The NBA doesn’t know yet when it will tip off its next season. But one thing is certain: TV networks and media companies will increasingly experiment with more “alternate” game telecasts focused on sports betting.
During the 2019-20 season, the league teamed with TNT, Bleacher Report, The Action Network, and Yahoo Sports to experiment with live game telecasts or streams that featured expert gambling analysis, betting lines, and discussion of the odds.
During TNT’s coverage of the NBA Western Conference Finals, the network offered betting-minded viewers an alternate livestream feed called “TNT Bets.” It was hosted by B/R’s Cabbie Richards, Kelly Stewart, and Tim Doyle. The sports betting-focused feed was available to cable and satellite subscribers through the Watch TNT website.
Meanwhile, NBA Digital offered fans a dozen “NBA BetStream” telecasts this August via NBA TV and NBA League Pass. Presenting partner BetMGM provided real-time betting lines and stats. Even if consumers didn’t have access to NBA TV through their cable providers, they were able to buy BetStream through a direct-to-consumer subscription on NBA.com.
Chad Millman, the chief content officer at The Action Network, said these alternate telecasts are “exactly” what leagues and TV networks should be testing as sports TV audiences continue to fragment.
“They should be thinking about alternative broadcasts. They should be thinking about hyper-focusing on very engaged audiences,” said the former ESPN executive. “It’s only going to be more relevant — regardless of the pandemic situation.”
Scott Kaufman-Ross, the NBA’s head of fantasy and gaming, said he wants to create a more integrated experience for fans interested in live, in-game wagering.
“We view these telecasts as a great way to engage on a deeper level with our fans who are watching the game through a sports betting lens. This was a beta test. We wanted to learn from it,” said Kaufman-Ross about the BetStream games.
“We also worked with different influencers across Bleacher Report, The Action Network, and Yahoo Sports to experiment with different approaches and different expertise to learn what works best,” he added. “That will help our strategy as we go forward.”
Other networks have previously tested gambling-driven telecasts. NBC Sports Philadelphia experimented with a 10-game “BetCast” slate of Philadelphia 76ers games during the early stages of the 2019-20 season.
Even if they’re not doing it yet, most networks believe sports betting will be an important part of their future programming mix, according to John Kosner, president of Kosner Media.
“You will certainly see the acceleration of second screen and second channel integration with betting information because there’s a point of view that it’s coming — and that’s what fans want,” Kosner said.
The COVID-19 pandemic is not over. As more U.S. states legalize mobile betting, and the weather turns colder, sports betting is poised to “accelerate” among locked-down consumers this fall, predicted Kaufman-Ross.
Especially if the state of New York — which has over 19 million residents — finally legalizes mobile betting, instead of forcing gamblers to travel across the Hudson River to neighboring New Jersey.
“We feel a lot of our fans are consuming NBA content through the lens of sports betting. So we want to make sure to engage our fans where they are,” he said.
“We’ve often said we see sports betting as more of a pull than a push,” he added. “So if fans want sports betting content, we want to give it to them. If they don’t, it’s not necessarily something we’ll force on them. We think an alternate telecast is a great example of how we can accomplish that.”
The NBA’s alternate media partners are waiting to hear when the next season will tip-off, with recent comments pointing to a January-March 2021 start time. Once that decision is made, they’re ready to roll with more alternate sports betting telecasts.
The Action Network’s BetStream experience “went really well,” Millman said. He’s looking forward to serving some of the NBA’s most rabid fans next season.
“If you’re betting on the NBA, you are watching the NBA. You know every player. You’re betting not just on totals but on quarters and halves and player props,” he said.
“There are literally dozens of markets that the folks who are watching these games are betting on,” Millman added. “It just brings a different level of drama and insight.”
A spokesman for B/R confirmed the media outfit is interested in working on more TNT Bets projects next season. “It is definitely a path we are pursuing for the future,” he said.