NBC Sports Washington will give viewers a preview of how in-game sports betting might one day be integrated in broadcasts when the Wizards host the Bucks on Friday. While the traditional game broadcast will be available on NBC Sports Washington, NBC Sports Washington Plus will air an augmented broadcast featuring real-time statistics, sports betting information and a “Predict the Game” contest that will prompt viewers to make predictions about the on-court action for the chance to win $500.
The “Predict the Game” contest, which was first reported by Sports Business Journal, will feature approximately 30 questions — such as, “Will Trevor Ariza score 10-plus points in the first half?” or “Will the Wizards score at least 20 points in the second quarter?" — that appear on the screen throughout the game. Fans will be invited to submit their predictions on NBC Sports Washington’s site. The winner, or winners, based on the number of correct answers, will be announced during the network’s postgame coverage.
“I’ve always been intrigued by how do you make the television viewing experience better," Damon Phillips, NBC Sports Washington’s general manager, said in a phone interview. “How do you make it more engaging? What can you do on screen, what can you do off screen to enhance the viewing experience? This is a combination of being able to take what people do offline and integrating it into a television broadcast.”
Phillips likened the interactive experience to making a bet at the bar with a friend, but the only investment required, at least for now, is the time spent watching a Wizards game.
“It’s free to play, so it’s not sports betting, per se, but it is based on asking the audience questions,” said Zach Leonsis, Monumental Sports and Entertainment’s senior VP of strategic initiatives. “It’s really meant to drive fan engagement, see how people react to it, and I think it’s a great first step toward a much larger and really exciting rollout of sports betting in the DMV.”
“From our perspective, we’re not necessarily going after the sharks or the high-rollers,” Phillips said. “We’re looking at trying to introduce sports betting to the casual fan.”
Last May, the Supreme Court overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), a decades-old law that limited most sports wagering to Nevada. In anticipation of that decision, NBC Sports Washington tested a similar predictive gaming concept during select broadcasts last spring, only without the graphic overlay of sports betting information. Monumental Sports and Entertainment CEO Ted Leonsis has made it clear he envisions Capital One Arena offering a place to make in-game wagers, and that’s one step closer to becoming reality after the D.C. Council voted to legalize sports gambling in December.
NBC Sports Washington’s alternate broadcast will be available for eight Wizards games this season. The “Predict the Game” contest draws upon some of the ideas already being pioneered by WinView, which offers a series of HQ Trivia-style games to play along with during a broadcast. Fans can pay an entry fee or play for free, answering a series of questions about a game. Monumental Sports and Entertainment is an investor in that platform.
According to WinView Executive Chairman Tom Rogers, these games are the first step toward in-game prop betting via mobile devices, the most popular form of gambling in Europe. With the tap of a finger, fans might eventually be able to wager real money on whether Bradley Beal will make a three-pointer on a specific possession or Alex Ovechkin will score on a power play. The patchwork state-by-state legal framework for sports gambling doesn’t yet support betting like this on a nationwide scale, but Rogers said that’s where he expects sports TV is headed.
“Sports is a social experience, so you want to engage viewers,” Rogers said. “Then you want to engage them in a way where you’re asking them what they think is going to happen on the next play, the next drive. And then how do you make that competitive relative to other fans?”
Zach Leonsis said he could envision the augmented, alternate broadcast being offered on a second channel for every Wizards and Capitals game in the future, but there are no plans to mess with the traditional broadcast.
“There are going to be viewers who aren’t interested in fantasy sports or sports betting, and that’s completely fine,” Leonsis said. “That may end up being the majority of our audience, but there is no doubt that there is a significant percentage of our audience who is strongly interested in this, and you don’t have to look any further than to see how the daily fantasy market has done in the DMV.”
“I believe you always have to have a choice for fans,” Phillips said. “Some fans just want to watch the game, and that’s okay. We’re going to be able to serve that fan that way. I think there will one day be options for fans who want to add more things on to their viewing experience. Over time, these are going to become even more personalized viewing experiences. I may want to see the over/under on the screen while another fan may want to see something else. I think we’re going go get to a world where it’s much more personalized."
Meanwhile, NBC Sports and its regional networks are expanding their gambling coverage as more states move to legalize sports betting. Last week, the network launched “The Daily Line,” a radio show hosted by NBC Sports Washington’s Michael Jenkins and SB Nation Radio’s Tim Murray. On Saturday, NBC Sports Philadelphia debuted a weekly sports gambling TV show by the same name.
“We are making sure that we are prepared for when sports betting gets legalized, officially, in D.C.,” Phillips said. “These experiments that we’re doing, we’re learning a lot and we’re going to be prepared to be able to flip the switch when that happens.”
“It’s a great and fun engagement tool, and we’ll see what the results look like,” Zach Leonsis said. “We obviously have high expectations and are bullish that it’s going to perform well.”
NBC Sports Washington will offer alternate “Predict the Game” broadcasts for the following games this season on NBC Sports Washington Plus:
— Jan. 11 vs. Milwaukee Bucks (7 p.m.)
— Jan. 27 at San Antonio Spurs (7 p.m.)
— Jan. 30 vs. Indiana Pacers (8 p.m.)
— Feb. 2 vs. Milwaukee Bucks (7 p.m.)
— Feb. 22 at Charlotte Hornets (7 p.m.)
— March 3 vs. Minnesota Timberwolves (6 p.m.)
— March 18 vs. Utah Jazz (7 p.m.)
— April 5 vs. San Antonio Spurs (7 p.m.)
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