NFL Caught in Its Bluff

By: Casey Sudzina, @Caseysudzina

Gamble: to take risky action in the hope of a desired result. This sounds like my thought process on a daily basis; I am sure I am not alone. Gambling can be innocent or serious depending on the situation. As many people know, the NFL has been pretty back and forth with their stance on gambling. As of right now, they seem to be against betting on games, but they are definitely pro-fantasy. Fantasy football, a competition in which participants select imaginary teams from among the players in a league and score points according to the actual performance of their players, has become a huge phenomenon, but is definitely a grey area when it comes to gambling. There are many pro-fantasy leagues that play for money. This drags the NFL into association with gambling. Let us be upfront, if fantasy football is not a type of gambling, then college students aren’t broke. This puts the NFL between a rock and a hard place with where they stand on gambling. Fantasy is such a huge promoter for the NFL that there is no way they could ever consider ending it.

Instead of fans just watching their favorite team, they are now interested in all the games their fantasy players play, making TV ratings and viewership much higher. The trouble enters when the actual NFL players and NFL staff members start to play. Hypothetically, consider a healthy Tony Romo (it’s tough, just try). Maybe he doesn't have Dez Bryant on his fantasy team, but he does have Cole Beasley. Maybe he throws the ball to Beasley a little more to gain some extra points on fantasy. He can play for money with a fantasy team that includes himself and possibly even other teammates on the roster; however, he cannot bet on a Steelers-Ravens game, even though he will have no outcome on that score. Kind of crazy when you think about it. The NFL does take some precautions, though. The league does not allow its player to win a fantasy prize over $250. For most of them, it is really just chump change.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has often teetered his stance on gambling policies. Right now, the NFL policies only allow players to engage in certain types of gambling, such as fantasy. But, in the past, Goodell has been strongly against any association with gambling. For example, Romo organized a fantasy football convention to take place at a casino in Las Vegas, but Goodell canceled it. Now, league rules prohibit players from engaging in any events held at casinos. Or so people seemed to think. It created an impression to the public that NFL players are not allowed to gamble/enter casinos for any reason. The league does in fact allow players to enter casinos on their own personal time separate from the NFL entity. Goodell states that players are not allowed to partake in activities that “can be perceived as constituting affiliation with or endorsement of gambling or gambling-related activities”.  Now, this statement is sort of contradicted by the most recent business decisions of multiple NFL franchises.

The first and probably most relevant franchise in question is the Oakland Raiders turned Las Vegas Raiders. The location of the franchise was highly controversial, especially when it was suggested that the stadium be built along the strip. This would place the stadium in the gambling capital of the United States. As many know by now, owner Mark Davis applied for the trademark on Las Vegas Raiders, and the argument of where the team’s home stadium will ultimately be currently ensues. Right now, Davis seems to be in favor of building the stadium in Vegas. Sheldon Adelson, CEO of Las Vegas Sands, a casino magnate, has been working with the Raiders on a deal to fund the building of the proposed 65,000 seat, $1.9 billion stadium, which in turn means yet another stadium would be named after a casino.

You may be able to foresee where issues would come in. Not only would the players be surrounded by all the gambling on the Las Vegas strip, but the organization’s sponsors and partners would most likely be forced into deals with local casinos, based on the fact that most of the big business in Las Vegas involves casinos. After all, we are talking about Sin City here. How does that look to the public? To say we are completely against athletes being allowed to step into a casino for any football related event, but then to turn around and possibly sponsor a franchise or create partnerships with multiple casinos. I do understand that the football team and the casinos are in fact separate, but a large-scale professional team always tends to partner with the biggest businesses in the city for marketing and sponsorship deals. I am certain that casino owners will pitch many deals, and if they are willing to pay enough, it may be difficult to reject the deals. It is sort of absurd to sponsor a team with a company players are not allowed to be affiliated with for any football related reason. This argument takes me to the next issue – the new sponsorship deal of the Miami Dolphins.

Dolphins’ owner Steve Ross just recently announced a new 18-year, $250 million agreement with Hard Rock International, a company that whole-heartedly supports gambling—with five casinos sharing the name. This embodies the hardship that the NFL seems to be facing. $250 million propels the NFL to its league wide goal of $25 billion dollars in revenue by 2027, but at what lengths is the league willing to go to reach that goal? Clearly they seem to be willing to toe the line of gambling to do so. Now, a franchise is in fact involved with gambling, even though Goodell previously explained that that was not to be allowed. Apparently money talks, or rather, money shouts.

So, in the future we will be anxiously awaiting the sponsorship deals that the Las Vegas Raiders make. Maybe this will become a trend in the NFL. What we do know is that it will most continue to be a hot topic in the media.

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