Historically, the NFL staunchly opposed any association with gambling, asserting that it had no place within America’s wealthiest sports league. Even after the Supreme Court repealed the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) in 2018, legalizing sports betting, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell expressed concerns about the potential impact on the game’s integrity.
Fast forward to today, under Goodell’s continued leadership, the NFL is reaping over $1 billion in sportsbook sponsorships. Interestingly, none of this substantial sum directly benefits the players; instead, the sponsorships involve betting companies, the NFL, the NFL Player Association, and NFL teams.
Given the NFL’s stature as one of the most popular sports leagues in the US and beyond, it was inevitable that significant financial opportunities would be embraced. NFL betting has become a colossal industry, with companies now able to advertise within stadiums and sponsor NFL teams through partnerships with the league.
Unlike counterparts such as the NBA, MLB, and NHL, NFL players are barred from endorsing any betting companies. This has sparked debates, with figures like Blake Baratz, President of TeamIFA, labeling the decision as “hypocritical.” In an interview with Front Office, Baratz expressed his view, stating, “… and DraftKings are two big partners of the NFL. But if you’re a player—it’s fine for the companies to pay the owner, pay the organization and pay the league—but can’t pay the player. I think it’s another thing that’s fairly hypocritical.”
Several others share this sentiment, advocating for a reconsideration of the NFL’s stance. However, given the league’s strict rules against player gambling, the reluctance to involve players in gambling sponsorships seems consistent.
NFL Gambling Policy Overview
The NFL gambling policy, implemented to address player betting, carries severe consequences. Penalties include:
An indefinite suspension or a minimum one- or two-year suspension if a player bets on their team.
A permanent ban from the NFL for attempting or fixing a match.
An indefinite or minimum one-year suspension for players providing insider information or tips.
Indefinite or one-year minimum suspension for proxy betting or placing wagers through a third party.
Betting on any sport other than the NFL in the workplace may result in a two-game, six-game, or one-year suspension without pay, depending on the violation.
This stringent approach reflects the NFL’s commitment to preventing any compromise to the integrity of the sport through gambling. While it aligns with responsible gambling principles, critics argue that it exhibits double standards.
NFL Player Association and MGM Deal
In January 2023, MGM Resorts and the NFL Player Association (NFLPA) reached an agreement allowing active players to endorse the brand. This multi-year deal positions MGM Resorts as the union’s official strategic and hospitality partner. Lance Evans, Senior Vice President of Sports and Sponsorships at MGM Resorts, stated in a press release, “Partnering with the NFLPA is another indication of our strong commitment to the great sport of football across the US.”
Despite this agreement, the strict NFL rules persist, restricting players to promote the casino and other MGM businesses except for sports betting. Notable active NFL brand ambassadors under this deal include Davante Adams, a Las Vegas Raiders receiver.
While the agreement between MGM Resorts and the NFLPA marks progress, it maintains adherence to the NFL’s stringent guidelines. Some former NFL players, like Marshawn Lynch and Barry Sanders, have become brand ambassadors for BetMGM, showcasing potential shifts in the league’s approach.
This collaboration raises questions about the future, prompting discussions on whether NFL players should enjoy the same financial benefits from betting company endorsements as their counterparts in the NBA, NHL, and MLB. As the debate continues, different stakeholders contribute their perspectives, keeping the conversation alive.