After MLB signed deals with DraftKings, MGM Resorts, and FanDuel, all eyes were on the NBA. Even though the NBA has a much more global impact, it brings in much less revenue than their baseball-oriented colleagues, with $7.3 billion compared to MLB’s $10.3 billion, according to a report by Forbes pertaining to both leagues’ earnings in 2018. The NBA will always bank on international outreach, but keeping a distance from sports betting prevented the league from reaching its full financial potential.
As they’ve already signed deals with MGM, FanDuel and several other gaming brands, the best basketball league in the world announced that they were bursting onto the scene in style. To fully appreciate what this partnership with DraftKings means, we have to take a trip down memory lane and see how we ended up at this point.
A Love-Hate Relationship
In Europe, the NBA has been a long-time favorite for sports bettors, regardless of their affinities and experience level. Why, exactly? Well, one would think that gaming aficionados would shy away from betting on such an unpredictable league, but that abundance of variables in play is the precise reason why bettors choose to place money on money lines, spreads and other types of bets when it comes to the NBA. However, as a federal ban on sports betting was still in force until 2018, the league had no option but to keep a clean image. Despite their efforts, it wasn’t always successful.
The sports world has a whole was shaken to its core when the wrongdoings of once-esteemed NBA referee Tim Donaghy were revealed. He joined forces with Jimmy Battista, his high-school friend and a man known in gambling circles as a mover. Unlike refs or bettors, a mover is a person who places bets on other people’s behalf, just so they don’t become connected to the bet itself. Obviously, this is a highly illegal activity, but Donaghy managed to hide his illicit gambling activities for a fairly long time.
Donaghy was charged with wagering on his own games, but there was no evidence that he affected the outcome. David Stern, then-commissioner of the NBA, banned the league’s referees from partaking in any sort of gambling activity, whatsoever. The scandal, along with its aftershocks, sent ripple waves across gaming as a whole. But how?
It’s no secret that the big four sports leagues in North America always “flirted” with gaming, but were unable to make any moves due to federal legislative restrictions. Nevertheless, the Tim Donaghy saga shed a light on some important, yet constantly overlooked conundrums surrounding betting and sports.
While many admonished Donaghy for his illicit deeds, others asked questions like “If he didn’t affect the outcome of games, is using plain knowledge of players and teams such a crime?” The jury was hung on this one, but the problem itself raised plenty of awareness with lawmakers and important names in sports.
It is said that it’s precisely this incident that leads to the lift of the federal ban on sports betting. Evidently, penalizing any sort of gambling activity is much more challenging for the Justice Sector than merely regulating sports betting. In a peculiar way, Tim Donaghy contributed to the creation of this new bond between pro leagues and gaming. While still in its nascent phase, this symbiosis is about to attract both funds and attention.
A Landmark Move
By joining forces with DraftKings, the NBA is sending a message to those willing to read between the lines. Officially partnering with a gaming brand, they’re not just expanding their influx of revenue. On the contrary, they are indicating that the league is making moves to be much more trustworthy and fairer. Now that betting is allowed, individual games, refs and potential patterns (the Scott Foster-Houston Rockets relationship, anyone?) will be heavily scrutinized.
Scrutiny is good in this case, as it will result in the NBA becoming a much more transparent league. Funnily, this deal also coincides with the dramatic fall of the Golden State Warriors dynasty, leading up to what many have called the most exciting and unpredictable season in modern history. Perfect timing or a premeditated action, what do you think?
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