in-play wagers, and other states are way behind even that humble sum.

As online sports betting expands in the United States, in-play betting will take on greater importance. MGM Resorts International is wise to move in on this market at this early stage of the game.

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