MLS Gives Sports Gambling the Green Light
June 28, 2019
By Jeff Boyle
Major League Soccer (MLS) altered its commercial sponsorship regulations by allowing clubs to sign sponsorship agreements with sports betting and liquor companies for their team jerseys and stadium naming rights. These changes put the professional soccer league at the forefront of the gambling industry in relation to their sports league counterparts: the NBA, MLB, NHL and NFL. The new rules demonstrate a more lenient attitude toward liquor and sports betting sponsors, entities that were previously prohibited from entering these relationships with MLS clubs.
The MLS wants to be perceived as a progressive league that offers its clubs certain flexibilities. Perhaps the league also believes that these changes will help drive significant new revenues. With team jersey sponsorships becoming increasingly popular after the NBA instituted them in 2018, it provides MLS with an opportunity to significantly grow its sponsorship revenue, as these types of sponsors could look to be front and center because jerseys are essentially walking, or rather running, billboards.
However, the new regulations come with some restrictions. The MLS is making an effort to ensure that all sports gambling and liquor advertising is targeted toward “age-appropriate audiences.” Additionally, players under 21 years of age will not be allowed to appear in alcohol-related advertising, and no players may be represented in any sports-betting-related marketing.
Another progressive partnership was the league’s decision to sign a multi-year deal with MGM Resorts in March, which made MGM its first official gaming partner. MLS clubs will still be subject to their own states’ laws on sports gambling, yet clubs are permitted to create ancillary programming around sports betting, such as shows that discuss betting odds. Clubs also have the ability to establish in-stadium sports-betting facilities with licensed gambling operators in states that permit sports gambling. Could this prompt an influx of new state-of-the-art stadiums to accommodate gambling technologies?