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Major League Soccer makes MGM betting deal, following NBA, MLB, NHL

Daniel Roberts
Senior Writer

In the 10 months since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down PASPA, the federal ban on sports betting, last May, the five major U.S. pro sports leagues have now each made their first official betting partnerships.

In August, the NBA announced MGM as its first official gaming partner. In October, the NHL did the same. In November, Major League Baseball also went with MGM. In January, the NFL went a different route, naming Caesars its first casino partner.

Now Major League Soccer has also aligned with MGM.

MLS has signed a four-year deal making MGM the league’s "first official sports betting partner," Sports Business Journal first reported on Monday, and an MLS spokesperson confirmed to Yahoo Finance.

The deal does not include exclusivity for MGM, meaning that MLS is free to eventually sign partnerships with other casinos as well. The same is true for the other league deals with MGM. So you might reasonably ask: what’s in it for MGM?

With each league deal, MGM gets the marketing rights to tout itself as the “first official gaming partner” of the league it has partnered with, which also includes use of each league’s trademarks and logos in marketing. That marketing will include field-level signage at MLS stadiums and activation at big events like the MLS All-Star Game and MLS Cup.

Think of it as a head start for MGM over its casino competitors.

With the MLS deal, MGM gets access to “enhanced MLS data” for use in its betting products (in states where betting is legal), and Roar Digital, a joint venture between MGM and European gambling company GVC, will develop a “free to play” game that will launch later this year and, MLS says in a press release, will “drive adoption of sports betting in regulated states.”

Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber, center, announces the addition of FC Cincinnati as an expansion team, alongside Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley, left, FC Cincinnati general manager and president Jeff Berding, center left, and FC Cincinnati owner Carl Lindner III, right, on May 29, 2018 in Cincinnati. (AP/John Minchillo)

Major League Soccer is opening its arms to legal betting in other ways as well.

MLS doesn’t currently allow betting companies to be jersey sponsors of teams. But Gary Stevenson, president of MLS Business Ventures, tells SBJ that the league is considering changing that rule.

And last month, MLS expanded its partnership with Amazon-owned streaming platform Twitch to live-stream the eMLS Cup, an esports (competitive video gaming) tournament in which competitors play the EA Sports game FIFA. While esports is estimated to be a $1 billion industry by revenues, betting on esports was estimated at $6.7 billion in 2018 by Eilers & Krejcik Gaming, so any step a pro league takes to embrace esports is a closer to step to betting.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber, speaking to Yahoo Finance in 2017, six months before the landmark SCOTUS decision came, suggested MLS could actually lead the charge for legal sports betting among the U.S. pro leagues.

“One of the only values of being the youngest major league here, and sometimes being under the radar... is I think it gives us the opportunity to push the envelope,” Garber said. “I do believe that we could lead this effort, because I don’t know that everybody will see soccer as having the same challenges that perhaps would exist if the NFL was going to come out in support of it.”

Daniel Roberts is the sports business writer at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.

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