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More Than Meets The Eye: PointsBet Deal With University of Colorado

News of a deal between PointsBet, a leading US sports betting provider, and the University of Colorado led to a flurry of comments on Gambling Twitter. These comments ran the gamut, as some praised the agreement, some raised concerns, and some outright mocked it.

The truth is, the deal has the potential to be a terrific step forward for legal sports betting in the US, but it also has the potential to be problematic. As is so often the case, the devil is in the details.

What we Know About the PointsBet-CU Deal

The details, in this case, appear quite different than the typical partnership with a professional sports team or arena.

“The five-year deal… includes specific support for CU Athletics’ Leadership and Career Development Program, which helps prepare student-athletes for success beyond their playing da­­ys,” the press release announcing the deal states.

The press release also states that Denver-based PointsBet “is committed to recruiting employees from the deep pool of tech talent located along the Front Range — including CU Boulder tech grads.” And that “the partnership with CU Athletics will emphasize and create awareness around responsible gaming and sports betting education.” 

“As a tech company at heart that is proud to call the state of Colorado home, we are thrilled to announce this partnership as part of our ongoing quest to become synonymous with Colorado sports betting,” noted Johnny Aitken, CEO of PointsBet USA. “Since announcing our plans for a new headquarters in Denver, we’ve consistently stated our desire to work closely with the state’s first-class university system and rich pool of tech talent. It is an honor to become a partner of the Colorado Buffaloes, where we look forward to bolstering general sports betting knowledge and responsible gaming awareness while recruiting some of the best and brightest minds to help install a foundation for prolonged success.”

Is it a Transactional or Relational Deal?

How the PointsBet-CU agreement plays out depends on each party’s motivation for entering the arrangement. If the deal is strictly transactional, it could go sideways fast, opening the proverbial responsible gaming and advertising Pandora’s box that includes college students and student-athletes.

As industry analyst Chris Grove noted on Twitter, there’s a non-trivial chance this deal, and the many that are likely to follow will be a tipping point when it comes to the acceptability of gambling advertising: “Widespread advertising at colleges feels like a pretty reasonable guess at where that point might be got a lot of people.”

That said, these billboards and sportsbook advertisements are going to exist and reach the eyes and ears of CU students, with or without the PointsBet deal. For instance, PointsBet is also the official and exclusive partner of the Denver Nuggets, Colorado Avalanche, Colorado Mammoth, and the Pepsi Center. So, unless students only watch CU Buffalo games, they’re going to be exposed to it.

With that in mind, if this, as it appears to be, is a relational deal, it could very well usher in a new era of responsibility.

To be clear, I warned of the dangers of advertising fatigue last week, but this deal seems altogether different than mere billboards and radio ads. And that’s a good thing. Don’t pretend betting doesn’t exist. Instead, focus on awareness, education, and treatment if needed.

A Pipeline of Talent

From the sound of it, PointsBet will not only help fund CU Athletics’ Leadership and Career Development Program, but it will also be identifying and pulling talent directly from it.

Similar relationships already exist between colleges and gambling companies.

There are several such programs in Massachusetts sponsored by MGM. These programs include Holyoke Community College (HCC) and Springfield Technical Community College (STCC) casino management programs, and the MGM Culinary Institute program at Holyoke Community College.

And of course, there are the pipelines from Stockton University in Atlantic City to the casinos. And from UNLV to its casino industry.

Educating Administrators, Students, and Student-Athletes

As the press release states, the partnership will “emphasize and create awareness around responsible gaming and sports betting education.”

It will be interesting to see how this is carried out. A program like EPIC Risk Management offers would go a long way in advancing responsible gaming initiatives in the US. Student-athletes and administrators can’t just avoid sports betting. It’s a reality they need to address.

As US Integrity CEO Matthew Holt told Betting USA in a June 2020 interview:

“Now [colleges] have to change policies and procedures, and coaches and their entire staff need to know that just winning or losing isn’t good enough anymore. If your team fails to cover the spread, there’s going to be social media backlash.

“These student-athletes are going to be sitting in classrooms with other students legally able to place a wager, and who may have placed a legal wager on that team. What is the experience going to be for that student-athlete sitting across from other students who placed wagers and lost?

“The coaching staff and the student affairs folks must be speaking to the student-athletes. If you receive any type of threat, this is where you go. If people are pressuring you to do things, this is who you tell. Be aware that if you go on social media after not covering the spread, it could turn into a cesspool.”

Bottom Line

If this pipeline of talent and jobs is created and accompanied by an elevated level of responsible gaming training and education for athletes and administrators, the marketing component is more than offset by the education and outreach components.

This is definitely outside the box thinking, and that’s exactly what this industry needs as it rapidly expands across the country with few barriers placed in its path.  

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