It wasn’t that long ago that the NFL had a strong anti-sports betting stance. Since the United States Supreme Court struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) in May of last year, though, the tide has started to turn. A number of professional leagues in the US have started to embrace the burgeoning industry, and the NFL is no exception.
On Tuesday, the Washington Redskins announced that their preseason games will feature an alternate telecast that will offer prediction contests with real cash prizes. Starting with this Thursday’s preseason opener against the Cleveland Browns, NBC Sports Washington Plus will feature a “Predict the Game” broadcast. The game footage will include graphics featuring a number of statistics in relation to the prediction contest, with prop bets appearing at the bottom of the screen at various points of the game. Viewers with the most correct predictions at the end of each of the game’s four quarters will win $1,000.
With this move, the Redskins will become the first NFL franchise to offer such a broadcast. The franchise was also the first in the league to partner with a daily fantasy sports entity, and the first to put its logos on scratch-off lottery tickets that can be purchased in the DC metro area.
Scott Shepherd, the Redskins’ senior vice president, told ESPN,
“We’re proud to be the first NFL club to do this and it follows a line of innovations that we’ve had along this space.”
This isn’t the first time NBC Sports Washington has done this, however. The same network offered similar predictive game contests during several Washington Wizards games last season. Those telecasts featured betting props, moneylines, and over/under totals.
NBC Sports Washington’s senior vice president and general manager, Damon Phillips, told ESPN that the network has been discussing at which points during the game the contest should be offered. He said,
“Between series? We’re going to experiment to figure out what the right rhythm is, and we’re going to find out a lot in the first game.”
Participants that play “Predict the Game” will be asked as many as 80 questions over the course of the game regarding outcomes that take place. For example, one question could be, “Will Derrius Guice rush for 30 yards in the first quarter?” Viewers will be alerted about a new question popping up on the screen via an audible chime.
While the aforementioned NBA broadcast featured traditional betting options like over/under totals, the Redskins’ broadcast will not. The team engaged in discussions with the NFL league office before making the decision.
Phillips added that the bonus broadcasts for Wizards games were generally successful. He said,
“We were able to create a new way to engage with fans that we didn’t have last year. There was more time spent on our digital properties as a result of those broadcasts.”
While the NFL is slowly coming around on the idea of embracing sports betting, the league has still been slower to adapt to the changing environment than leagues like the NBA, NHL and even Major League Baseball. While the Redskins’ alternate broadcast is pretty clearly designed with a betting focus, Shepherd danced around the idea of suggesting that the move is a step toward the NFL fully endorsing sports betting.
He told ESPN,
“But it’s certainly something from a club perspective and an innovation perspective, we want to be on the forefront of emerging trends and new opportunities that are out there. We want to engage with our fans and really begin that conversation and begin that overall experience as legal sports betting is coming online. The NFL, from a legal sports betting perspective, is taking a more cautious and methodical approach versus the other leagues that have fully opted in.”
Since the Supreme Court did away with PASPA, a number of states have moved to legalize and regulate sports betting. New Jersey was at the forefront of the movement, and all nine states outside of Nevada have done so in the months since the decision. New Mexico, New York, Mississippi, West Virginia, Rhode Island, Arkansas, Pennsylvania, and Delaware have joined New Jersey, while several other states are set to follow suit in the months to come.
Preseason games certainly don’t draw the kinds of massive ratings that regular season or playoff games generate, and the Redskins are hopeful that adding the “Predict the Game” contest will give fans more incentive to stick with the game all the way through. Phillips told the Sports Business Journal,
“We want casual fans to be more involved in the broadcast. When they are more involved, they stay longer.”
The fact that starters may only play a series or two before backups come into the game is the primary factor in preseason games generating lower viewership numbers.
The alternate Redskins’ broadcast is considered a “pilot” and, as of now, there are no further plans to continue to offer it into the regular season. However, the possibility of continuing the broadcasts into the regular season has not been ruled out either.
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