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Retail and online sportsbooks will make the state a betting hotspot when it launches sports wagering Jan. 1
The 10,000-square-foot Caesars Sportsbook that will begin taking bets at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse at the start of January sits on a busy downtown Cleveland thoroughfare, where it will both serve Cavaliers fans inclined to wager at a kiosk or window during a game and beckon would-be bettors driving by.
One of eight Ohio pro teams granted access to retail sportsbook licenses, the Cavaliers likely will see the largest windfall of any, driven by the prime retail location in a metro area of 2 million people as well as their standing as the lone NBA franchise in the state. The state opens sports wagering on Jan. 1.
Along with the entirety of Ohio, which will be the fourth most populous state to allow online sports betting, the Cavs footprint includes western Pennsylvania, all of West Virginia and Kentucky. Based on that, and a large field of competitors drawn by the most inclusive licensing framework in the country, industry insiders estimate the Cavs could add nearly $10 million a year in revenue from the newly created sponsorship category, with the majority coming from its 10-year deal with Caesars.
Save the Cincinnati Bengals, who say they are holding off due to NFL restrictions on in-stadium betting, all of the state’s pro teams have applied for retail licenses and aligned with sportsbooks. So too have Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, host of the PGA Tour’s Memorial Tournament, and the Pro Football Hall of Fame Village in Canton.
They’ve all also benefited from access to statewide mobile licenses, the rights to which they’ve sold to sportsbooks, typically at 10-year terms.
The resulting lineup of dance partners is dizzying — and unlike anything seen elsewhere.
The Cleveland Guardians have deals with BetFanatics and Bet365. The Cleveland Browns landed Bally’s. The Cincinnati Reds locked down BetMGM and Underdog, a fantasy operator that plans to expand into sports betting next year. The Bengals hooked up with Betfred. The Columbus Blue Jackets got BetFanatics and Prophet Exchange, a newcomer that launched in New Jersey in August. The Columbus Crew and FC Cincinnati did exclusive deals with Tipico and SuperBook, respectively.
And those are just the deals tied to retail or online licenses. There also will be more traditionally structured sponsorships.
Along with Caesars, the Cavs landed U.K.-based Betway and recently shuttered Fubo Sportsbook, which did the deal to gain market access and expose its streaming service. With Fubo in the wind, the Cavs now are exploring options for a replacement.
Most of those deals are from outside the circle of sportsbooks that have dominated in other states, largely because those operators already had market access and retail opportunities in place. FanDuel, DraftKings and PointsBet all secured online licenses through land-based casino or parimutuel facilities. Barstool Sportsbook got in through parent company Penn National, which operates casinos in Columbus, Toledo and Youngstown. Barstool will have retail at all three of those. FanDuel will open at horse track Belterra Park in Cincinnati.
The breadth of sportsbooks that have secured retail locations in Ohio is unprecedented.
In Cleveland, Fanatics has a deal to open at Progressive Field while Bally’s has rights to the Browns’ FirstEnergy Stadium, where it will start with a betting lounge and hope that the NFL eventually will relax its restrictions. In Cincinnati, BetMGM is set to open at Great American Ball Park while SuperBook, a fixture at Las Vegas’ Westgate hotel for nearly three decades, struck a deal to open its third retail location at FC Cincinnati’s TQL Stadium. The Blue Jackets also have a retail deal with Fanatics, while the Crew have one with Tipico, best known as the official sportsbook of USA Today and Gannett.
There also are agreements in place for Parx to put a shop at Muirfield Village Golf Club and for BetRivers to open a location at the Pro Football Hall of Fame Village.
“We expect that this will be one of the most competitive states in the country,” said Matt Prevost, chief revenue officer of BetMGM, which was granted market access through its racino near Cleveland. “The combination of really open access and a variety of different retail outlets is going to mean that basically every operator who has any interest in pursuing the market will be present in Ohio.”
BetMGM plans to open at Great American Ball Park when the state launches on Jan. 1, in a left-field corner restaurant accessible from a stadium plaza, but not from within the ballpark, per MLB rules. Plans call for a more expansive buildout elsewhere at the park.
While most stadium and arena locations won’t be open when the state launches, their eventual rollout will set Ohio up with the most sports betting options this side of Nevada, with betting kiosks installed at more than 1,000 bars, restaurants and grocery stores.
“Retail is so prevalent and there are so many potential outlets, in choosing to invest in a retail location you need to be aware of how many other opportunities there are for people to place bets,” Prevost said. “The idea of dropping a few kiosks in a small location isn’t as appealing to us because we expect those locations to be fairly common. So as a brand we’re looking at venues that combine an experience with the transaction of placing a bet. A ballpark or an arena will do that.”
Even before Ohio lawmakers landed on the framework that they passed last December, Cavaliers management was in exploratory talks with sportsbooks, working to carve up the anticipated new sponsor category in a manner that would maximize revenue.
They had seen many of their counterparts in the states in which teams could host retail opt for exclusivity, especially in states in which the deal also conferred an online license. But the Cavs thought they could generate more from two or three deals than one.
“We were having a ton of warming conversations with a ton of different gaming platforms,” said Cavaliers CEO Nic Barlage. “Retail. Mobile. Some just in the partnership vein. At the end of the day, you really have to get into a prescriptive needs analysis with each of these partners to ultimately understand what’s important to them. For certain ones, it’s really about top-of-funnel marketing. For other ones, it’s about having a retail presence. Some of them, it’s just about being able to have access to a mobile license.”
It was from those conversations that the Cavs landed on a strategy that got them into the category ahead of the 2021-22 NBA season, even before Ohio legalized, through a deal with Betway, which put its brand on positions visible during NBA games airing in the dozen European countries in which it operates and began to connect with Cavs fans through a free-to-play game.
Retail went to Caesars, which had successfully operated a book in a similar, two-story footprint at Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. Because Caesars had market access through its harness track in Columbus, the Cavs were able to include that component in a 10-year deal with Fubo.
Caesars’ interest in Cleveland retail drives home the value that it sees in a storefront — and particularly one in that location.
From a volume perspective, retail sportsbooks are dwarfed by their mobile counterparts, accounting for only 9% of the $73 billion that U.S. sportsbooks handled in the 12-month span that ended in August. But they are profitable. And Caesars, BetMGM and other operators see additional benefits.
“A lot of people are going to be introduced to the brand,” said Dan Shapiro, senior vice president and chief development officer at Caesars Digital. “As people come into the arena for events, they’re going to see us. We’re going to have ambassadors there. Perhaps they make a retail bet or decide to sign up for a mobile account. Or if they’ve already got one, perhaps they reactivate it by putting some cash on their account before they go to their seats. So there are a lot of pieces there.
“When you layer on the sponsorship with the Cavs and the assets they have, I think it’s a great opportunity to reach fans and also keep them engaged.”
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