5 Great Potential Ohio Sports Betting Brand Ambassadors

Written By Danny Cross on October 17, 2022
Bernie Kosar

As Ohio moves closer to launching sports betting, dozens of sportsbooks will begin rolling out advertisements to entice new customers.

Some of these ad campaigns will include local spokespersons for various brands as companies compete for new customers in Ohio. Think: Detroit Lions great Barry Sanders representing BetMGM in Michigan as a brand ambassador.

With the Ohio sports betting launch set for Jan. 1, 2023, Ohioans will soon be inundated with special sign-up bonus offers and promotions as dozens of brands — familiar and not-so-familiar — enter the market.

So who might speak on behalf of these brands as they look to entice Ohio bettors? Here are five individuals PlayOhio could see putting their personalities behind various sportsbook brands — and three who likely will not.

Bernie Kosar, former Cleveland Browns quarterback

It’s not hyperbole to say that Bernie Kosar is one of Cleveland’s most beloved athletes of all time — the former Cleveland Browns QB was voted as such in a 2021 fan website poll.

Born in Youngstown, Kosar starred at the University of Miami during the early days of “The U” and was drafted by his hometown Browns, leading the team to three AFC title games in four seasons during the late-80s. Kosar held several regular season and playoff passing records for decades.

Since his playing days, Kosar has been involved in a number of business ventures, including lending his name to Kosar’s Wood-Fired Grill at the then-Hard Rock Casino Northfield Park. While his name no longer graces the restaurant on-site, that gambling establishment is now an MGM property that will soon open an MGM-branded retail sportsbook.

Kosar is easily recognizable across Ohio. The Browns and Cincinnati Bengals were competitive during his career before both franchises suffered years of losses and irrelevancy. His appearance in “The U” documentary elevated his collegiate career, and he was also a focal point of a 2012 ESPN documentary called “Broke,” which described financial problems suffered by high-profile athletes.

Kosar will be inducted into the Greater Cleveland Sports Hall of Fame on Oct. 18. Perhaps a discussion with MGM or another Ohio sportsbook about a spokesperson gig might follow?

Chad Johnson, former Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver

Few athletes claimed the spotlight like Ochocinco during his playing days, and the Cincinnati Bengals’ all-time leading receiver is still a fan-favorite in Cincinnati.

Known for legally changing his surname to “Ochocinco” in order to display the nickname on the back of his jersey, Ocho’s dominance during the mid-2000s helped the Bengals break a 15-year playoff drought. Always the entertainer, Ochocinco coordinated elaborate touchdown celebrations, coined the term “child please” and once raced a horse.

Johnson still makes appearances in Cincinnati for Bengals functions and is a nominee for the franchise’s 2023 Ring of Honor induction. It’s easy to imagine Ocho lending his massive reach of 3.2 million Twitter followers to a reputable sportsbook.

Rose Lavelle, U.S. Women’s National Team

With the men’s World Cup kicking off in November and running through Dec. 18, what better time to ask a star of “The Beautiful Game” to draw attention to an Ohio sportsbook?

Of course, the U.S. Men’s National Team is unlikely to come close to the heights reached by the U.S. Women’s National Team in recent years, and Ohio’s own Rose Lavelle has been at the center of its success. The Cincinnati-born midfielder scored the second goal of the team’s 2-0 World Cup final victory over the Netherlands in 2019, helping the U.S. win a second straight World Cup. That same year, Lavelle was ranked the sixth-best player in the world.

Megan Rapinoe and Rose Lavelle celebrate with their trophy after the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019 Final. Photo: Romain Biard

Women’s sports endorsements are on the rise. According to SponsorUnited.com, USWNT forward Alex Morgan was the most endorsed female athlete in 2022. This summer, Lavelle got in on the action with a limited-time signature Chipotle bowl, the “Rose Lavelle Bowl,” during the team’s 2023 World Cup qualifying matches.

A former Cincinnati Enquirer high school player of the year and No. 1 overall pick into the National Women’s Soccer League, would the pull of an up-and-coming USWNT star move the needle for an Ohio sportsbook? With a World Cup three-peat on the line in 2023, we think so.

Kirk Herbstreit, college football and NFL analyst

Kirk Herbstreit is a no-brainer for any sportsbook that could land him. The ESPN “College Gameday” host is one of the most recognizable figures in college football, appearing on the network’s flagship Saturday morning program each week before jetting off to do color commentary for ABC’s Saturday night primetime games. This year, Herbstreit joined legendary broadcaster Al Michaels in the booth for NFL Thursday Night Football.

Born outside of Dayton, Herbstreit followed in his father’s footsteps and played quarterback for the Ohio State Buckeyes for four years. But his athletic career pales in comparison to his broadcasting accolades, which include five Sports Emmy Awards.

Herbstreit lends his name to the annual Kirk Herbstreit National Kickoff Classic, pitting top high school football teams from Ohio and Texas against each other at Ohio Stadium and AT&T Stadium. He would be instantly recognizable to college football fans across Ohio and beyond should he sign on as a sports betting brand ambassador.

Nick Lachey, singer/TV personality

Former lead singer of boy band 98 Degrees, Nick Lachey is known around southwestern Ohio more for his local sports fandom than his music career or litany of TV appearances over the past 20 years.

The Cincinnati native is a huge fan of the Bengals, Reds and University of Cincinnati football and basketball teams and served as the local guest picker when ESPN’s “College Gameday” visited the University of Cincinnati campus in 2021. He’s still active in TV, having won the 2021 season of “The Masked Singer” and is currently the co-host of reality show “The Ultimatum: Marry or Move On.”

During an episode of Lachey’s first reality series, “Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica” with his then-wife Jessica Simpson, Lachey is seen witnessing an early-2000s Cincinnati Bearcats NCAA Tournament loss and does not take it well. Cincinnatians know the feeling all too well and would accept Lachey as an authentic voice touting a sportsbook in Ohio.

Three Ohio sports personalities who won’t likely be sportsbook brand ambassadors

LeBron James: LeBron would be any Ohio sportsbook’s first choice as a hometown kid who brought the Cleveland Cavaliers their first NBA title. But… NBA rules currently prohibit players from endorsing sportsbooks. That could (and probably will) change with the next union contract after the 2023-24 season.

By that time, Ohio sports betting will be off and running, and The King would more likely be a national brand ambassador than a regional spokesperson, if he’s interested at all. Perhaps the billionaire is content with the $75 million or so he already makes per year from sponsors and other off-court endeavors.

And the wrinkle of being interested in owning a team after his playing days are over adds another hurdle toward a betting sponsorship.

Pete Rose: Make no mistake: Major League Baseball’s Hit King will find a way to make money off sports betting. The former Cincinnati Reds great is a mainstay at Las Vegas casinos and baseball card shows, where he sells autographs and does other appearances.

One of MLB’s most controversial players, Rose was of course banned from baseball in 1989 for betting on games he managed. Rose contends that he only bet on the Reds to win, but his decades of lying about gambling might have crushed any hope of reinstatement and Hall of Fame eligibility during his lifetime.

We’ll probably see Pete talking sports betting — or maybe even placing a legal bet — in the coming months, but it’s unlikely to be as part of an Ohio sportsbook marketing campaign.

Art Schlichter: An Ohio native who starred for the Ohio State Buckeyes, Schlichter is among professional sports’ most cautionary gambling tales. After being selected No. 4 overall by the Baltimore Colts in 1982, Schlichter’s career and life were derailed by a gambling addiction that led to over 20 years in prison for repeatedly passing bad checks and conning people out of money to gamble.

With the growth of Ohio sports betting comes a need for responsible gambling resources and campaigns. The state has ramped up its efforts to prepare for an increase in problem gambling as the industry grows. Schlichter’s story will be worth sharing, especially for college athletes in a new era of Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) deals and legalized sports betting.

Schlichter is once again facing legal trouble, as he is currently facing a charge of cocaine possession in Franklin County. The fifth-degree felony carries a potential six- to 12-month prison sentence. Schlicter has also suffered health issues in recent years, having been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and dementia and reportedly suffering from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease linked to repeated blows to the head.

Photo by David Dermer / AP
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Danny Cross

Danny Cross is the managing editor of PlayOhio, where he covers the legislative and regulatory process of legalizing sports betting and the latest news on sportsbooks coming to Ohio ahead of Jan. 1, 2023. Cross joined PlayOhio from Pro Football Focus, where he wrote and edited articles on the NFL, fantasy football and betting.

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