The revolution started so quietly that most people probably didn’t even notice.
Last month, Sportsnet introduced viewers of its NHL broadcasts to a new on-screen graphic showing a new statistic called Faceoff Probability: a percentage predictor of which player is about to faceoff and could have possession of the puck.
In recent years, hockey networks have started peppering their air with seemingly random stats: shift time, puck speed, player skate speed, goaltender percentage saves in dangerous areas. But with the introduction of the new stats, the NHL acknowledged something that had been lurking about hockey — and by extension, all pro leagues — ever since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a 2018 ban on sports betting and Canada legalized single-event sports betting last year. One day, fans could spend games with one eye on the TV and another on a betting app, hoping to make real money from such earlier Picayune elements as a result of a single faceoff.
And with single event sports betting starting Monday in Ontario, an entire media ecosystem is ready and eager to help turn fans into bettors.
Viewers already fed up with promoting betting apps (if you’ve watched the Olympics, BetRivers spokesperson Dan O’Toole is probably chasing your dreams) might want to brace themselves. The new reality will likely feature an influx of on-screen data feeds, hyped hosts, “betcasts”, betting-oriented content in your daily newspaper, and a slew of sports pundits looking for sports betting.
“Over time, sports betting content will become sports content,” said Mitesh Mehta, senior vice president of betting, gaming and strategic partnerships at NBC Sports Next, the network’s technology innovation division. “It will be one and the same.”
US networks like NBC and MSG were the first out of the gate, offering a glimpse of what could be heading to Canadian screens.
Some shows take it slow, partly because they don’t want to upset longtime fans. A pre-game panel show could now offer clues as to how a squad change or injury could affect the odds, e.g. For example, a team must score a certain number of points in the second quarter, or a certain player must score a minimum of three points.
“Our strategy is to target the casual fan,” Mehta said. “We’re not looking for the big bettors who spend 10,000 or 20,000.”
Still, the network is experimenting with programming for more serious bettors. During last year’s Phoenix Open, NBC Sports aired a daily two-and-a-half-hour betting-oriented program on its Peacock streaming service that included the network’s broadcast of the golf tournament. The show, known as Betcast, featured a group of three commentators chatting about the possible outcomes of certain bets. The show was sponsored by PointsBet, NBC’s sports betting partner, which offered more than 500 types of bets throughout the tournament, including which player was closest to the pin on the 16th hole, specific players‘ longest drive and who after the first, second or third round.
NBC extended the concept to basketball and this month broadcast betcasts on its regional sports networks in Chicago and Philadelphia that included betting-oriented commentary as well as live on-screen odds for possible bets such as Point Spread, Over/Under and Money Lines.
Part of the reasoning behind the foray into betting is demographic. “We see that the audience for sports betting is a young, millennial Gen Z audience,” Mehta said. Broadcasters and leagues have grappled with how to appeal to younger viewers who don’t tend to watch entire games the way previous generations did. “It’s the goal of every media company to become younger, and we’re doing that by stepping into the normal use and consumption of a younger audience. And we think sports betting is a great tool to do that.”
MSG Networks has also looked into betcasts. But it has also made betting-oriented programs a regular part of its weekday schedule, including the 5 p.m. ET show. the better half hour with a host, Alex Monaco, whose frenetic enthusiasm might remind viewers of CNBC bad money Stock market expert Jim Cramer: It’s a matter of taste.
Like NBC, MSG Networks targets casual bettors. “Experienced bettors feel like they have the information and they don’t want anyone else to have it, and they won’t necessarily turn to other experts for an angle on a game they think they have they already have it,” said Kevin Marotta, senior vice president of marketing and content strategy at MSG Networks.
Casual — or “interested” — bettors “want to learn from everyone, they want to hear from experts, they want to hear from former athletes, they want to hear from sports personalities, and they want to be entertained and learn,” Marotta explains. “So we said, ‘Okay, this is an opportunity for us to serve that audience in a different way, with content that we didn’t necessarily see was out there.’ ”
Some who have been offering betting-oriented programs for years are skeptical of this approach. Ian Cameron is a professional handicapper from Dundas, Ontario who is the host The Ice Guys, a hockey betting podcast and YouTube show that runs every day of the NHL season. Every Tuesday night the show is streamed live as viewers watch Cameron and his co-hosts catch as many hockey games as possible and talk about the bets they make on the spur of the moment.
Cameron is pleased that sports betting is becoming more mainstream. But he’s dismissing some of the betting-oriented segments he’s seen so far from Canadian outlets featuring former athletes. Speaking of an ex-NHLer making his betting predictions, Cameron rhetorically reflected, “Sure, he knows hockey. But does he know the ins and outs of betting? Does he know Winkel? Does he know trends to look out for? Can he give you stats? Does he look at various analyzes that exist in the sports betting market?
“There is a huge difference between knowing the sport, knowing how to bet on the sport and being able to provide information from a betting standpoint.”
A wave of outlets have joined the throng to educate fans – and attract big bucks from sportsbook marketing budgets – with some attracting talent from legacy operations.
Last week NorthStar Bets, the gaming arm of a new division within the company that owns the Toronto Star, announced that it had signed broadcaster Rod Black as the brand ambassador and face of some of its stories that will appear on social media. Earlier this year, NorthStar Bets hired former Sportsnet reporter Chris Johnston to head up its hockey coverage.
And this week Covers.com, which has reported sports betting since the company was founded in Halifax in 1995, signed a deal to have its content run on platforms owned by Canadian news organization Postmedia. Covers currently claims around 10 million users a year, including around a million from Canada, who are likely to have placed bets at unregulated sportsbooks based outside of the country.
Still, Covers, which generates revenue when one of its readers signs up for a sports book, believes there are hundreds of thousands of Canadians ready to join the fray. And it expects that it will spend a lot of effort to teach newcomers.
“We’re likely to see a 20, 30, 40 percentage point increase for the Canadian market, especially as sports betting becomes more important,” said Mark Harper, general manager of Covers. “We’re having a lot of sleepless nights preparing for this, so it’s very exciting.”