At a NASCAR Awards ceremony at the Wynn Las Vegas a few years back, Todd Fuhrman recalls a conversation with Fox Sports executives, who were dubious about stock car racing‘s prospects as a sport fans enjoy gambling on.
“They kind of joked, ‘Nobody really bets NASCAR,‘” Fuhrman remembers the network execs saying. “I said, ‘Well, I’ve actually been betting it for a couple of years,‘ and kind of walked them through a variety of ways that you could bet the sport. It really piqued their interest.”
At the time, Fuhrman had already been involved with the network as its lead sports betting analyst, and that conversation led to Fox Sports‘ “first foray into integrating gambling content,” he says, presenting betting information on NASCAR Race Hub.
As legal sports betting has expanded, of course, this sort of integration has become common.
These days, Fuhrman focuses on his “Bet The Board” podcast, as well his work for CBS Sports HQ. He‘s also hosting a series of tutorials for NASCAR.com designed to help educate race fans about betting on the sport.
From his office in Las Vegas this week, we caught up over the phone with Fuhrman, who worked as an oddsmaker at Caesars and then as a consultant for Don Best — a company whose odds feeds are relied on by bookmakers and bettors alike — before transitioning to media around 2013-14. We discussed how he developed an affection for NASCAR, the potential he sees for racing as a betting sport, and the challenges media face in this new legal environment.
Here are excerpts from our call:
NASCAR.com: Why did you make the transition from oddsmaking to media?
Fuhrman: I just felt it was the right time and right place, kind of seeing the way the industry was going, that there was going to be an appetite for gambling content. And the way to do it was to convey it from a position of operating not just as a sports bettor, but also someone who has spent time working for larger casino operations. (It) felt like a great opportunity to work with some pretty good organizations that were thinking outside the box well before it was the in-vogue thing to do.
NASCAR.com: Tell me about your interest in NASCAR. When did you start watching it and when did you start betting it?
Fuhrman: It’s funny, the two kind of coincided. I never grew up in and around NASCAR. In the Chicago suburbs, let’s not kid ourselves, NASCAR wasn’t exactly a sport that any of my friends or family watched on a week-in-week-out basis. So it wasn’t until I moved out here and saw some of the sharp guys that were betting NASCAR with us while I was behind the counter at Caesars that piqued my interest. I got connected with a buddy, who come to find out, had bet it pretty seriously. I really developed a love affair with the sport as a result.
It’s got to be 10-plus years now, I don’t know the exact timeline. I’ve really found myself not just as a bettor, but also as a fan of the sport, and it’s one that I follow arguably as closely as I do the NFL and college football, something that I probably never would have said 15-plus years ago before I moved out here.
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NASCAR.com: It‘s an interesting sport from a betting perspective because it‘s a small percentage of overall handle but there is a niche of people who are really into it — sharp guys and recreational bettors alike. How do you see it in the betting ecosystem, and what do you see as the potential for growth?
Fuhrman: I do think there is ample opportunity to try and grow the sport and create some awareness. The biggest challenge that’ll come is that NASCAR, in conjunction with its partners, have to be cognizant of not creating that ‘sharks versus minnows‘ type approach, because if you only have sharper sports bettors that are betting NASCAR and we can’t attract the recreational bettors, it’s going to create a real challenge, where books are always playing uphill.
I have to give NASCAR a ton of credit for the work you’ve done (writer‘s note: Jeez, thanks Todd, I‘m blushing), helping me do the tutorials to make it more accessible for fans who may not have otherwise been aware of the myriad of betting options that are available for NASCAR, making it easier for the common fan to try and get involved and just to know what’s out there.
It’s a sport that’s got a ton of potential. And when you look at the creative, different betting markets that are out there, in-play options and a variety of other things, there’ll be significant upside from a betting standpoint and to increase viewership on the sport.
NASCAR.com: Do you think Fox and NBC are doing a good job integrating sports betting content into race broadcasts?
Fuhrman: Yeah, I think both of them are. Everyone is trying to figure out the best way to do it because you don’t want to alienate your core audience and have too much gambling content. So when you look at the way the last couple of seasons have gone, where at least they‘ll address the odds on some of their pre-race coverage, that goes a long way.
The one thing that I personally would like to see would be in-race, live odds at the end of various stages, or even when you have longer delays, whether it be under yellow or for example, the red flag that came up for Indy (during last Sunday‘s road course race) …. Even if guys in the booth, the former drivers and some of the personalities that cover it, aren’t that familiar with what the implied probabilities are and the math behind it, it can still foster some in-depth and different discussions that you otherwise wouldn‘t have been able to include in your telecast years ago, when gambling kind of had that stigma and was so much more taboo.
NASCAR.com: Balancing the betting content for people that want it and not turning off some core fans is a challenge that‘s certainly not unique to NASCAR. Every sport is dealing with that now.
Fuhrman: Yeah, I agree completely. When we look at some of the second-screen viewing opportunities that are out there, everyone wants to try and get more gambling content out there, but it’s got to be a delicate balance. I wish I had the perfect solution for the networks to integrate it.
So it’s as much a tinkering process as anything else to figure out, ‘Okay, here’s what we think our audience can relate to. Here’s what they respond to favorably. Here’s what they respond to in a negative manner, and we’re going to continue to experiment with the recipe for developing that secret sauce that may take one season, it may take five seasons before we get there and go, hey, this is a blueprint we know works. Here’s what we’re going to use, and we’re going to allow everybody else to kind of play catch up.‘
NASCAR.com: How does NASCAR fit into your overall betting portfolio?
Fuhrman: It used to be a bigger portion. It represents an opportunity, but at the same time, some of the markets aren’t quite as accessible in Nevada as they are in some of the other jurisdictions out there. Live betting isn’t a component that we can even come close to accessing; if it is, that’s new to me out here (in Vegas). And when you look at some of the matchup offerings that are there, you have a select couple of books that are more than happy to do that.
But we know limits are lower, and you understand it’s kind of a niche market. So you take advantage when you can with the opportunities that present themselves, but it doesn’t become one of the sports that can serve as a standalone for most professional bettors if you’re betting into some of the regulated markets.
NASCAR.com: For sure, that‘s something I noticed. There are a lot more NASCAR markets with the BetMGMs, Barstools, DraftKings, FanDuels of the world than there are at the Westgate (Las Vegas SuperBook), for example.
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Fuhrman: Yeah, and that’s a big question. As you see popularity around NASCAR continue to grow, I think you’ll see more oddsmakers and some of the tech providers allocate larger resources to it. But while it’s just a niche sport right now, it’s all about return, and there are only so many hours in a day for the more talented oddsmakers, even the ones that have a passion for it, to really sit there and try and match with some of the sharper bettors, knowing the betting handle just doesn’t rival the amount of time commitment it takes to try and build up some of those markets.
We‘ll have more from Fuhrman in our NASCAR Playoff preview in two weeks.