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.
We’ve already crowned the Big Three and listed the Middle-Tier sports betting partners. Those eight entities represent the best chances for long-term financial success for the sports betting operator. Many of those partnerships include the potential for retail sportsbooks on or near a sports stadium and high visibility due to their prime positions in populous areas.
We now turn our attention to the Also Rans. These three bottom-tier partners provide limited opportunities for retail sportsbooks on-site and won’t get near the foot traffic of the upper-tier partners.
We’ll evaluate their strengths and provide some causes for pause as we rank the three sports betting also-ran partnerships.
#1 North Wilkesboro Speedway
The smaller and lesser-used North Wilkesboro Speedway has returned to the NASCAR spotlight. We situate it atop our three also-ran partnerships due to NASCAR’s popularity in North Carolina and North Wilkesboro’s historic status.
The speedway is hosting NASCAR’s 40th All-Star Race next May, a three-day event that could kick off a resurgence for the venue. The speedway has also undergone several renovations with more to come with $4 million in funds approved by the NC General Assembly.
As one of NASCAR’s original racetracks, dating back to the Association’s inception in 1949, North Wilkesboro represents hallowed ground for stock-car racing enthusiasts. The fact that the legislature and Speedway Motor Sports, the venue’s ownership group, are breathing new life into the track, could be encouraging for online sportsbooks looking to gain a footing with auto racing bettors.
Cause for pause
Since we’re in the bottom-tier of sports betting partnerships, the causes for pause may limit North Wilkesboro’s potential to secure a written designation agreement with an online operator.
First of all, North Wilkesboro’s reopening doesn’t guarantee continued use. The track closed for the first time in 1996 and was reopened in 2010. After a brief run that didn’t feature any Cup Series events, the track closed again in 2011. It has now re-opened for the NASCAR All-Star Race.
With plans to revitalize the historic track underway, it could see continued racing, but Speedway Motorsports CEO, Marcus Smith, has indicated that Cup Series races won’t return to North Wilkesboro.
Further, Speedway Motorsports Senior Vice President of Communications, Scott Cooper, indicated to NCSharp last month that, while plans are underway to revamp the track, he’s not considering the possibility of a retail sportsbook on-site.
“Speedway Motorsports is currently studying the process of how sports betting will work through parameters set forth by the state and evaluating potential opportunities,” he said.
History is on Wilkesboro’s side
An online operator partnering with North Wilkesboro will have history and the prestige of working with an original NASCAR racetrack on its side.
While the track may not provide the foot traffic and the opportunity for retail sports betting that Charlotte Motor Speedway provides, for a smaller sportsbook looking to appeal to auto racing bettors, North Wilkesboro could be the right sponsor.
#2 Sedgefield Country Club
The venerable Sedgefield Country Club hosts the PGA Tour’s Wyndham Championship every August. The event began in 1938 as the Greater Greensboro Open and is the oldest regular stop on the PGA tour. Leading up to the event, there are qualifier tournaments around the state.
The history of Sedgefield lifts it above Quail Hollow and lands it as the second of the three also-ran partnerships.
Cause for pause
There is only one retail sportsbook operating at a PGA tour golf course–the DraftKings Sportsbook at TPC Scottsdale.
The Phoenix-area public course sees around 700,000 fans yearly for the Waste Management Phoenix Open. It also hosts over 90,000 rounds of golf on its public courses. Not many other golf courses in the world get that kind of traffic.
Sedgefield, a private country club outside of Greensboro with annual fees of $5,000-$10,000, certainly does not.
Moreover, the Wyndham Championship averages around 100,000 fans for the full golf weekend.
These numbers make opening a retail sportsbook cost-prohibitive.
Like Wilkesboro, Sedgefield has history on its side
The PGA’s tenure at the Wyndham Championship gives Sedgefield a leg up on Quail Hollow, the state’s other golf course offering a sports betting partnership.
Longevity confers a certain amount of financial viability for an online operator even if the course doesn’t receive the foot traffic of the other entities offering sports betting partnerships.
#3 Quail Hollow Country Club
Founded in 1959, Quail Hollow Country Club is a private member club that began hosting the Wells Fargo Championship in 2003. The PGA event is also a charity drive that rakes in millions for non-profits and is a part of the 2024 FedExCup season.
While Quail Hollow draws comparable crowds to Sedgefield during a PGA weekend, it doesn’t have the history of the Greensboro course, and this bumps it to the bottom of our list.
Cause for pause
Much the same as Sedgefield, Quail Hollow doesn’t get the kind of traffic needed to entice an operator to open a retail sportsbook.
Initiation fees at Quail Hollow, which aren’t posted, are purported to be as high as $100,000.
The Wells Fargo Championship also doesn’t have the history of the Windham Championship at Sedgefield, creating some uncertainty for an operator wondering if Quail Hollow could lose its status as a sports betting partner if the PGA moves or cancels the Wells Fargo Championship.
It’s not always about the money
Even if the foot traffic isn’t there, a retail sportsbook might not be a bad thing for both Quail Hollow or Sedgefield.
Creating brand trust by opening a retail sportsbook just to convenience the limited number of people who frequent the course could go a long way to cementing brand identity.
The likely reality is that neither golf course would make a good partner for a brand interested in investing in a retail sportsbook. However, the retail side isn’t where brands will make money anyway.
When an operator engages in online and retail sports betting, the online revenue likely accounts for 90% of all revenue.
Getting people to download an app and sign up for an account provides a challenge for smaller operators without brand recognition.
Due to golf’s relatively low level of popularity compared to the other sports offering partnerships in the state, the brand that partners with one of North Carolina’s golf courses may need to have momentum from other states to get it on the radar of Tar Heel bettors.