U.S. sports leagues split on how to monetize sports betting

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By Wayne Parry (Associated Press)

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — America’s major professional sports leagues are split on how to get a piece of the action from legal sports betting after failing to get early adopting states to cut them in.

But they are back in the game this year with several state legislatures considering granting them fees from sports bets.

The National Football League, Major League Baseball, National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League uniformly fought to stop the spread of sports gambling for years, but retrenched in their positions after a key loss – a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year that granted New Jersey and other states the option to allow wagering.

That shift from the courts to statehouses, Congress and the open market has revealed divisions among the leagues in how to approach the inevitability of expanded legal betting.

Some are lobbying individual states to include a 0.25 percent cut of all sports bets placed in their states. Others are concentrating on making free-market deals with individual gambling companies. Some are doing both those things and others say they don’t want or need payments from sportsbooks.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last May that all states are free to legalize sports betting. Eight states currently accept bets with many more expected to follow suit – some soon, others in future years. None of the laws passed in 2018 gave leagues what they’d hoped for.

But at least six states have included fees for the leagues in sports betting bills they are considering this year, with more bills expected.

The NBA, MLB and golf’s PGA Tour began lobbying individual states for direct payments, an idea widely known among legislators and lobbyists as an ”integrity fee” but that the leagues prefer to call a royalty. The leagues say they deserve to be reimbursed for costs to make sure their games are free from scandal and manipulation. They also feel that outside companies making money from games should share profits with those organizing the sports.

”It obviously helps the leagues in providing compensation to us for our product,” said Bryan Seeley, a senior vice president of Major League Baseball. ”It also helps defray the costs for us for integrity and regulatory costs.”

Those costs include hiring additional people to monitor games and betting activity, training players, referees and other league employees on integrity measures, developing special software and hiring outside consultants, said Dan Spillane, an NBA senior vice president. But neither of those leagues would quantify exactly how much integrity measures are costing them or how much is new spending, given that illegal sports betting has been popular in America for a long time and other countries offer legal wagering on their games.

Seeley said gambling companies need to partner with leagues so both sides have incentives to grow appeal and profitability, he said.

”I can’t think of another industry where a class of people is able to make hundreds of millions of dollars off someone else’s product, put risk on that party, and pay them nothing,” Seeley said. ”Some of the revenue that’s going to be made by the gambling companies needs to be shared.”

The NFL – even with the most popular betting sport in the United States – says it never sought such payments.

”Rather, we are focused on game integrity and consumer protection,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said.

The National Hockey League has put most of its energy into reaching direct deals with gambling companies, including gambling giant MGM Resorts International, one of a flurry of deals the leagues made last year. These pacts have included sportsbooks licensing official league data as well as using league and team logos in marketing and advertising.

”Instead of seeking legislation at the federal level or even at the state level, our approach has been to work directly with the industry,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. ”We believe that, whether it’s our intellectual property, our data, whether it’s video of our game, we have important assets, and if somebody is going to avail themselves or want to avail themselves of those assets in order to conduct their business, then we’re going to need to have a negotiation.”

MLB and the NBA say they are pursuing state-by-state fees and deals with private companies as parallel but independent efforts. David Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, sees that as ”an adjustment by the leagues to the political reality of the situation.”

”I imagine that as the market grows, they will seek various ways to monetize public interest in sports betting, perhaps even some they haven’t thought of yet,” Schwartz said.

At least five states considered royalties to leagues last year before deciding against paying them. The leagues think they’ll do better this year with more lobbying. So far this year, Missouri, New York, Kansas, Illinois, Iowa and Massachusetts have introduced bills providing fees of between 0.2 percent and 1 percent for the leagues.

That doesn’t necessarily mean there’s strong support for the fees in those states. Lawmakers in several of those jurisdictions say they included the fee in bills for the purposes of discussion, but say they’re not convinced it should be adopted.

New York state Sen. Joseph Addabbo Jr. said the bill he sponsored is basically a reintroduction of last year’s unsuccessful bill. He’s not sold on the 0.2 percent fee it would provide to the leagues, noting that Nevada, where sports betting has been legal for years, does not share its revenue with the leagues.

”Somebody is going to have to justify an integrity fee, credibly,” he said. ”The leagues say there’s more work involved in ensuring the integrity of their games; I get it. But I need to maximize the funding for our state. There’s a pie, and everyone wants their little slice. And the state wants the biggest slice.”

Iowa state Rep. Bobby Kaufmann included a 0.25 percent fee in one of his state’s bills because, ”I wanted to give every one of the stakeholders – the casinos, the leagues, the lottery and the horsemen – their ‘dream bill.’ But I don’t believe right now (the fee) has the votes.

”Iowa doesn’t have any pro sports leagues, but our casinos are in 19 different locations,” he said. ”An integrity fee would just direct money away from Iowa to out-of-state entities.”

Missouri state Sen. Paul Wieland opposes such fees, which are in one of his state’s bills.

”I don’t think that the leagues have any rights to fees,” he said. ”The leagues are in the sports and entertainment business, and the casinos are in the gaming business. If the leagues feel they should get something, they should work out individual deals with casinos to be the ‘official sports book of,’ just like beer companies do.”

Illinois state Rep. Mike Zalewski won’t commit to supporting an integrity fee, but is sympathetic to the position of the leagues.

”It’s their product,” Zalewski said. ”They want to have a say in this.”

Some state lawmakers and gambling companies object to the proposed fee taking the form of a percentage of all bets made, as opposed to a percentage of gambling companies’ profits, which is a far smaller number.

One thing the leagues have agreed on with one another is the idea of federal regulation, preferring a single set of uniform rules than different laws in each state. A bill introduced late last year that would have the U.S. Justice Department set minimum standards for states to meet in offering sports betting does not include royalties. But it does not explicitly forbid them, either, and whether such payments are ultimately added is expected to be a central focus or negotiations as it makes its way through Congress.

Associated Press writer Geoff Mulvihill in Philadelphia contributed to this report.

Follow Wayne Parry at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC

More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

It’s Philadelphia Flyers Day at PHT

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Philadelphia Flyers.

2018-19
37-37-8, 82 points (6th in the Metropolitan Division, 11th in the Eastern Conference)
Playoffs: Did not qualify

IN:
Kevin Hayes
Matt Niskanen
Justin Braun
Tyler Pitlick
Kurtis Gabriel
Nate Prosser
Alain Vigneault – head coach

OUT
Andrew Macdonald (buyout)
Jori Lehtera
Radko Gudas
Cam Talbot
Michal Neuvirth
Wayne Simmonds
Phil Varone
Anthony Stolarz

RE-SIGNED:
Travis Sanheim
Brian Elliott
Scott Laughton

2018-19 Summary

If you’re an NHL team that sets a league record for most starting goalies used over the course of a single season, it’s unlikely that said record is synonymous with winning.

Here’s the list, in no particular order:

• Brian Elliott
• Anthony Stolarz
Calvin Pickard
• Michal Neuvirth
• Alex Lyon
• Mike McKenna
• Cam Talbot
Carter Hart

Eight starting goalies, one more than the previous record of seven held by three other teams with the most recent being the 2007-08 Los Angeles Kings.

Cam Talbot set the record in February, but it was No. 7 that tied the mark that stuck out in more ways than one.

First, when you start seven different goalies by Dec. 18, you can be damn sure things have gone horribly awry.

But No. 7 turned out to be lucky No. 7 in the end. Of all the goalies on that list, it’s 21-year-old rookie Hart who stole the show in the city best known for its goalie graveyard.

The good news, then, is that Hart managed to fend off the grim goalie reaper, starting 29 more times after that Dec. 18 debut and posting a very respectable .917 save percentage on a team that surrendered a pile of shots and the third most goals against. Mix in horrible power play and a porous penalty kill and a Hart was seeing all sorts of rubber.

If he would have begun the season sooner, he would have been firmly planted in the Calder Trophy discussion, much like Jordan Binnington in St. Louis. More importantly, if the Flyers would have had him playing like he did in the second half of the season, they may have been in the playoff conversation.

Neither ended up being true but finding a potential stud starting goaltender in another otherwise lost season would be viewed as a silver lining that’s not just an illusion.

The offseason will be debated when it comes to its success. Yes, they got a second-line center in Kevin Hayes who will allow for Claude Giroux to play out on the wing, a place he recorded 102 points two seasons ago alongside Sean Couturier. But they paid through the ears and the nose and whatever other orifices you want to name in your head.

Seven years and $50 million is a lot of term and a lot of cash to hand a player who has hit the 50-point plateau just once in his five-year NHL career. One can suppose that if he adds to the spine of the team, takes some pressure of Nolan Patrick and allows Giroux the freedom to do his thing offensively, then the money is well spent.

But this is a player who couldn’t make it as Winnipeg’s second-line center when the job was handed to him at the trade deadline last season. It’s a risky contract, no doubt.

Some of the other moves have been more targeted. Matt Niskanen comes in to help on the blue line and on the penalty kill. Justin Braun, too, is there for defensive fortifications.

And there’s a new bench boss in Alain Vigneault after the team fired Dave Hakstol back in December and rode Scott Gordon in the interim, and a new general manager in Chuck Fletcher after the Flyers decided to ax Ron Hextall.

Are the Flyers reverted back to old ways?

It’s been a wild past 12 months in Philly and who knows how it is all going to turn out.

The Flyers top brass seemed unwilling to allow Hextall’s methodical approach to building a winner. Fletcher comes with a lot more flair, for sure. The jury is still out on whether flair is needed when taking things slow would have been much more desirable, however.

Win, lose or shootout(?), at least there’s Gritty.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Islanders agree to terms with Brassard on 1-year deal

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EAST MEADOW, N.Y. (AP) — The New York Islanders agreed to terms with Derick Brassard on a one-year contract Wednesday.

Brassard, who will turn 32 on Sept. 22, had 14 goals and nine assists in 70 games last season while with Pittsburgh, Florida and Colorado. He also had an assist in nine playoff games with the Avalanche.

Financial terms of the deal were not announced.

The 23 points last season was his lowest total since he had a goal and an assist in 17 games as a rookie with Columbus in 2007-08.

For his career, Brassard has totaled 176 goals and 275 assists in 786 games while also playing for the New York Rangers and Ottawa. He also has 23 goals and 37 assists in 99 career postseason games.

For the Islanders, his fifth team in three seasons, Brassard will likely center the third line, filling the role held by Valtteri Filppula last season. Filppula signed with Detroit earlier this summer.

Forward Anthony Beauvillier remains the Islanders’ lone restricted free agent unsigned after the team agreed to deals with Michael Dal Colle and Josh Ho-Sang earlier in the week

PHT Morning Skate: Backstrom, Holtby extension talks; Price right for reset?

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Elias Lindholm has a theory about Flames’ post-season flop. (Sportsnet)

• The top 10 candidates to be traded this season. (The Hockey News)

• Backstrom, Holtby extension talks in Capitals’ plans before camp. (NHL.com)

• After out-sized expectations perhaps under-sized Kailer Yamamoto can finally make his pro hockey mark. (Edmonton Journal)

• Will the Sabres trade Rasmus Ristolainen before the season begins? (The Hockey News)

• Former ‘Miracle on Ice’ hockey player charged in attack. (Associated Press)

• The best (and worst) NHL teams of the past decade. (ESPN)

Rasmus Andersson is the key to the Flames moving forward. (The Hockey Writers)

• Can Canadiens star Carey Price hang on until GM’s reset is complete? (Montreal Gazette)

• Steady Tavares won’t be a distraction. (Canada.com)

• Russ Conway, acclaimed journalist who brought down Alan Eagleson, passes away at 70. (The Hockey News)

• Five predictions for the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 2019-20 season. (Pensburgh)

• Oilers’ Jesse Puljujarvi wants top-6 role. Is it realistic? (Sporting News)

• Bruins talking extension with Cassidy. (TSN.ca)

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Advice for new Wild GM Bill Guerin

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In a lot of ways, it’s fitting that the Minnesota Wild announced Bill Guerin as their next GM during Ottawa Senators Day at PHT.

After all, Guerin is stepping into a GM gig that might be just as tough as what Pierre Dorion is dealing with in Ottawa, even if the challenges are different.

Despite missing the playoffs in 2018-19 and failing to win a series from 2015-16 through 2017-18, Craig Leipold continues to drink the Kool-Aid, rather than pulling off the Band-Aid. He wants the Wild to contend, so if any rebuilding happens, it needs to take place while the Wild also try to compete.

Mock former GM Paul Fenton all you want, but that isn’t exactly an easy juggling act.

The question, then, is will Guerin be able to juggle better than Fenton? (After all, he does have the hands of a former NHL sniper.)

Here’s some friendly advice for Guerin because, frankly, he’ll probably need all the help he can get.

1. Find out who wants out

As a former player, Guerin likely has a leg up on most GMs when it comes to being able to relate to other players. That might come in handy when it comes to a sensitive subject: waiving no-trade and no-movement clauses.

Theoretically, it would be awkward to have such a conversation with a veteran player who’s meant a lot to the franchise, whether that be Zach Parise and his seemingly eternal contract, or Mikko Koivu on a one-year deal. Yet, as we’ve seen from Parise doing some summer soul-searching with The Athletic’s Michael Russo (sub required), some of these players have already pondered moving on. It’s easier to have such chats when you’re accomodating a veteran player trying to win that elusive Stanley Cup than it is to ask if you can uproot their family via a trade, after all.

2. Identify your core, and don’t settle

Such clause talk brings up some tough decisions for Guerin when it comes to who is a core Wild player and who is expendable.

As stuck as the Wild seem right now, it’s remarkable how much of a clean slate Guerin can enjoy in the not-so-distant future … at least if he makes smart calls. Via Cap Friendly, the Wild have about $9.5M in cap space, although RFAs Kevin Fiala and Joel Eriksson Ek still need deals. Even if the cap remained at $81.5M, the Wild’s 2020-21 cap space would rise to $22M, and then all the way up to about $44M heading into 2021-22.

With that in mind, Guerin needs to be cold and calculating. Should the Wild sign Jared Spurgeon, a soon-to-be 30-year-old defenseman who figures to be expensive following this upcoming contract year, or would it be smarter to trade a quality defenseman for what could be a big haul, and build for the future? The Wild have already seen how bad a long-term contract can look, and while Spurgeon could age gracefully, he could just as easily become another albatross.

Spurgeon isn’t the only tough call, but he’s among the toughest.

[From Wild Day at PHT: Under Pressure | Three Questions | X-Factor]

3. Invest in analytics

Firing Fenton after a bit more than a year wasn’t the greatest look for the Wild, but the silver lining was that it kept Fenton from flubbing a Jason Zucker trade in the same way he made the worst blunder of his time, the atrocious Nino Niederreiter trade.

According to Russo’s scathing, incredible rundown of Fenton’s reign in Minnesota, the Niederreiter trade was essentially made during a Florida retreat where the Wild’s top analytics staffers weren’t even invited.

The dream would be for Minnesota to be cutting edge, yet at a minimum, Guerin can avoiding shooting himself in the Fenton … er, foot.

4. Bring in your people

On the other hand, Russo’s reporting also enforced why it can be so important to surround yourself with people you trust.

As much criticism as Fenton drew in that piece regarding being paranoid about leaks … it also is worth mentioning that stunning details ended up leaking out of Minnesota about Fenton’s foibles. Is that ironic, or Alanis Morissette ironic? Considering all that surfaced, can you blame Guerin if he poaches some of the people he knew from Pittsburgh?

Guerin must aim for the right balance between hiring people you can trust, and fresh faces who innovate. I’d wager there’s a sweet spot between Lincoln’s “team of rivals” and Jon Gruden sending his scouting staff home during draft time out of paranoia.

5. Manage Leipold

Perhaps reality will slowly dawn upon Leipold that the Wild need to at least reboot things a bit. In the meantime, though, Guerin needs to hit the right buttons: keeping this team reasonably competitive, without totally mortgaging the future for marginal present-day gains.

***

Chances are, there will be missed shots here and there for Guerin, but if he gets big picture decisions right where Fenton right wrong, the Wild might just become the top-shelf team Leipold demands.

Eventually.

MORE:
• Did the Wild learn from the Fenton era?
• Why the Wild are better off being terrible this season
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.