Five dance partners remain for sportsbooks hoping to enter the North Carolina online sports betting market, and there’s no guarantee that everyone will get to dance.
All operators hoping to launch in North Carolina must secure an exclusive partnership with one of 11 sports entities, including five pro sports teams, two racetracks, two PGA golf courses, NASCAR and the PGA. Of those eleven, all but NASCAR and the PGA include the potential for opening a retail sportsbook.
The top sportsbooks in the country have all found their NC dance partners, leaving five entities for a handful of smaller sportsbooks interested in North Carolina online sports betting.
North Carolina’s sports betting partnership breakdown
The seven online sportsbooks that’ve already signed the written designation agreement confirming their sports betting partnerships are:
– ESPN Bet NC.
– Underdog Sports.
The current grid looks like this:
|Online Sportsbook Partner
|Charlotte Motor Speedway
|North Wilkesboro Speedway
|Sedgefield Country Club
|Quail Hollow Country Club
Underdog, a major daily fantasy sports brand and one that could’ve been carved out of the NC fantasy sports market, has only recently made forays into the sports betting industry. A source told NCSharp that Underdog had contacted at least one of the partnering entities about DraftKings’ plans before the Boston operator signed its agreement with NASCAR.
Jeremy Levine, CEO of Underdog, who has been a part of the DFS and sports betting industry since the pre-PASPA days, has plans to innovate the market with the Underdog Sports sportsbook app.
North Carolina will be one of the first markets to see it go live.
Five remaining partnerships, five different fits for operators
When North Carolina first changed the law to require operators to sign written designation agreements, NCSharp ranked these partnerships in terms of their upside to operators. We considered the popularity of the sports entity, its long-term viability and the potential for an operator to add a retail sportsbook.
The Carolina Panthers, our top pick due to the team’s and the NFL’s popularity and the potential for a retail sportsbook at Bank of America Stadium, still has not found a partner. Neither has Charlotte FC, which also plays its home games at The Bank.
We expect that David Tepper, owner of both clubs, can command a hefty pricetag for a partnership with the Panthers. Looking at the remaining online sportsbooks that have not submitted an NC application, it’s difficult to see who might pay Tepper’s price.
BetRivers, Hard Rock Bet and BetFred all have retail sportsbooks around the country. The Seminole Tribe of Florida, which owns Hard Rock and has the naming rights to Hard Rock Stadium, home of the Miami Dolphins, might be the best fit here. The question is whether the Seminoles will spend for the high-profile partnership.
At the other end are the NC Courage and North Wilkesboro Speedway. Neither seems particularly well suited for a retail sportsbook, so operators seeking an online-only launch may gravitate to them. A partnership with either will likely come with a lower asking price, making them a good fit for a smaller book.
We’ve yet to hear from Tipico Sportsbook, which has conducted promo deals with NASCAR in other states, and North Wilkesboro, which made its triumphant return to NASCAR last year, seems like an apt sportsbook for them.
Longevity a key criterion with NC sports betting partnerships
One thing worth considering with North Wilkesboro Speedway and possibly the NC Courage, the other remaining partner, is longevity.
Ten-year deals have been the norm for the current sports betting partnerships already signed in North Carolina. As Joe Solosky, managing director of sports betting at NASCAR told the Sports Business Journal, “You’re not looking at renewal windows with these. You’ll be looking at how we make a stronger presence each year with this marketing fund to see how it works or doesn’t work. It changes that awkward renewal conversation from, ‘Hey, are we going to renew?’ to, ‘All right, we’re long-term partners, how do we make this even better year after year?'”
North Wilkesboro, which received the 2023 NASCAR All-Star Race, hasn’t hosted a NASCAR Cup Series event since 1996. It will host the 2024 rendition of the race, but beyond that, the future is unclear.
While Scott Cooper, senior vice president of communications for Speedway Motor Sports, which owns North Wilkesboro, told NCSharp that it’s a “huge deal” that NASCAR has returned to Wilkesboro, the venue will need to continually host a NASCAR event for the next ten years to prove to sportsbooks that it has the longevity for an operator to build its brand.
A similar sentiment exists with the NC Courage of the National Women’s Soccer League. The NWSL is the third iteration of women’s pro soccer since 2001. While the league has done very well and is currently expanding, longevity may also create pause for potential operators.
Operator longevity also a concern for NC sports entities
It’s not just the pro sports entities that must prove their staying power. The American online sports betting industry has witnessed the attrition of smaller operators since the repeal of PASPA, and the reality is that more will shutter in the next few years.
Knowing this, could we see more selectiveness from both operators and sports entities in North Carolina? Moreover, could we see some of these partnerships shorten the terms of their deals to account for the realities of the market?
These are questions that may be answered sooner rather than later, and the answer may simply be that the North Carolina market, as it has been established, may not be able to sustain 11 online sportsbooks.