The major players in the impending launch of North Carolina online sports betting have come into focus: eleven sports entities in the state including professional sports teams, venues and governing bodies. Each of them acts as a gatekeeper to the industry.
For an online sportsbook to apply for a sports betting license, it must sign a “written designation agreement” with one of those entities to become its exclusive sports betting partner.
This sports betting partnership ensures not only that the operator can enter the North Carolina online sports betting market. It also gives that operator the exclusive opportunity to build a retail sportsbook on or near the sports venue in question.
But not all sports betting partnerships are created equal.
NCSharp has ranked the 11 sports entities in terms of how much long-term financial viability they can provide a sports betting operator. Those entities are:
In this piece, we’ll assess the Big Three Partnerships.
These three sports entities represent the best chances for long-term success for both operator and team and pose exciting options for on-site retail sportsbooks.
Despite their “lock” status, they all have some causes for pause, and we’ll get into those as well.
#1: Carolina Panthers, Bank of America Stadium
With a 2023 valuation of $4.1 billion and an average attendance of 72,775 fans per game this season, the NFL’s Carolina Panthers are the leading sports team in the state. They’re also the top choice for any online sports betting operator seeking market entry.
Bank of America Stadium sits in the heart of Charlotte, the state’s largest metro area. Renovations could be on the way for the stadium as the North Carolina General Assembly approved an extension to the Mecklenburg County food and beverage tourism tax. Revenue from the tax could be used to help finance projects such as sports facility upgrades.
A stadium sportsbook at The Bank could easily be situated within the stadium or become part of a vibrant pre-game zone on stadium grounds.
While the team’s owners, Tepper Sports and Entertainment, haven’t discussed any renovation plans publicly, local officials have repeatedly indicated that a stadium upgrade would hinge on the team receiving public money for the project via a mechanism such as the food and beverage tourism tax.
Cause for pause
A renovated state-of-the-art stadium would make the team an even more enticing target for an operator’s retail sportsbook. However, a renovation project is far from assured.
Were renovation plans to drag on, an operator wishing to build a retail sportsbook at B of A could find itself caught up in a bureaucratic mess. That, or, should Tepper fail to secure funding, it could wind up footing a sizeable bill for constructing a retail sportsbook.
Panthers won’t suffer for options
Even despite some uncertainty around stadium upgrades, the Panthers can be picky with the operator they partner with to provide online betting and a stadium retail gambling outlet.
While DraftKings and FanDuel lead the market, BetMGM, Caesars and upstart ESPN Bet could also make a case for a partnership with a team that brings heavy foot traffic to Bank of America Stadium, a venue with a capacity of 74,867.
#2: Carolina Hurricanes, PNC Arena
Even though hockey is not as popular as football and basketball (both pro and college) in the state, the Carolina Hurricanes have a die-hard fanbase. In fact, the team began the 2023 season bragging about its record-setting attendance numbers.
For that and a few other key reasons we’ll explain, the Carolina Hurricanes are second only to the Panthers in providing a profitable sports betting partnership for an online sportsbook.
Deemed a Southern success story by The Athletic, last year the team averaged 19,526 fans per game, second in the NHL, and set a record for season ticket holders. Even more impressive were the 57,000 fans who showed up to watch the team play at an outdoor game at Carter-Finley Stadium in February. The win against the Washington Capitals had an average of 1.1 million viewers and set a record for ticket sales in the NHL’s Stadium Series.
Given the team’s financial success and rabid fanbase, the Hurricanes will have no trouble securing a favorable agreement with a sports betting operator.
The icing on the cake is that the Hurricanes and the owners of PNC Arena signed a 20-year lease extension in August. The agreement includes plans for extensive renovations of the arena that will include the development of an entertainment district and public gathering area. A retail sports betting outlet fits right into those plans, giving an operator foot traffic from sports and those who flock to the arena to dine and enjoy other forms of entertainment.
Cause for pause
While the Hurricanes appear to have locked up their stadium and a renovation plan, the ‘Canes still don’t attract the crowds of an NFL team. They’re also in Raleigh, which, with half the population of Charlotte, can’t compete for foot traffic. Finally, and this could be a benefit as much as a reason for concern, the Hurricanes share PNC Arena with NC State men’s basketball.
Depending on how the NC Lottery Commission regulates operator marketing, a partnership with the Hurricanes may include some cumbersome red tape around NC State games.
A Hurricanes partnership is a no-brainer
With the most rabid pro sports fanbase in the state, a new tv deal between the NHL and ESPN guaranteeing viewership and plans for extensive stadium renovations, a sports betting partnership with the Hurricanes will be a great fit for any operator.
#3: Charlotte Hornets, Spectrum Center
The Charlotte Hornets round out the top three most financially viable sports betting partnerships.
North Carolina basketball legend Michael Jordan sold his majority stake in the Hornets in August. The new majority ownership group, led by businessmen Rick Schnall and Gabe Plotkin, wants to take the team to the “next level.”
“We will look to build a highly competitive basketball team, develop innovative business practices, give back to our community and connect with our fans,” the new owners said. “We plan to further invest in the team, the facilities and the fan experience, with the goal of delivering a winner to our fans throughout the Carolinas.”
In 2022, the Hornets had an average attendance of 17,091 fans per game, their highest number in years, surpassing pre-pandemic levels when the team was routinely in the bottom five of NBA attendance rankings.
Due to its location in Charlotte, the Spectrum Center has also hosted numerous ACC and NCAA tournament games.
With the recent uptick in fan foot traffic to the Spectrum Center and the excitement of new ownership investing in the team, a retail sportsbook could potentially do very well during the NBA season.
Cause for pause
While the NBA generates billions of dollars in revenue and has fans worldwide, the Charlotte Hornets have struggled with attendance throughout their history, often ranking near the bottom among the league’s 30 teams.
The team has no championships and no conference titles or division titles. This year does not appear to change that trajectory.
Finally, the Hornets’ departure from and return to Charlotte and their short-lived period as the Charlotte Bobcats leave a lingering feeling of impermanence about the franchise.
New ownership fuels positivity for a Hornets partnership
With new ownership and a post-pandemic bump in fan attendance, things may be looking up for the Hornets. From an operator’s perspective, the NBA is still a top commodity, and the Hornets have a legitimate star in LaMelo Ball. If Brandon Miller can become the support the team needs him to be and the Hornets can turn things around, the fans will be there.