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 most financially viable sports betting partnerships in North Carolina. Those are the sports teams that any operator would see as a no-brainer sports betting partner.
Now, we’ll turn to the mid-tier partnerships. These five entities provide stability to the operators who partner with them, but they lack in some of the revenue and customer-growth opportunities of the Big Three.
While some include the option of opening an in-stadium sportsbook, this group includes some partnerships where a retail sportsbook at a sports venue is not an option.
We’ll evaluate their strengths and provide some causes for pause as we rank the five partnerships that make up the middle tier.
#1 Charlotte Motor Speedway, Concord
Football, basketball and hockey aren’t the only sports in the state that attract dedicated fans and TV viewership. NASCAR has a longstanding presence in North Carolina, especially in Charlotte. The Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, known as “America’s Home for Racing,” may be the beating heart of the sport.
CMS has a 89,000-person capacity and is also home to the NASCAR Hall of Fame. It hosts two premier NASCAR events annually, the Coca-Cola 600 and the Bank of America Roval 400. The speedway hosts over 300 events yearly, including dirt track races, drag races, car shows and swap meets.
It’s also expanding. A road course is in the works as part of a $40 million upgrade. The speedway already signed a sponsorship deal with BetWay in 2022 before the passage of online sports betting legislation.
While Greg Walter, executive vice president of Charlotte Motor Speedway, has not definitively stated whether the speedway has plans for a sportsbook, he’s certainly primed to take that step.
“Whenever the state says go, whenever we get the green flag, we’ll be ready,” Walter said upon passage of North Carolina’s online sports betting bill.
Cause for pause
NASCAR retail sportsbooks have been a hard sell thus far. Barstool Sportsbook, soon to be rebranded as ESPN Bet, opened the first speedway retail sportsbook at Kansas Motor Speedway. However, PENN Entertainment, parent company of Barstool/ESPN Bet, abandoned plans to build another retail sportsbook at Phoenix Speedway in Arizona.
While NASCAR venues see hordes of fans during big race weeks, the scene looks much different the rest of the year.
Even a venue like CMS, which has activities most of the year, doesn’t get the foot traffic that a retail sportsbook needs to remain financially viable.
An off-site sportsbook could make sense at CMS
Concord sits about 15 miles outside of Charlotte and CMS events mean the speedway sees foot traffic 140 days a year. Not all of that traffic enters the speedway though. Parking lot events account for some of it.
As such, putting a retail sportsbook in the speedway may not be worth it, but the law allows Speeway Motorsports Inc., owner of CMS, to build a sportsbook on “other property owned or controlled by the owner or operator of the sports facility that is located within a one and one-half mile radius of a sports facility.”
Walter told Gaming Today in July that “there’s lots of land we have adjacent to the track property that could be possible for developing out or partnering in terms of building something even bigger here.”
All in, Charlotte Motor Speedway represents a solid option for an operator banking on the staying power of NASCAR. It also provides the chance for retail sports betting at some point in the future.
#2 Charlotte FC, Bank of America Stadium
Soccer lags behind other major sports in popularity in the state but is gaining ground.
Charlotte FC, one of the newest MLS expansion teams, is a reason for that surge.
The team plays at Bank of America Stadium in the heart of Charlotte. The Bank underwent a $50 million renovation to prepare for MLS expansion in North Carolina, and the attendance numbers aren’t too shabby with an average of 36,337 fans attending home games during the 2023 season.
The team has already amassed a passionate fanbase represented by groups like the Mint City Collective, establishing some staying power for the upstart soccer club.
Cause for pause
Because Charlotte FC shares a stadium with the Carolina Panthers, it is highly unlikely that the team will have its own retail sportsbook. The Panthers would likely secure that option.
So, an operator partnering with Charlotte FC would be in it for an online-only position in the state. That could be a better fit for a smaller online sportsbook not wanting to spend the money on a retail sportsbook, but, at the same time, it could detract larger operators who can spend on branding via a retail sportsbook.
Visibility may also create pause for an operator. With fewer options for television coverage with MLS compared to one of the big four sports, a sports betting partnership with Charlotte FC will come with lower brand visibility for the online sportsbook.
Charlotte FC benefits from Charlotte’s strength
Charlotte has been one of the fastest-growing most business-friendly cities in the country for a few years. That is one of the reasons the city landed an MLS franchise.
Charlotte FC provides stability and financial viability for a sports betting operator leaning towards the online-only option in the state.
As one of two authorized sports governing bodies, NASCAR can enter into an agreement with a sports betting company.
As noted, North Carolina is NASCAR country, and the brand has as much staying power as any sports entity in the state.
NASCAR has also been at the forefront of legalized gambling since the repeal of PASPA in 2018, so it is safe to say it wants to invest in the industry.
We rate a NASCAR sports betting partnership as third on this list due to the brand’s commitment to expanding legal gaming so its customers receive a more engaged viewing experience.
Cause for pause
How the organization would determine a location for a retail sportsbook is unclear, especially as the North Carolina Lottery Commission is in the early stage of writing rules for sports betting in the state.
It may be the case that a sportsbook partnering with NASCAR could only enter the North Carolina market online.
Again, this may be a good fit for certain sportsbooks but not for others.
Brand awareness makes NASCAR a winner
It comes back to NASCAR’s position in North Carolina.
Racing will always hold a special place in the Tar Heel State. If a smaller auto racing-focused operator (maybe Tipico?) wanted to ensure its viability in the state, a NASCAR sports betting partnership would be a good call.
#4 The PGA
With a bevy of world-class golf courses, two annual PGA tournaments and other PGA events occurring in the state, North Carolina is a premier golf destination.
The venues that host PGA tours have a long history with the sports governing body and draw tens of thousands of spectators from all over the country.
Like NASCAR, the PGA receives the right to form a sports betting partnership, and we rate it fourth on our list due to North Carolina’s rich golf history.
Cause for pause
Also like NASCAR, an operator who partners with the PGA may not have the option to open a retail sportsbook.
Further, among all the sports offering partnerships in North Carolina, golf is one of the least bet on. CGC Global data from a 2022 study indicates that only 15% of American bettors bet on golf. By comparison, 28% of Americans bet on soccer.
Despite the sport’s popularity in the state, there is uncertainty about how much of that will translate into sports betting.
PGA, a constant presence in North Carolina
Both Sedgefield and Quail Hollow host PGA tour events but also other major events throughout the year.
Golf, in general, while not as popular as football, retains a steady presence in the state. There are over 100 amateur golf tournaments each year in North Carolina. The East Regionals of the NCAA Division I Men’s and Women’s Golf Championship will also occur in the state next May.
If an operator decides to partner with the PGA, it will have the confidence of knowing that the PGA has proven stability and success in North Carolina.
#5 NC Courage, WakeMed Soccer Park
The women’s NWSL team in the state, NC Courage, also saw an upswing in attendance and set a single-game attendance record of 10,434 fans in October for the team’s first-ever regular-season sellout. The team has top-caliber players from around the world and six squad members participated in this summer’s FIFA Women’s World Cup.
WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary also hosted The Soccer Tournament this summer, showcasing some of the best international football clubs in the world.
Were an operator to partner with the NC Courage, an option for a retail sportsbook at WakeMed Soccer Park would be on the table. For a team looking to boost attendance, a retail sportsbook on the stadium grounds could do a lot to bring people out.
The buzz around the NWSL and the early success of the NC Courage raise it into the bottom rung of the mid-tier partnerships.
Cause for pause
The biggest cause for pause would be the stability of the league. Women’s soccer leagues have come and gone, and it may take time for the NWSL to prove its long-term viability.
On top of that, the potential for a retail sportsbook at WakeMed Soccer Park, which sees much less foot traffic than the other stadium venues up for retail sportsbooks, seems unlikely.
A surge in women’s soccer could boost women bettors in NC
Overall, the NWSL is trending up.
The huge surge in the popularity of women’s soccer could attract more women’s bettors if the team were to secure a partnership with an operator and host a retail sports betting outlet at its home base at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary.
We know that women bettors have increased over 100% in the last year, and that trend will continue. As the lone women’s sports brand up for an NC sports betting partnership, the NC Courage offers an interesting risk-to-reward ratio that could make the right operator very happy.