SeventySix Capital’s Sports Innovation Conference at Citizens Bank Park earlier this month featured a day of discussions about sports betting, esports, and sports technology. David Stern closed the event in true headliner fashion, and the former NBA Commissioner earned the biggest laughs with stories and biting wit.
Today, Stern holds various positions as an advisor, investor, and sits on a number of non-profit boards. As the league’s head for 30 years, Stern still has a continuing relationship with the NBA. The tone of each discussion, even Stern’s, centered around innovation and its accelerated pace in the now-legal world of sports betting.
Sports betting is still in its infancy in Pennsylvania but the subject is nothing new to Stern. In 1991, Stern testified in the US Senate hearings which eventually led to the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act.
However, he did not fully embrace sports betting. He had to navigate the NBA through the 2007 scandal when referee Tim Donaghy supplied information to gamblers on games he officiated. He also fought New Jersey’s plans to legalize sports betting saying it would “irreparably harm” the NBA’s relationship with current and future fans.
The explosion of daily fantasy sports eventually softened his stance.
Before his keynote speech, Stern told Newsday that when he stepped away from the NBA in 2004 and current commissioner Adam Silver came out in favor of sports betting, he agreed.
“The end was in sight once fantasy [sports] got started. I fail to see a difference.”
Coaches behaving badly
Stern admitted he was much gentler with coaches during his tenure than people thought he should be. He recalled New York Knicks versus Chicago Bulls games and the behavior of head coaches Pat Riley and Phil Jackson. When the Knicks lost, Riley would say that NBC wanted another game. Then, when the Bulls lost, Jackson said it was because, as Stern commented, “the NBA wanted another game and they told their officials.”
“They were just behaving like coaches in the playoffs. The moon is full. They are baiting the commissioner. I think it contributed to fans questioning the authenticity and integrity of the referees.”
Stern added that he never had a substantive word with officials except to tell them to have a good game and stay healthy.
Sports betting increased viewership
Stern reminisced about the NBA going to advertising firms to increase viewership “back in the day.” There wasn’t a way to get someone who was not a basketball fan to watch the game. Instead, the only thing that could be done was to get fans to view more games and watch longer.
“Enter sports betting,” said Stern. “Where some people who might never watch a game decide they are going to watch the last quarter or make a prop bet. You get others who are going to watch it longer because there is action throughout the game.
“Who hasn’t noticed the entry of sponsors? FanDuel and DraftKings are beating each others brains out. When you enter William Hill and others there is a whole new sponsor category. In the intermediate run, it’s going to make sports leagues more valuable, increase players’ salaries and be a super-charge for the league.”
Prior to Stern at the Sports Innovation Conference, Jeff Moorad, the former CEO and minority owner of both the Arizona Diamondbacks and the San Diego Padres voiced his support of the legalization of sports betting.
“As sports betting rolls into each state and becomes legal, there’s a huge opportunity in the US. The US leagues are on to it. They get it. It’s a real potential profit center for sports. Some teams are already there. All the leagues have turned the corner.”
ShotTracker and sports betting
One of the ventures in which Stern is an investor, ShotTracker, is a sensor-based system that automatically captures statistical and performance analytics for teams in real time. The information is consumed by teams, fans and sports bettors.
“The fans in the stands are going to know the coaches have the wrong lineup based on the first half stats. The coaches are going to love it. It’s a great product.”
Stern’s pitch for ShotTracker revolves around sub-second latency. Streaming latency is the amount of time it takes for video to travel from the live source to an online viewer’s screen.
Here’s a good explanation from Limelight Networks of why sub-second latency is so important to online sports betting:
“It is critical to ensure the streaming latency is as low as possible to ensure no online viewers have an unfair advantage by knowing the outcome of an in-event wager by being at the actual live sporting event or watching it on TV. It is also important to make sure all viewers have the same betting opportunities and experience, regardless of where they may be located or the device they are using to view the event.”