NHL partners with MGM to share data for sports betting
The NHL announced a multiyear agreement Monday to provide MGM Resorts International with data for use in betting, the second major U.S. professional sports league to strike a deal with the casino giant since the Supreme Court opened the way for expanded gambling last spring.
Las Vegas-based MGM is the league's first official sports betting partner, just as it is with the NBA and WNBA. That deal was reached in July.
As part of the agreement, MGM gains access to proprietary NHL data that could eventually include puck and player tracking information once that goes through a testing phase. Access to that data will allow MGM to provide customized game details along with betting opportunities for U.S. customers where gambling is legally available.
The data will not be exclusive to MGM. The NHL is not getting a cut of gambling profits, but other terms were not disclosed.
"The new sports betting landscape presents a unique opportunity for fan engagement utilizing technology and data that are exclusive to our league," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. "Fan engagement, technological advancement and innovation are paramount to our progressive approach and will be at the forefront of everything we do."
MGM and other casino operators are moving aggressively to capitalize on the U.S. sports betting market, which is expanding after the Supreme Court ruled in May that states could take sports bets if they wanted. MGM has made a series of significant moves, including the multiyear deal with the NBA and WNBA.
Bettman and MGM Resorts Chairman and CEO Jim Murren said the NHL's agreement differs from that with the NBA.
"I'm led to believe by Jim that our deal is more encompassing and includes basic sponsorship that we have together," Bettman said.
The deal will include promotions during the league's marquee events, including the Stanley Cup playoffs, the All-Star game and the Winter Classic.
"We couldn't be more excited to enter into this historic partnership with the NHL," Murren said.
Bettman said player tracking will be implemented next season.
"That's been the plan," he said. "While we've tested it in some forms at the World Cup, that was 16 games in two weeks at one arena. Having to scale this for 1,271 regular season games in 31 arenas is a little bit harder."
There are no plans to change the way teams report player injuries, which are often described only in generic terms like upper-body or lower-body.
"Our players tend to play hurt," Bettman said. "I'm not sure we have any interest in changing our reports. We're comfortable with the way things are because it's important to the well-being of our players. We don't want them targeted when they're playing injured."
Bettman said the league and the NHL Players' Association will split the "fixed revenue" generated by the partnership with MGM, as the collective bargaining agreement calls for. Bettman cited a report commissioned by the American Gaming Association that estimated expanded sports betting could increase league revenue by more than $200 million.
Bettman also said the deal with MGM would not preclude teams from striking deals with individual sports books. Earlier this year, bookmaker William Hill struck deals to do promotional work and post odds at the home arenas of the Las Vegas Golden Knights and the New Jersey Devils.
NHL executive vice president and chief revenue officer Keith Wachtel said being able to provide enhanced data and analytics to MGM will allow "some creative and unique things that don't really exist in the sport right now."
"The more data and analytics that a gaming operator can have, the better it will be in enabling them to set odds," Wachtel told The Associated Press. "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."
In an email to The Associated Press, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said MGM "will access (NHL data) through our third party vendor, SportRadar. That may or may not change in the future." SportRadar also provides NBA data.
Some leagues, including Major League Baseball and the NBA, had called for an "integrity fee" — essentially, states would give leagues a cut of the money wagered on their games to pay for expanded monitoring of suspicious betting and to protect intellectual property. The effort has been largely unsuccessful thus far.
"We have no concerns about the integrity of our game, of our players, our officials," Wachtel said. "We've never had an issue. Secondly, the integrity of the sports betting landscape is just as important to the bookmakers, which is why the NHL does not have a discussion and we don't talk about this notion of integrity fees."
Bettman dismissed concerns that NHL players could be persuaded to gamble on or even throw games.
"We monitor all of the games," said Bettman. "Through third party resources. We watch what goes on, whether or not betting lines shift and the like ... It hasn't been an issue and we don't anticipate it being an issue."
Scott Butera, MGM Resorts' president of interactive gaming and a former Arena Football League commissioner, outlined how the puck and playing tracking data will help bettors.
"If I know one player is faster than the other, if I know one expends less energy than the other, if I know one has a faster slap shot than the other, it gives me information that I can bet," he said. "If I'm betting on who will score the most goals, I have that tool. Ultimately when enough data is collected on that, we'll be able to actually bet on that data itself. So you could have a bet on which player's going to have the highest average slap shot throughout the game."
Butera said MGM believes expanded sports betting will eventually be available in 25 to 30 states. The 24 U.S.-based NHL teams play in 18 different states, with seven more in Canada, which does not allow single game betting. The league is moving toward adding a 32nd team, in Seattle in what would be its 19th state (Washington).
Bettman said the seven Canadian teams "have been working with the lotteries who control gambling on a provincial basis."
"I think that will continue," he said. "I know there have been a lot of discussions about going to single game betting as opposed to parlay, which is what currently exists. And as the law evolves, you will see our evolution in dealing with it."
AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno contributed to this report.