Illinois

BetMGM Opening Sportsbook In Nationals Park Under New Deal

BetMGM will open a 3,800-square-foot sportsbook alongside the most trafficked entrance to Nationals Park as part of a long-term deal to become the exclusive sports betting sponsor of the Nationals.

The location, in a former indoor party area next to the main entry gate in center field, will not be accessible from within the ballpark on game days, a restriction mandated by MLB. The Nationals will share in revenue from the sportsbook, calculated based on handle.

Along with the retail outlet, BetMGM gets access to operate its mobile app within two blocks of the ballpark, a radius that includes the riverside restaurants and bars of DC’s white-hot Navy Yards neighborhood. DC sports betting regulations only allow sportsbooks to offer mobile betting within that distance of the district’s major sports venues, which sub-license those rights. The DC Lottery is the exclusive operator of mobile betting outside those carve-outs.

Expected to be open in time for the club’s season opener, the sportsbook will be the first MGM has operated outside of its casino properties. It also will be the first to open at an MLB ballpark. William Hill opened its DC retail location at Capital One Arena in August. FanDuel has a deal to operate at DC United’s Audi Field.

Financials were not disclosed, but both parties confirmed the deal is for more than five years. It includes signs throughout the ballpark and promotion on the team’s digital and social media and radio broadcasts. It builds upon the nearby MGM National Harbor Hotel and Casino’s sponsorship of the Nationals, which was forged in 2017 and remains in place. MGM also is MLB’s official gaming sponsor.

“You have to be extremely strategic about who you end up partnering with (in the sportsbook category),” said Nationals Exec  VP/Business Operations Jake Burns. “We ended up going with BetMGM for a number of reasons. It was important for us to have a sports betting partner that has a long history of industry leadership and consumer trust. Bet MGM was just an obvious fit. … Most importantly, we already had a really amazing partnership with MGM National Harbor”

BetMGM sees the retail location and sponsorship as the anchor to its sports betting strategy in the region. It expects to launch its app in Virginia when that state opens in the coming month and in Maryland when that state opens, likely late this year or early next. Though retail makes up less than 20% of wagering in many states that offer mobile, the location can provide an area to not only expose new bettors and drive sign-ups, but also allow them to fund their betting accounts using either credit cards or cash. That dynamic, coupled with a Nationals fan base that reaches across DC, Maryland and Virginia, was attractive to the brand.

“If we deliver a great personal interaction from a retail transactional perspective, you’re more likely to retain that customer as they look to bet online,” said BetMGM CMO Matt Prevost. “And if that customer happens to live in Maryland or they happen to live in Virginia, then that’s a customer that might be a mobile customer when they go home to Virginia. That opportunity to have a personal connection where you imprint a positive experience on a customer in a retail environment and have them take it back to a mobile environment is a big part of our strategy here.”

For now, regulations require bettors to fund separate accounts to wager in each jurisdiction. But most leading sportsbooks are working toward a single digital wallet to hold money that could be bet in all legal states, a development that would be especially helpful in the DC metro, where many commute across state lines. “Our view is that the centerpiece of our marketing activity in the DMV will be around the Nationals,” Prevost said. “We feel like we have to be in DC if we’re going to have a big business in Maryland and Virginia. And given the strategic importance, we need to be with what we believe is the partner in the district.”

Thus far, only DC and Illinois have included team-controlled retail licenses in sports betting legislation, though teams are expected to lobby for them in several states in the coming years. Along with the benefit of a revenue share from retail, teams in those jurisdictions may see increased value from the sports betting sponsorship category, since they include a controlled, and sometimes scarce, resource: the access to operate in a state-regulated market.

DraftKings last year signed on as exclusive sports betting sponsor of the Cubs, with plans to open a flagship retail location near Wrigley Field using that club’s license. William Hill’s retail location at Capital One Arena averaged $13.3 million per month in handle from September through November, when no games were played at the venue.

The willingness of some states to allow sports venues to hold sports betting licenses is a wrinkle that leagues have addressed in regulations governing the clubs. While all have cleared teams to carry and convey those licenses, MLB, the NBA and NFL thus far all have drawn the line at fans betting at retail during games — a subtle distinction, since most would prefer to use their mobile devices to wager from their seats. At Capital One Arena, Capitals fans will be able to come and go from their seats to the retail location, though Wizards fans will not.

“We generally do not want and continue to not want a retail sports betting window within a ballpark itself,” said MLB Exec VP/Business Development Kenny Gersh. “We do understand that the laws that are being passed are giving sports facilities such as Wrigley Field and Nationals Park certain benefits that we want our clubs to be able to take advantage of.”

MLB’s rule only applies on game days, meaning teams could open areas within their ballparks for other events, such as March Madness or the Super Bowl, allowing visitors to move to and from the sportsbook. “Having the retail component increases the stake that the operator has through our license, so that’s just a deeper relationship that we have to have,” Burns said. “We’re going to be able to offer an amazing experience and I think both the partner and the Nationals will end up benefiting. We’re in a very good position … to really capitalize on the current legislation.”

 

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