The NHL has spent a lot of time in Las Vegas the past decade, allowing the league to take a lead in innovative partnerships with sportsbook operators.
The NHL’s official sports betting partnership with MGM Resorts International is the latest fruit of the time spent in Nevada, but it’s just scratching the surface for what could lie ahead, said league EVP and Chief Revenue Officer Keith Wachtel.
The league has had its award show in Las Vegas for nearly a decade, along with several years setting up the Vegas Golden Knights and the team’s improbable run to the Stanley Cup Final.
“The benefit of the Golden Knights was to see the opportunity with sports betting as it relates to hockey, which is fourth of the big four sports,” Wachtel said. “Once we saw the path, we spent a lot of time talking to operators of what it is that would make sense.”
The league’s announcement of its partnership with MGM followed announcements of the Vegas Golden Knights and New Jersey Devils partnerships with William Hill. The Devils are also partnered with Caesars and FanDuel.
The NHL also announced a partnership with FanDuel this week as the league’s official daily fantasy sports partner.
The non-exclusive deals with the NHL both offer unique and exciting possibilities — and a few more could be in the works.
“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 in the MGM partnership announcement. “Fan engagement, technological advancement and innovation are paramount to our progressive approach and will be at the forefront of everything we do.”
There is hope the partnerships will lead to greater engagement and help grow the sport’s fan base, even in states where sports betting isn’t legal. The league will share proprietary data with MGM, which could help drive prop bets and social gaming.
“We do believe there is a market for sports and NHL fans to participate in social gaming around the entire country,” Wachtel said. “Where sports betting is legal, sure, place a bet. If not, why not have the same experience, but while playing against friends, and playing for tickets, merchandise, and trips to the Winter Classic or Stanley Cup.”
The results of growing engagement and the fan base through these partnerships aren’t known yet, of course, but Wachtel and the rest of the league’s executives are optimistic as fans involved in sports betting or fantasy sports are more likely to be involved, even in games with no rooting interest.
Wachtel said the NHL is progressive, as the league has also changed the regulations to allow for teams to work with betting partners, even in states where sports betting isn’t quite legal. He pointed to legislation in Illinois, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Wachtel said the league doesn’t want to limit the partnership opportunities for teams, the league or broadcast partners.
“We’ve evolved our regulations so that all of our clubs can participate for advertising and marketing,” he said. “The Chicago Blackhawks are a huge draw with strong fan base loyalty. Gaming operators might want to secure dasher board space at this point in time, so when it becomes legalized, there’s brand recognition.”
MGM’s place as the NHL’s official sports betting partner is the company’s second such deal, as it signed on as the exclusive partner with the NBA during the summer.
“Combining MGM Resorts’ world-class sports betting operations and technology with the NHL’s top-level competition, iconic brands and cutting-edge data will further transform the rapidly growing sports betting marketplace and solidify our position at the forefront of the industry,” said MGM Resorts Chairman and CEO Jim Murren.