Tuning Out? The Carolina Panthers’ New Owner Thinks Sports Betting Will ‘Make Ratings Go Down’

Posted By Grant Lucas on July 10, 2018 - Last Updated on July 11, 2018

New Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper is a smart enough guy. He did, after all, build a global hedge fund empire (Appaloosa Management) that resulted in him becoming an $11-billion man, according to Forbes.

Still, during a press conference Tuesday following the finalization of his purchase of the Charlotte-based NFL franchise, Tepper made an observation about the influence of sports betting on the NFL. And it was … interesting:

“I also think this thing that we talked about a little before, called gambling, is going to make ratings go down. I just have a feeling about that, OK? You may know more about that than me, but that’s my feeling.”

Um, I hate to disagree with you, David, but that sounds like nonsense. People are going to have increased legal betting options in the US and it’s going to result in less viewership? That doesn’t track.

Tepper also didn’t offer any reason for why he thought ratings would go down, probably because there isn’t one.

NFL ratings should actually rise because of sports betting, Mr. Tepper

Last season was not one for the NFL to write home about in terms of television ratings. From the onset, there were reports and chatter that expressed concern of the sport’s dip.

Still, according to Nielsen data, the league accounted for 37 of the top 50 broadcasts in 2017, an increase from 28 the year before.

Now with the path cleared for legalized sports betting, thanks to the US Supreme Court striking down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), it is more feasible that the NFL enjoys a spike in viewership.

Consider this from another NFL franchise higher-up, New England Patriots president Jonathan Kraft, in an interview last week with the Gloucester Daily Times in Massachusetts:

“We believe long term that there will be a lot of benefits that could happen from gambling in sports. The increased engagement with fans and our sports is what excites us. That can only help our sport and others, like baseball.”

More on ratings and gambling

Kraft also referred to the growing popularity of fantasy and daily fantasy sports and its role in helping viewership:

“They wouldn’t just watch their favorite team, but they’d watch the other games, too, with their players. It drew people to watch a lot of games, like on Thursday night, Sunday night and Monday night.”

The same logic holds true for bettors. If money is riding on a game, the likelihood that a bettor keeps tabs on that game or those games is high. A 2016 study found as much, as the American Gaming Association commissioned a Nielsen Sports study to analyze the relationship between NFL regular-season games and sports betting.

That study found that adults who wagered on the NFL watched 19 more games in 2015 than those who abstained from betting, helping generate more than double the ratings across the major broadcasts and cable networks. Regular-season viewers would jump from 40 million to 57 million once sports betting was legalized, the study concluded, and bettors would watch more programming for longer periods of time.

And to shorthand all of that: Accepting sports betting = higher viewership = more advertising = more money.

Other interesting tidbits from Tepper

During his Tuesday press conference, Tepper intimated his support for sports betting, at least if it’s inside his NFL stadium.

“It was a law that was passed but hasn’t hit the Carolinas…

“You think about the fans, and you want to keep the fans in the building. Eventually it’s going to hit North and South Carolina. It has to, from a revenue standpoint. … It’s inevitable. When we’re thinking about these things, we have to take that into consideration. I want to make sure fans are in that building and sharing this team. I don’t want fans not in that building.”

Let’s forget for a second that no new law was passed — it was a court ruling. Regardless, and considering the NFL’s longtime stance against legalized sports betting, this is an interesting sound bite. Some believe that in-stadium gambling will eventually arrive. But, in the short term, not in North Carolina and probably not in NFL stadiums any time soon.

It is also worth noting that Tepper is quite familiar with the casino industry. His company, Appaloosa Management, holds ownership interest in Caesars Entertainment, MGM Resorts International and Boyd Gaming.

An NFL league policy has prohibited team owners from operating casinos, although owners can hold investments in casinos as long as they are not directly involve in running the properties.

According to a New York Post story in May, an NFL spokesperson said Tepper’s holdings were “vetted to the satisfaction of ownership and was not an issue in 2009 when Mr. Tepper became a minority owner of the Steelers.”

With Tepper now having a seat at the ownership table and with the legalization of sports betting spreading across the country, it is likely the NFL will need to revisit its rules surrounding gambling. Especially if owners — even teams — begin to benefit from wagering.

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Grant Lucas

Grant Lucas is a longtime sports writer who has covered the high school, collegiate and professional levels. A graduate of Linfield College in McMinnville, Grant has covered games and written features and columns surrounding prep sports, Linfield and Oregon State athletics, the Portland Trail Blazers and golf.

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