Disruption Drives the NFL to Gamble — Or How to Kill a Sacred Cow in 3 Easy Steps

A couple weeks ago, the NFL discussed gambling and the game. … No, not the impact gambling could have on the game. Actual gambling as part of the NFL — from your seat, at the game or in your home, every Sunday. Why would they do that? Disruption. What will you do when the sacred cows in your industry are brought to the butcher’s block?

NFL considers killing a sacred cow and allowing gambling back ino the game.
Credit: Pixabay by Keith Johnston

A couple weeks ago, the NFL had a summit to discuss gambling and the game. … Not the impact gambling could have on the game; actual gambling as part of the NFL — from your seat, at the game or in your home, every Sunday.

If they do that, it will mark the death of one of America’s most sacred cows: the separation of the big four team sports — football, baseball, hockey and basketball — from dirty, dirty gamblers who could taint the games. It could also bring Brink’s trucks full of even more money into the league coffers.

Why would they do that? Disruption.

Like many industries, the NFL sees a game-changing event on the horizon. The owners need to decide whether they want to stay the course (and potentially see someone else benefit from that disruption), or move first to make the most of it (and potentially ruin everything they’ve built).

If your industry hasn’t faced this kind of decision, it will. What will you do when your sacred cows are brought to the butcher’s block? Here are three steps to think through whether to keep Bessy on her pedestal, or make the hard cut.

1. Recognize the New Situation

This sacred calf has been venerated for nearly 100 years — ever since the “Black Sox” scandal, when the Chicago White Sox were accused of throwing the 1919 World Series. That was when the big leagues realized gambling could undermine the legitimacy of sports in the eyes of the American public (and any sports fan will tell you the referees do a good enough job of that all on their own).

While U.S. attitudes toward gambling have changed in the past decade, for most of my life, the idea of league-sanctioned gambling was absolutely unthinkable. Now, NFL ownership is considering not just whether they could cozy up with casinos, but how they might do it, and how many zeros those checks might have.

It could be the boldest stroke of genius, or the dumbest butt-fumble, in NFL history.

via GIPHY

Gambling exists in a grey area of American entertainment. By and large, sports gambling has been limited to just Las Vegas in the United States. Now the Supreme Court appears ready to allow New Jersey to add sports gambling to its casino and race track games, and that would open the floodgates for other states to do the same.

This is a remarkably new situation for the NFL. Gambling may be coming, and the owners would rather ride that wave than be drowned by it.

At the same time, some of the underlying realities of the Black Sox scandal have changed as well. Athletes of the time were not that wealthy, and very vulnerable to outside financial influence. Today, professional athletes are some of the wealthiest people in the world, and gambling payoffs large enough to motivate them seem unrealistic. What’s more, Europe’s soccer leagues have been in bed with gambling for years, and the nightmare scenarios just haven’t materialized (although it hasn’t been all clean, either).

All of those factors mean the context that made this cow sacred have changed. And the business people who’ve been holding it sacred need to recognize that, too.

2. Identify the Business Opportunities

It’s one thing to recognize the situation has changed. It’s another to identify the opportunities in it.

Author: Thorin McGee

Thorin McGee is editor-in-chief and content director of Target Marketing and oversees editorial direction and product development for the magazine, website and other channels.

9 thoughts on “Disruption Drives the NFL to Gamble — Or How to Kill a Sacred Cow in 3 Easy Steps”

  1. The NFL is dead anyway…they just don’t know it. They have been operating against their best self interest for years. Virtue signaling, allowing behavior repugnant to its base, letting the inmates run the asylum. Buh-bye, Too Big to Fail.

    1. Yeah. The NFL has nowhere to grow, really. The pro sport that is growing in North America is soccer. MLS has been expanding rapidly, crowds in new markets have been large…e.g. Atlanta, Orlando, LA (though a few markets are terrible such as Columbus, Houston and Dallas) and the quality of play improving every year and drawing world class players in their prime. Young people play soccer, fewer kids play football and the fans in the crowds at MLS games are young and diverse. Maybe the NFL will die, but does it matter? I would hate to see it go but my kids wouldn’t; it’s dad’s thing and they hate it.

  2. “At the same time, some of the underlying realities of the Black Sox scandal have changed as well. Athletes of the time were not that wealthy, and very vulnerable to outside financial influence. Today, professional athletes are some of the wealthiest people in the world, and gambling payoffs large enough to motivate them seem unrealistic.”

    Uh, Pete Rose, for example?

    The thesis that pro athletes are paid so much, they don’t need payoffs from gamblers may not stand the real world test. There will always be some players for whom enough will never be enough. They’ll need more, and then more after that, and some of them will figure, or be told, that the way to make more money is to rig the game.

    Keep it pristine clean from the get-go, or risk every sport in America becoming another version of “Professional” Wrestling.

    1. 1. Pete Rose was never accused of fixing games. It’s one of the ironies of his banning that while he bet, no one has seriously questioned his effort to win. His sin was gambling on the side, often on his own team to win.
      2. When the Phillies made Pete Rose the highest paid player in Baseball, he made $800k a year (1978). Today, Clayton Kershaw is making $33 million a year. That growth is something like 6 times the rate of inflation. And doesn’t include endorsements or any other income derived from his baseball reputation.

      But I think the most powerful argument for everyone involved is that this has broadly worked out OK in other countries with the same issues. FIFA has not been ruined by legalized gambling in its countries, and there is a lot more risk there, with many teams playing under many different sets of laws.

      It’s not that pro athletes are untouchable, it’s just that they have a lot more to lose and relatively little to gain today, especially when there are more legit ways to cash in than ever, than they did in Pete’s day. The personal brand is too important to risk.

  3. You write: “It could be the boldest stroke of genius, or the dumbest butt-fumble, in NFL history.”

    I’ll go with the latter. Gambling infuences everything it touches, and the NFL players could actually gamble on their own games. Strikes me as insider trading. If the NFL goes with this, they will lose their already shrinking audience.

    These men (mostly felons – check it out) make obscene amounts of money for playing a game. Ridiculous.

    If they move toward this, I’m outta here. They would be nothing but highly paid prostitutes. The fact that this idea is even up for decision says a lot about the quality of owners and their motley group of players.

    1. I don’t think anyone is suggesting letting players bet on the games. It’s about allowing gambling with NFL consent and partnership for viewers.

      1. I doubt it anyone’s talking about that either. But I know people who are compulsive gamblers and they would make bets through a third party.

        The quality of players of the NFL is very questionable. I really hate to demean the game, but I saw a list of the players on three NFL teams and all but two were actually convicted felons. Sad but true.

  4. From the NFL’s mouth to God’s ears. Can we also legalize pot and use the taxes on both to eliminate state and federal taxes?

    The only interest I have in the NFL is if I have money on the game and the only way I put money on the game is if I’m in Vegas.

    Let the NFL lead the way for legalized nationwide sports betting.

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