Major League Baseball taps MGM as first sports-gambling partner

Major League Baseball named its first official gambling partner, part of a new multiyear marketing agreement with MGM Resorts International.

The deal is similar to ones the Las Vegas-based casino company has already inked with the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League, giving MGM the right to use baseball’s logo and trademarks in states that have legalized sports gambling. That leaves the National Football League – the most popular sport among U.S. bettors – as the only major U.S. league without a sports-gambling partnership.

“There’s been a huge change in public opinion and the legal framework surrounding sports gaming – it has created an opportunity for all sports and baseball in particular,” MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said at a press conference in New York. “We have to take advantage of every opportunity to drive engagement with our fans.”

Though terms of the deal weren’t announced, these partnerships are a very tiny piece of a major league’s marketing revenue. The NBA’s deal with MGM, for example, was worth USD8.3 million per year.

Under the baseball agreement, MGM will have access to official MLB data and statistics, information it can use to expand its offerings for customers across the U.S. That part of the deal isn’t exclusive, meaning that MLB can – and likely will – sign similar partnerships in the future.

The deal also doesn’t prevent individual baseball franchises from inking their own marketing deals with operators. Of the eight states that currently have legal sports gambling, only Pennsylvania has MLB teams.

The agreement comes as MLB and the NBA continue to lobby individual state legislators to include a so-called integrity fee – essentially, a cut of every wager – along with mandatory data sharing in any upcoming laws legalizing sports gambling.

In lieu of a federal law that enforces MLB’s ideal language, deals like this MGM accord offer a way for baseball to achieve some of its revenue goals by winning them on an operator-by-operator basis, instead of a state-by-state basis.

Of the handful of major sports betting operators that have jumped early into sports gambling’s new markets, MGM appears most willing to enter into partnerships with the major leagues. While they’re not required to offer odds on the sports — Las Vegas operators have operated for decades without them — these deals do ensure a closer business relationship between the league and the operator. That’s especially important for a company like MGM, which also owns casinos, venues and hotels globally.

As part of the agreement, MGM will advertise across MLB’s broadcast and digital platforms, including MLB Network, and the MLB at-bat app. It will also have a presence at the World Series and All-Star Game.

MLB also is in the process of cutting its minority stake in sportsbook operator DraftKings Inc., an investment it made a few years ago when the company was just a daily fantasy-sports provider. Though baseball expects to be rid of those shares by the start of next season, it will continue its daily-fantasy partnership with DraftKings. Eben Novy-Williams, Bloomberg

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