NFL got involved with the sports betting world, now it faces the consequences
The NFL could have just left the entire sports betting world alone.
For decades the NFL treated Las Vegas and sports betting like a scourge for society. Then it saw the wave coming in after the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in 2018 allowed states to decide if they would make sports betting legal. The league embraced sports betting in ways that were inconceivable just a few years earlier. If the sports betting boom was inevitable, might as well make some money, right?
The NFL had another betting controversy on Friday. Five players, including 2022 Detroit Lions first-round pick Jameson Williams, were suspended for violating the league's gambling policy.
That led to another round of the NFL getting blasted for its hypocrisy on getting in bed with betting companies, while handing out harsh suspensions for gambling. There is some cognitive dissonance with some of those criticisms, but the NFL earned them all by needing to get its hand in the sports betting pot.
NFL has betting partnerships
The NFL seems to be swept up in Roger Goodell's long-stated goal of reaching $25 billion in annual revenue. Sportico had the NFL's revenue at $18 billion in 2021. That apparently isn't good enough.
Getting involved with sports betting was not necessary for the NFL, and it has to be wondering if whatever money it is making off those partnerships is worth the negative publicity.
The NFL has multiple official partnerships with sportsbooks. Many individual teams have their own partnerships with sports betting providers. There is a sportsbook inside the Washington Commanders' stadium, which followed a sportsbook in the Arizona Cardinals' parking lot, a short walk from the stadium. The home stadium of the New York Jets and New York Giants has one outside, too. In March, the NFL voted to allow sportsbooks in stadiums to remain open on gamedays.
Players violating the gambling policy is unavoidable. The league will try to discourage it with overly harsh punishments — yes, we saw your recycled tweets comparing Friday's suspensions to what Deshaun Watson got, thanks — but when you have more than 1,700 players, there will be some that make awful decisions. It's disingenuous to call it common. But there will be a Josh Shaw, Calvin Ridley, Quintez Cephus, C.J. Moore or Shaka Toney, the five players that have gotten at least a full year for gambling violations over the past five years.
If the NFL wasn't in partnerships with sports betting companies, it could say with a straight face that it didn't encourage betting in any way. That wasn't so easy on Friday.
Betting mentions are everywhere
Some fans dislike the now ubiquitous mentions to sports betting on broadcasts. Others are happy to see sports betting has been brought out of the shadows and into the mainstream. Regardless, it's impossible to deny it's now a part of the viewing experience. That's not going away.
The NFL could have kept betting at arm's length. But, again, you don't get to $25 billion in revenue by turning down extra ways to make money. The reason sports betting ads are all over your TV during games and everywhere else is because it's a multi-billion dollar industry. What, you thought the NFL was just going to settle for $18 billion in profits?
There was always a downside to the NFL embracing sports betting and taking the money, rather than just let it happen and pass on that revenue stream. We saw the downside on Friday. Not in the suspensions themselves. It's unfair to draw a correlation between the NFL making money on betting and players breaking rules that have been clearly communicated to them. It's in the way everyone is trashing the league today for its hypocrisy. That part is earned.
The NFL could have left it all alone, and washed its hands when a few players inevitably broke the rules. Instead, we're left to wonder how a league that has a sportsbook inside the Washington stadium has a rule that players can't make non-NFL wagers on league grounds. That's reportedly what Williams and teammate Stanley Berryhill were suspended six games for.
The NFL had a decision to make: Take the sports betting money or let it pass. The league took the money. It didn't come without some strings attached.