With their series sweep over the LA Kings, the NHL’s expansion-team extraordinaire Vegas Golden Knights took another step forward in their miracle season.
As a result, demand for Vegas Golden Knights playoff tickets are not only the hottest ticket in Vegas but also the NHL. With the series win, their casino-boss neighbors have made them the favorite to win the Stanley Cup. Whatever happens, it’s a good bet that their gambling-friendly ethos will help fill seats for years to come. Their 2018 season will also likely be remembered as the gun-firing moment in live sports’ expansion into the $500 billion gambling market.
For owners who have struggled to keep pace with both 50-inch TVs and 10-inch phones, gambling represents the biggest opportunity for revenue growth since the dawn of big TV contracts in the 1990s. It’s will also change why we attend sporting events, shifting interest from allegiance to a sport, team or player, to the prospect of a winning bet that may have nothing to do with the game itself.
Amidst the current wave of inward-facing nationalism, the climate for a gambling-driven expansion model is ripe. Over the last 25 years, the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL have all pursued successful international growth and in the process sold out stadiums across the globe. Gambling-driven expansion will do the opposite, and focus on keeping people close to their home venue, and hooked into the phones and the apps that power this new gaming ecosystem.
The last time an NHL expansion team qualified for the playoffs in 1979-1980, Wayne Gretzky was the NHL’s future. While Gretzky and the Oilers lost their first round series that year, they went on to win five Stanley Cups. He would also provide the league it’s first bonafide mass-media star, and set the foundation for their current $2 billion TV deal with NBC. While that’s a lot of money, gaming could match it, either via sponsorships or direct revenue. As a point of reference, including lotteries, the $500 billion legal gambling market dwarfs the annual $175 billion TV advertising market. In an article last month, ESPN’s Darren Rovell painted the picture of a gambling-infused game-day experience, where betting is as much a part of the appeal as beer and dogs. The outcome of the pending Supreme Court decision to repeal the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA) will have a lot to do with how much of that vision is realized, and its timing and shape. With a decision expected before June, all sides are working on positioning themselves for a share of the winnings, including players who are already mobilizing their unions.
While there are still more unknowns than knowns in the future of live-event gambling, one thing that owners know is that ticket windows are no longer needed to sell digital tickets. It’s an option being “actively discussed” by teams and leagues as potential real estate for betting windows.
If PASPA, which is being challenged by ‘Christie Vs. NCAA’, is struck down, New Jersey could potentially go live with sports gambling ahead of the 2018 NFL season. With at least four professional sports teams in the Garden state, and gambling advocate Ted Leonsis just 200 miles down I-95, the NJ-DC-PA corridor could become the hotbed of live sports gambling innovation.
It would also provide team owners their first meaningful counterpunch in 25-year-long battle with the couch and the phone to get butts in seats. The fact that all these new fans will be watching five other games with the same or more interest is just something we’ll have to get used to.
Jesse Lawrence is the Founder of TicketIQ, a leading event ticket search engine. He is an avid sports and music fan and has covered ticketing for Forbes, Grantland, TechCrunch and Billboard.