Less than a week after Ohio’s Jan. 1 launch of sports betting in Ohio, PlayOhio took a look at the amount of sportsbook advertising featured during the broadcast of a Cleveland Cavaliers game against the Denver Nuggets.
Many TV viewers in the lead-up to legalized sports betting felt as if they were being bombarded by an avalanche of sportsbook commercials.
But during that Jan. 6 NBA game broadcast on the regional sports channel Bally Sports Ohio, sportsbook commercials and in-game advertising mentions were far from overwhelming. It was surprising, especially because the broadcast was of a game you could actually legally bet on through a sportsbook, a then very new experience for Ohio sports fans.
This week, as Ohio approaches the five-month anniversary of allowing sports betting statewide, we decided to revisit the concept of that piece and track sportsbook advertising and mentions as they happened during the TV broadcasts of the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft on April 27.
Ohio expanded NFL Draft betting options this month
There are a few key differences between a basketball game and the draft. For one, the NFL Draft has a bigger audience, with three different channels broadcasting the event, held this year in Kansas City.
The 2023 NFL Draft was being broadcast on ESPN and the NFL Network, as well as on network TV via ABC. I decided to first focus on the ABC broadcast on WCPO in Cincinnati, just to keep things extra Ohio-y.
And, of course, the draft isn’t a game on which you can wager, though viewers in Ohio can place bets on certain aspects of the NFL Draft.
In February, the Ohio Casino Control Commission released a very short list of markets related to the draft on which Ohio bettors were able to wager. That list allowed bets on things like the number of players from a particular position drafted in the first round, as well as the number of players from a particular NCAA conference drafted in Round 1.
Earlier this month, the OCCC expanded its list of allowed NFL Draft wagers. Since January, the number of approved NFL Draft markets grew from just four to 12.
But there are still limits — for example, Ohio bettors still can’t bet on who the first overall pick will be.
Other NFL Draft markets more recently approved by the OCCC include:
- Over/under players from X conference in a round
- Over/under X position players drafted in a round
- X player draft position
- X drafted player at X position (excluding the 1st or 2nd overall pick of the draft)
- Player to be drafted first matchup. (Example: Who is drafted first: Player X or Player Y)
Ohio football in the first round
Outside of betting, football fans in the Buckeye State tune into the NFL Draft to see where some of their favorite college players end up and what new players are coming to their favorite NFL team.
As usual, Ohio State had several players expected to be drafted, including a few possible first rounders, like quarterback C.J. Stroud (predicted to be one of the first QBs to be taken), offensive lineman Paris Johnson Jr. and Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who experts were predicting as one of the top wide receivers to come off the board.
Cleveland Browns fans didn’t have anything to look forward to in the first round, having traded away their first and second round picks for Deshaun Watson and Elijah Moore, respectively. The Browns won’t make their first pick until the third round with pick 74.
Fans of the Cincinnati Bengals, meanwhile, were anxious to see what their team would do with the 28th overall pick. Going into the draft, sportsbooks were favoring the Bengals to take a tight end. An interesting storyline locals were watching was the prospect of the Bengals getting Notre Dame TE Michael Mayer, who grew up and played high school football in Northern Kentucky, just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati.
But Mayer was expected to be gone by the time the Bengals were on the clock. Pre-draft, Bet365 Sportsbook odds had Utah tight end Dalton Kincaid as the Bengals’ most likely pick at 28.
Beyond the tight end position, sportsbooks also favored the Bengals going with a cornerback or offensive lineman.
NFL has tenuous history with sports betting
Not that long ago, the NFL was opposed to widespread legalization of sports betting. The league lobbied against legalization in a court case in New Jersey in 2012, with commissioner Roger Goodell saying at the time that sports betting “threatens to damage irreparably the integrity of — and public confidence in — NFL football.”
It was that New Jersey case that led to the Supreme Court in 2018 ruling to overturn the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which opened up the door for legal sports betting nationwide.
Since then, the NFL has come around to embrace sports betting as more and more states began to pass legislation legalizing it. In 2021, the league announced Caesars, DraftKings and FanDuel would become the NFL’s first official sports betting partners, with collaborations with each on various elements related to the game. Gambling companies spent $129 million on advertising during NFL games in 2021, according to the Associated Press.
And just this March, NFL owners voted to allow retail sportsbooks inside NFL stadiums.
Still, there have been some restrictions. Reports surfaced in 2021 that the NFL decided it would limit the amount of sportsbook commercials during broadcasts of NFL games, allowing one each quarter, one during the pre-game broadcast and one during post-game coverage.
Between the three 2023 NFL Draft broadcasts, would the NFL also limit sportsbook advertising?
Top-rated quarterbacks go early in draft
ABC’s broadcast quickly goes to its first commercial block before the picks start rolling in.
The first commercials of the broadcast range from Home Depot and Toyota spots and a few NFL-related ads (NFL Ticket on YouTube and the NFL schedule release broadcast) to a localized “Phones Down. It’s the Law” spot promoting Ohio’s new law prohibiting phone use while driving. No sportsbook ads yet.
Ah, the obligatory opening booing of the commissioner. Roger Goodell comes out on the NFL Draft stage for the first of what will surely be many barrages of boos tonight.
After some fanfare celebrating the Kansas City Chiefs’ Super Bowl win — including appearances from Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce — the Carolina Panthers are on the clock.
As expected, the Panthers take Alabama quarterback Bryce Young with the first pick.
Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud is selected by the Houston Texans with the second pick.
And the Texans aren’t done. Following a trade with the Arizona Cardinals, the Texans get the third pick and take linebacker Will Anderson Jr. from Alabama.
After the Indianapolis Colts take Florida QB Anthony Richardson with the fourth overall pick, ABC cuts to its first commercial break in 40 minutes.
This block suggests ABC is targeting a broad, mainstream audience with its ads: Progressive; Bounty; Jimmy Dean sausage; KFC; Direct TV. The broadcast itself is presented by Home Depot.
It seems in line with ABC’s general approach to its draft coverage. While ESPN and The NFL Network appear to get quick interviews with the draftees right away, ABC instead talks with the players’ mothers first.
The presence of sportsbooks so far is non-existent.
NFL Network broadcast also devoid of sportsbook presence
Coming up empty on sportsbook ads on ABC so far, I decide to switch over to the NFL Network after the Seattle Seahawks take Illinois cornerback Devon Witherspoon with the fifth pick.
My first NFL Network ad break definitely features a collection of advertisers targeting a different demographic, with spots for Toro landscape equipment, Ram Trucks, Yeti coolers and Dave & Buster’s. Though it would seemingly fit for that target demo, there’s no sportsbook commercials.
Ohio State indeed seems to be headed for a big first round, as the Arizona Cardinals (who traded with the Detroit Lions for the sixth pick) take Buckeyes offensive lineman Paris Johnson Jr.
Johnson’s father — a safety at Miami University in Ohio — was drafted by the Cardinals in 1999 in the fifth round.
We’re coming up on the end of the first hour of the NFL Draft and there has been absolutely no mention of any sportsbook.
Stray thought: Wouldn’t DraftKings be a no-brainer advertiser for this thing?
Sportsbooks are absent from the smaller on-screen sponsor mentions, as well. While some sports broadcasts will show a graphic of odds with “So and So Sportsbook presents” branding, the NFL Network has on-screen segment sponsors like Yeti and Ram Trucks.
Starting to think the NFL has indeed limited sportsbooks’ presence during the draft.
ESPN broadcast lacks sportsbook mentions, too
Or maybe the sportsbooks decided to spend all of their money with ESPN? I switch over to see. Immediately I notice small on-screen ads for Courtyard by Marriott and Subway.
After the Chicago Bears take offensive tackle Darnell Wright from Tennessee with the 10th pick, ESPN goes to a commercial break. ESPN’s ads are somewhere between ABC’s and the NFL Network’s, with spots for Taco Bell, Tide, Snickers and Miller Light.
The closest we get to a sportsbook ad is noted Caesars Sportsbook pitchman Eli Manning. Alas, his appearance is in a commercial for Corona beer, alongside Snoop Dogg and Andy Samberg.
After a Make-a-Wish participant who overcame bone cancer gets his wish to announce the New York Jets’ pick (they take linebacker Will McDonald IV from Iowa State), I realize we are two hours into the NFL Draft and there hasn’t been a single sportsbook commercial or mention.
In the past six months, I don’t think I’ve watched two hours of live television (on networks that have commercials) without seeing at least one sportsbook commercial. Especially during a sports-oriented event.
Just before the Detroit Lions take Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell with the 18th pick, ESPN announcers are talking about Kentucky quarterback Will Levis, widely expected to be a first-round shoo-in. The announcers cite analytics that say there was less than a 2% chance that the quarterback would still be unselected by this point. Cameras have frequently been showing him nervously laughing with friends and family. He’s stressing.
At long last, a sportsbook commercial!
I switch back to ABC just in time to see actor Chris Pratt promote Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 while also giving his vague take on what his hometown Seattle Seahawks might do with the next pick. Apparently the Jonas Brothers were on earlier doing something similar.
With the Seahawks second first round pick — this time at No. 20 — Seattle ends up taking the third Ohio State player selected in the first round, wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba.
Baltimore Ravens fans were already extremely happy going into this year’s draft. Hours earlier it was announced that Lamar Jackson was signing an extension with Baltimore, agreeing to a 5-year, $260 million deal that made him the highest paid player in NFL history.
Piggy-backing on that elation, the Ravens decide to get Jackson another target. With the 22nd pick, Baltimore takes Boston College wide receiver Zay Flowers.
Almost exactly three hours into my NFL Draft viewing experience, I finally see a sportsbook commercial.
It’s the BetMGM commercial featuring Kevin Garnett talking to his friend in a smoothie bar and pleading for positivity so he can cover a spread in a bet through the BetMGM app.
The commercial ends with an NBA logo graphic, which is mildly amusing — after waiting all night for a sportsbook spot, the one they show also promotes an entirely different sport.
It’s not a sportsbook spot, but NFL Draft viewers watching the proceedings on ABC in Ohio do get the latest commercial from the Ohio Lottery, which oversees Ohio’s sports betting kiosk market.
The 60-second ad is unrelated to sports betting, instead advertising its Living Lucky Promotion, where scratch-off players can be entered for a chance to win tickets to a private Luke Combs concert in Nashville and other prizes.
While sportsbooks seemed to think the Cincinnati Bengals would go for a tight end, cornerback or offensive lineman in the draft, the team goes in a different direction.
With the 28th pick, the Bengals take defensive end Myles Murphy from Clemson.
The Kansas City Chiefs have the honor of taking the last pick of the first round. The Chiefs also take a defensive end — Felix Anudike-Uzomah from Kansas State — bringing the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft to a close on their home turf.
Final numbers from the first round
Here are some of the first round pick numbers relevant to Ohio bettors who may have wagered on the NFL Draft.
The SEC and Big Ten had the most players selected in the first round with nine each. Six Big 12 players were selected and four ACC players went in the first round.
Ohio State, Alabama and Georgia each had three players selected. Clemson and Iowa had two.
There were eight edge rushers selected, the most of any position. Five offensive tackles were drafted in the first round.
Also, in approximately four hours of broadcasting, at least from what I saw, there was one sportsbook commercial.
During my tracking of commercials during the Cavaliers game in January, there were eight sportsbook commercials, and I was surprised there weren’t more.
This time, I was flat-out shocked that there were almost no sportsbook commercials at all during the NFL Draft. Whether it was a conscious limitation from the NFL or a pull-back from the sportsbooks themselves (maybe they’re reigning in their budgets after over-the-top promotional spending in new markets?), their absence — particularly after being exposed to ads so frequently in Ohio — was felt.