We need to pump the breaks on gambling as a cure-all

The legalization of sports gambling is a good thing. It brings an underground industry into the light. Sunlight is said to be the best disinfectant. Gambling also will help teams and leagues generate more revenue and keep people engaged. It’s been labeled as some type of panacea; a cure-all that will help leagues that are facing a fractured media market and a flood of content that draws away viewers. The market may be overreacting. Sports gaming should provide a bump, but we are experiencing a gold-rush-like phenomenon. Not everyone can make money off of gambling.

Look at how many websites have popped up focusing on wagering on sports. There’s the Action Network, VSiN, we already had websites like Oddsshark and Covers.com. Athletes and media personalities are tying themselves to different gambling startups. Brent Mussberger moved his operations to Las Vegas for VSiN. Ryan Howard was on ESPN touting his partnership with SeventySix Capital, a venture capital firm focused on the expanding U.S. sports gambling market. The Action Network is building up its talent roster, signing Twitter personalities like Rob Perez. Barstool Sports launched its own satirical gambling show this weekend with the BSSAdviors. It’s more about being funny than advice, but it’s still focused on gambling. Even traditional media outlets are hopping on the gaming content train. Except, it hasn’t been very fruitful. Fox Sports 1 was the first to the table and it isn’t a good look:

Those are really bad numbers. There’s no way to sugarcoat it. There are multiple reasons why this happened. The programming window is weird. The talent may not be right. People simply aren’t into gambling shows.  There was little to no promotion of the show. Here’s another reason: it’s too early.

The market isn’t mature. Only a few states have legalized gambling. It’s going to take three to five years to build enough momentum for viewership. States need to legalize gambling before the general public truly cares about it. After that, folks involved in the gaming space need to hope that it isn’t a niche market targeted at only the few. We know that the amount illegal wagered on sports has been in the billion, but we don’t know how many people are actually gambling. Content needs eyeballs. If only a small amount of the public is responsible for the billions illegally wagered, it’s not a good bet for content creators, websites, and television channels.

Not everyone who went west in 1849 found gold. Right now the market is flooded with gambling content options for a small number of people. No one will win in an over-saturated market. Everyone as so excited for gambling to cure all the woes facing the industry — engagement, viewership, ratings, flagging interest — that they didn’t stop to think that the market isn’t even close to mature. It’s too early to consider sports gaming content the answer to the problems the industry faces. We also may have wholly overestimated the effect it will have on the market.

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