Gambling deal signals new era for NHL

If the NHL and gambling were set to the tune “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” the announcement this past week of the league’s embrace of the betting world is the part where good ol’ Canadian boy Gordon Lightfoot sings, “At 7 p.m. a main hatchway caved in, he said, fellas, it been good to know ya.”

The new age has arrived. Or at least the first hint of sunlight, and all the betting action it will grow, is officially on hockey’s horizon.

The NHL and MGM, the gambling and casino giant, cut their deal that slowly but insidiously will make betting central to the NHL fan experience, be it for patrons (just over 22 million last season, league-wide) in arenas, or those listening and/or watching at home, office or ships at sea.

Details of the NHL-MGM deal were kept to a minimum, but the crux of it has MGM paying a substantial (undisclosed) fee to the league for all the data it can mine off its product. MGM then will take all those proprietary numbers to compute win/loss betting lines, and more important, the more lucrative proposition bets (example: Will Brad Marchand score a hat trick tonight?), for the betting public to devour.

No matter what side you pick in the gambling good/bad discussion, there is no question that betting changes the experience. Sure, some consumers, such as those below legal betting age in individual states, won’t be directly affected. But as certain as a tree grows in Brooklyn and a casino rises in Everett, betting action will cover our ballparks and arenas with a gambling hall’s unique patina.

We’re not simply watching wins and losses anymore, we’re watching dollars and cents being wagered, money being won and lost, with moods and fortunes rising and lowering by the shot and shift. If you don’t think that’s a game-changer, particularly in terms of an audience’s personality swings, then you likely haven’t been to a casino, or been in the company of someone laying action on fantasy sports.

Again, decide for yourself the virtues or morality of it all, but don’t deny that the games we love are about to shift in terms of how we consume them, share them, enjoy them, remember them. Betting changes everything.

As for the Bruins, and the rest of our pro teams, the Massachusetts legislature has not yet approved gambling on pro sports. The US Supreme Court gave states the go-ahead, the right to decide the issue for themselves, in the spring. So hold your bets on that over/under wager (7.5 goals) when the Stars face the Bruins Monday night at the Garden. The same for the Celtics (the NBA and WNBA were first to cut a deal with MGM in July). The Bay State remains action-free at the moment, with no start date on the books.

So hold your bets. For now. But not for long.

In theory, it’s possible we never get there in the Bay State. Which is the same theory we once held about the blue laws. Which is the same theory we once held about a lottery. Fact: The State House one day soon will be all-in on gambling, as sure as it takes real money to keep that iconic dome gilded in gold.

The bulk of the in-arena experience — i.e. the action — is all but certain to be transacted over mobile phones. Similar to the European betting experience, there could be some added betting personnel assigned to luxury suites — think: Vegas cocktail waitresses — and maybe a smattering of betting kiosks folded into, or alongside, the concessions stands.

Let’s see . . . I’ll have a dog, fries, beer . . . oh, and a $20 bet on Patrice Bergeron collecting a goal and assist.

We’re not already addicted (hand up here) enough to our cellphones, right? Now we’ll have a portion of the crowd peering into their handhelds, considering an endless stream of betting opportunities, with the game running in front of them tantamount to elevator music. I’ll be particularly eager to see how this plays out in the press box, because it’s not like any of us up there ever have engaged too much in potential addictive behavior. No way. Nothing to see here. Hey, did I just blow deadline?

Many team owners across all sports, including Jeremy Jacobs of the Bruins, originally felt leagues and teams should be compensated based on total betting action. No one on the other side (MGM, et al) felt the same. Result: The fee established for proprietary data. No doubt, as the years go by, the league will try to wring out more money for its data, not unlike it asks for higher fees when their broadcast vendors, particularly on the TV side, show higher ratings.

And, yes, the safest bet in town is that the athletes will make their voices heard emphatically about all of this as league/player collective bargaining agreements come up for renewal. In the NHL, the players share 50 percent of all hockey-related revenue. So they assuredly will deem the betting haul, received from MGM via those data fees, as part of HRR. In that sense, they will very much be in on the action, and there are all sorts of ways to interpret that.

Sponsorship will be another huge part of the dynamic. Teams will court an “official gambling” sponsor for their venues. Once Major League Baseball signs on, presumably for a deal akin to what’s in place for the NBA and NHL, look for the Red Sox to sign up Wynn (Everett) or, say, MGM (Springfield), to be the official gambling sponsor at Fenway Park. Ditto for Gillette and TD Garden.

For a lot teams, one longtime sports marketing exec assured me last week, that will become “an annual multimillion-dollar sector . . . guaranteed.”

Place your bets, everyone, the fastest game on ice is about to shift warp speed to a place where no man has gone before. A good bet the ride will be rocky, a dead certainty the league never will be the same.

https://www.bostonglobe.com/sports/bruins/2018/11/03/gambling-deal-signals-new-era-for-nhl/wgYEP74k4VpTrpDRsLI2fL/story.html