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Legalized Sports Betting Could Boost Fledgling Football Leagues


On Monday the Supreme Court overturned a federal law that prohibits sports gambling, giving states the green light to legalize betting on sports.

States that want to offer legal sports betting can now put their plan of action in motion. New Jersey plans to be first with Delaware, New York, and Pennsylvania among the states expected to quickly follow suit.

The court ruled in favor of New Jersey and against the NCAA, NFL, NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball, capping a nearly six-year legal battle and overturning a federal statute that the sports leagues had adamantly stood by for more than 20 years.

Nobody stands to benefit from this ruling more directly than the Arena Football League as well as the new XFL and AAF.

As they prepare to launch, is the potential of legalized US sports wagering a motivating force within the new fledgling leagues’ business plans? It’s certainly likely.

The founders of the new XFL and Alliance of American Football (AAF) have to be banking that the current five months of football between the NFL and NCAA seasons will become a standard year-long wagering experience.

The timing of the AAF season in 2019 plus the XFL in 2020 will attempt to fill the gap when there is no football. Historically, football wagering is the king from September through January. The six-week wait until the NCAA men’s basketball tournament is prime territory for the new leagues to attract the interest of bettors.

The Arena Football League already inked a partnership last month with DraftKings. As part of the deal, DraftKings will stream AFL games through the DraftKings app. Daily fantasy AFL contests and streaming are expected to go live before the start of the 2019 AFL season.

The Alliance of American Football is a league that seems to be attempting to mimic the old USFL. The games are going to be limited to two-and-half hours, there will be a strict 30 seconds between plays, and there will be a high priority placed on player safety. With executives that include former NFL players like Hines Ward, Troy Polamalu, Justin Tuck and Jared Allen as well as Bill Polian the hope is for the AAF is to attract great talent that doesn’t quite make it into the NFL.

Although this league will have a strong NFL identity, one factor undoubtedly could make it stand out compared to the National Football League … swift adoption of legalized sports wagering.

Conversely, the XFL, which is slated to begin play in 2020 offers a much deeper concern stepping onto the football wagering field. Vince McMahon, chairman of World Wrestling Entertainment, will revive the XFL as sole owner and has not publicly shied away from talk of integrating either daily fantasy sports or wagering into the mix.

Prior to McMahon’s announcement, Alpha Entertainment broadcasted a short hype video. It seems to indicate where the XFL stands on betting and fantasy sports.

Here’s part of the voice-over:

This is gaming and fantasy. This is padded roulette. Make a trade, make a team, make a move, make a bet.

McMahon’s empire of staged “wrestling entertainment” (and results) can’t engender a great deal of trust in the integrity of his football league for serious bettors. The XFL is one wagering scandal away from, not only wrecking their league, but casting an unfair bigger cloud on the entire football wagering sky in general.

In fairness, especially to the XFL, we must keep in mind that online sports wagering was in its infancy in 2001 (during the first iteration of the XFL). In the nearly twenty years since, thanks to the internet, NFL wagering has become exponentially bigger.

If embraced correctly, wagering could potentially lift each of these leagues, where just about every other competitive US football organization has failed in the past.

In these new leagues quest to attract an audience, it’s pretty easy to envision more forward-thinking scenarios. Could they welcome betting into their stadiums, in states that legalize it, via kiosks or mobile option? Could they have sports book logos on player jerseys similar to European teams?

In any event, the new football leagues are probably hoping a quick embrace of sports betting gives them a competitive edge after launch, where their predecessors failed.

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