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Regional sports network tests sports betting's telecast potential

NBCUniversal Media LLC's regional sports network NBC Sports Washington (US) is placing its second wager on an interactive, betting-oriented telecast Jan. 27, two weeks after an inaugural offering that corresponded with a bump in ratings.

The Washington Wizards-Portland Trail Blazers contest, running on the network's overflow channel NBC Sports Washington Plus, will feature the main network's regular feed and commentary supplemented on-screen by statistics, odds and points spreads, appearing on a reverse L border. The RSN's presentation could be upgraded to include more data and accommodate actual betting down the road. The telecast is the latest example of experimentation with sports-betting fare by media companies in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court decision last May overturning a federal statute that prohibited states outside of Nevada from offering sports betting.

The main application for the Jan. 27 telecast is a "Predict the Game" sweepstakes involving questions around player and team performances throughout the contest. Viewers can visit the NBC Sports Washington website to play along with a $500 payout to the winner.

"The type of questions we're asking are ones casual fans can answer. We want viewers to stay around longer and keep them engaged with interest in individual player outcomes," said NBC Sports Washington General Manager Damon Phillips in an interview.

As to wagering prospects, Phillips said he foresees "micro-transactions" of $5 and $10 bets.

Ratings Rise

SNL Image

RSN NBC Sports Washington tipped off the first of eight betting-oriented
telecasts with Washington-Milwaukee on Jan. 11.

Source: NBC Sports Washington

In concert with the main feed, the RSN's initial alternative telecast of the Wizards-Milwaukee Bucks on Jan. 11 generated a combined 1.89 household rating in the Washington,D.C., DMA® and a 1.34 mark against the key adults 25 to 54 demographic, respective gains of 26% and 38% over Wizards' season averages.

Phillips said that 20% of the RSN's TV Everywhere streaming audience watched the alternate feed, which prompted 4,000 answers to the various questions.

"Directionally, it looks like it spiked interest," he said, noting that specifics will be drawn from the Jan. 27 presentations as Nielsen Holdings PLC will distinguish the audiences for the two feeds.

The Jan. 27 enhanced telecast comes four days after Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser signed a sports-betting bill, which followed the Washington, D.C., Council's nod in December. The measure must still gain congressional approval.

The nation's capital could wind up with online sports betting and on-site action at four area stadiums and arena venues, including Capital One Arena. The building is the property of Ted Leonsis' Monumental Sports & Entertainment LLC, which also owns the Wizards, the NHL Stanley Cup champion Capitals and the WNBA Washington Mystics, among other assets. The former AOL executive's company operation also has a piece of NBC Sports Washington, which in turn holds a stake in over-the-top subscription service Monumental Sports Network.

More states, more revenue

In the wake of last year's Supreme Court ruling, Delaware, New Jersey, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and West Virginia have all moved to allow betting at sportsbooks or online.

GamblingCompliance, a provider of legal, regulatory and business intelligence to the global gambling community, in its "2019 US. Sports Betting Outlook" projects that nine to 16 more states could come on board, with New York, Michigan, Connecticut and the district among the most likely.

The group pegs sports-betting revenue at $648 million this year, without any additional expansion. Under its base case of nine new states in 2019, sports betting revenue would rise to $1.44 billion, while its bull case of 16 calls for $2.10 billion in 2020.

Media companies are in the action on various platforms to establish an early footing as the practice becomes more widespread.

ESPN Inc.'s ESPN+, teaming with The Action Network on "I'll Take That Bet" and CBS Sports HQ's "SportsLine Edge," are providing streamers with appropriate data.

For its part, Vegas Stats & Information Network, originating from the South Point Hotel Casino in Las Vegas, is also available on its website and on Sirius XM Radio.

On the linear side, FOX Sports 1 (US) kicked off new weekday betting-oriented show "Lock It In" in September, while NBC Sports Philadelphia (US) has been running "The Daily Line" on Saturdays during the NFL postseason.

In recent months, NBC Sports also has registered sports-betting-related web domains, including NBCSportsbook.com.

Advertising Additions

The Jan. 27 Wizards-Blazers telecast at 7 p.m. ET will again feature a predictive players' leaderboard, along with an in-game box-score and money line information. An RSN spokesman said Papa John's International Inc. is joining MGM Resorts International and law firm Greenberg & Bederman in sponsoring the enhanced information.

Phillips said the network has engaged in advertising conversations with sportsbook operators. NBC Sports Washington's coverage territory includes three states already in the sports betting game: Delaware, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. President and CEO Chris Ripley said he expects sports betting to emerge as a major advertising category for stations, as more states allow the practice. Sinclair could double down on both advertising sides should it succeed in its pursuit of acquiring FOX-owned RSNs that Walt Disney Co. must divest as a condition of U.S. Department of Justice approbation for its purchase of myriad 21st Century Fox Inc. assets.

With six more alternate contests after Jan. 27, Phillips said NBC Sports Washington will learn as they go with the upcoming telecasts. "We will be a lot better by game eight," he said.