NLL Commissioner Nick Sakiewicz Using Sports Betting as Marketing Tool


The National Lacrosse League is betting on a simple connection: Those who wager on sports care more about the sports they watch.

“It’s a well-known fact that people who are gamers of a sport or engage in sports betting become incredibly avid fans of that sport,” NLL commissioner Nick Sakiewicz told US Lacrosse Magazine. “It’s a really important strategy for us to deploy for the growth of the league long term.”

The NLL made its entrance into the gambling space last month, announcing a partnership with Roar Digital to make Roar’s BetMGM the exclusive gaming partner of the league. The agreement, which includes BetMGM creating weekly lines for NLL games, was the first of its kind for lacrosse in the United States.

“Lacrosse is a fast-paced, high-scoring, growing sport that presents exciting sports betting opportunities,” Scott Butera, president of interactive gaming for MGM resorts, said in a statement. “The NLL is an ideal partner for BetMGM in accessing a fast-growing lacrosse fan base.”

The connection comes less than two years after the Supreme Court struck down the 1992 federal ban on sports betting. The ruling put the power in the hands of individual states to make legal sports wagering a reality.

Nineteen states have approved some form of legal sports betting. It’s anticipated more will join the fold in the coming year. Six American teams are in or within driving distance of states where betting is currently legal or about to become legal: the Buffalo Bandits, New York Riptide, Rochester Knighthawks, Colorado Mammoth, New England Black Wolves and Philadelphia Wings. Betting laws vary based on province in Canada.

“Eventually all 50 states or a majority of the states are going to have online sports betting legalized,” Sakiewicz said.

Sakiewicz said getting into gambling was a targeted strategy for the league over the past few years. Gambling used to be hush-hush in the sports world — something leagues knew fueled interest and revenue but wasn’t discussed publicly.

Since the ruling in 2018, that’s changed. Just look at the broadcasts rolled out this last week for the first games of the new XFL, which featured over/unders and betting lines for each game, right on the score bug at the bottom of the screen.

Prior to MGM’s agreement with the NLL, the Las Vegas-based company also came to agreements with the National Hockey League, Major League Baseball, National Basketball Association, Major League Soccer and the Women’s National Basketball Association. Sakiewicz said the NLL wants to be a thought leader in the movement.

“We knew for a while, ever since the [Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992] legislation got put through, that there was going to be a real shift in the U.S. with regards to sports betting,” Sakiewicz said. “Once that happened, we really started preparing a strategy to enter the sports betting space.”

MGM’s previous partnerships with professional leagues made the company an obvious option as the NLL dipped its toes into the market.

“There was obviously a lot of great candidates in that space,” Sakiewicz said. “We met with a lot of them over the years and are familiar with a lot of them. I think what made MGM the best one was they were really aligned with where we want to go in the space, and they were big believers in lacrosse and the growth of lacrosse over the next decade, two decades.”

Contributing to the alignment between the sides was both MGM and NLL’s digital mindset. Under Sakiewicz’s leadership, the NLL has turned toward the digital space for growth, notably partnering with Bleacher Report to stream games online on B/R Live.

On the MGM side, online gambling has proved to be profitable in states where it is legal. New Jersey, the state that pushed for legalization in 2018, saw $46 million in revenue from online betting compared to $6 million in retail betting last month, according to Play NJ.

The deal with MGM was part of a strong run for the NLL. The league came to another agreement with AT&T just days after the announcement, marking 14 new agreements in the last four months. The new sponsorships increased the NLL’s ad revenue to $6 million per season, according to CNBC. That’s a $2 million increase from 2016.

Sakiewicz said there are long-term goals of revenue for the NLL when it comes to gambling, but that isn’t the focus right now. Instead, the league views gambling as a sort of marketing tool, one that is quite unmatched.

“Eighty percent of people that game on a sport become avid fans. There are no better marketing numbers,” Sakiewicz said. “There’s no marketing campaign, no commercial, that can drive that kind of avidity. That’s why we’re in the sports betting space.”

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