Bryant: Will big-league bets to keep fans interested pay off?

From ESPN - February 12, 2018

In keeping with its reputation as the most progressive sports league in the nation, the NBA tapped its streetball roots, having captains select the All-Star rosters, as if LeBron and Steph were on a Philly blacktop in July, picking squads on 10th and Lombard. Commissioner Adam Silver followed up by positioning the NBA to be a partner in what appears to be inevitable: legalized pro sports betting.

The NBA argued to lawmakers in New York recently that if the Supreme Court eases the path to legalized gambling, the NBA and all sports leagues should be entitled to 1 percent of the profits. When players get involved with gambling, they are called cheaters or compromised. When the league sanctions it, it's trustworthy. The NBA even has a name for it, calling it an "integrity fee." True story.

The NBA's All-Star Game and its gaming initiative, however, represent much more than a league trying to keep its marriage with fans fresh. The ground is shifting across sports. The game you are watching now will not be the game of tomorrow because the sports bubble, long propped up by nostalgia, tradition and enormous television rights fees, is not going to last.

You need to look beyond the short-term and sensational to see the big picture emerging. The NFL season was dominated by the effect of player protests on ratings, but flag-waving NASCAR's numbers have been dropping like a stone for years. It's not politics, it's tedium. The games -- and the events and noise that surround them -- feel less special because there are more of them in a shorter calendar. More has not felt like more -- and unless you are the soaring NBA, the prospect of even more people turning away is real.

Of course, leagues have no one to blame but themselves for their crisis, for they chose greed and saturation. Amazon reportedly paid $50 million to stream NFL Thursday night games in 2017. Baseball's postseason kicks off not with home runs but with fans trying to find which channel has the game -- maybe the World Series will one day be on Hulu. The leagues are prospecting. They know the fan bubble is bursting, and the key is finding out what delivery methods will emerge and what new revenue streams, such as gambling, will be required to offset the changes -- and at what cost to the integrity of the sport.


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