North Carolina sports betting is on hold until 2023, and the state’s professional sports teams are ramping up efforts to make legalization a reality next year.
Teams including the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes are upping the pressure on politicians and “explaining to key lawmakers that failure to act could punish their bottom lines and their ability to compete,” according to a recent WRAL investigative report.
Don Waddell, General Manager for the Carolina Hurricanes, has spent the past six months meeting and working with lawmakers to help them understand how the Canes are operating at a competitive disadvantage versus teams in states with legal sports betting.
“Compared to a lot of teams, we’re already way behind,” he said. “We can’t compete with all the Canadian cities, the New Yorks, Bostons. We can’t continue to fall further behind.”
“As revenues go up in the league overall, the (salary) cap goes up. But if our revenues don’t increase, now that 50-50 split starts to tilt the other way. For us, it might be 60% going to the players, only 40% going to us.”
The Hurricanes were joined by the Carolina Panthers and Charlotte Hornets as all three of North Carolina’s major franchises backed the sports betting legislation that barely failed this summer.
Waddell was disappointed with that outcome, obviously, but he remains optimistic that sports betting will be legalized by lawmakers in the Tar Heel State in 2023.
“I’m confident,” Waddell said. “We’ve got time now where everybody’s heard it. It’s been [at the] forefront. Now we’ve got the next three or five months to make sure everybody understands.”
Missing Out on Sports Betting Sponsorships
The NHL opened a new jersey patch sponsorship program for next season, and teams such as the Vegas Golden Knights and Washington Capitals have already inked major deals. Vegas will have Circa Sports as its sports betting sponsor, and Washington will have Caesars Sportsbook. Both clubs will wear their respective sponsor patches on their jerseys for home games next season.
Several third-party sales executives representing NHL teams told Sports Business Journal that “most high-profile teams can expect to command upward of $10 million a year” with the others being categorized as mid-seven-figure deals.
The NHL has helped teams by offering different placement opportunities for home and away games along with both jersey and helmet inventory. Teams like the Hurricanes have been relegated to wait-and-see mode, and their coffers remain void of sports betting sponsorship dollars.
In-Arena Sportsbooks a Boon for Pro Teams
North Carolina’s legislation would have allowed arenas and stadiums to operate sports betting lounges “on or near their premises,” according to the WRAL report.
The Hurricanes want to build a sportsbook inside PNC Arena in Raleigh, but they can’t for obvious reasons right now. The Washington Capitals, under the direction of team owner Ted Leonsis, have made the biggest strides in capitalizing on sports betting deals in the NHL so far.
Capital One Arena became the first in North America to have a sportsbook in 2021. William Hill agreed to a 10-year lease deal, and Caesars Sportsbook became a reality. The two-story sportsbook opened with a seating capacity of 764 along with 100 TV screens, 17 betting windows, and 12 betting kiosks. Caesars Sportsbook was projected to have a total betting handle of $250 million in its first year of operation.
Sports betting’s ability to produce added revenue has been proven time and again in states that have legalized and regulated it. The other tangible effect comes in the form of increased fan engagement.
The Hurricanes are falling further and further behind in this arms race. It’s difficult to win a gunfight wielding a Swiss Army knife. North Carolina is known for being the “First in Flight” but will it be last in legalization?
That’s a scary proposition for North Carolina’s professional sports teams.
AP Photo Gerry Broome