David Highhill: NFL will ‘remain thoughtful’ on relationship with sports betting

SBC Leaders David Highhill
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Since the repeal of PASPA in 2018, the NFL has become more ingrained in the world of sports betting as each season has passed. Many of the league’s teams have partnerships with operators, and some are even looking to open sportsbooks inside their stadiums.

Last year, the NFL agreed on a number of collaborations with sportsbook operators, including appointing Caesars Entertainment, DraftKings, and FanDuel as its official sports betting partners. 

This summer, the league appointed its first executive to direct its sports wagering strategy, naming David Highhill as Vice President and General Manager of Sports Betting.

For the past decade, Highhill has been working for the NFL in several different roles, including the Vice President of Strategy and Analytics, Director of Consumer Products Strategy, and Director of Corporate Development.

Congratulations on your appointment as the NFL’s Vice President and General Manager of Sports Betting. What will you be responsible for in this role?

Thank you! It is very exciting to be able to work with such a talented team across the NFL and our partners. I’ve been lucky enough to work at the league office across a variety of areas, including strategic planning, esports, and club services group. However, sports betting represents our most interconnected and cross-functional opportunity across our game, fans, and partners. 

My role is to help coordinate the league’s strategy in our key sports betting pillars – driving fan engagement, advancing our brand, and protecting the integrity of our games. This includes coordination with the league office, our clubs, and our partners. It’s a wide remit, and one of the most exciting opportunities to drive fan engagement in sports.

With your new role, why has the league decided to focus more on sports betting this upcoming season?

There has been a cross-functional team at the NFL that has been laser-focused on sports betting for several years. We’ve benefited greatly from the expertise and dedication of this team, and I’ve enjoyed working with them to develop and advance our plans over the past seasons.

As the scope of sports betting continues to expand across so many disparate areas of our business, it was time to have a dedicated unit to manage this increasingly complex initiative.   

Sports betting adverts were aired for the first time during NFL games last season. What has been the league’s evaluation of this development in its relationship with sports wagering?

Our approach to sports betting has been deeply informed by data to understand our fan perceptions and to serve those who are interested in betting while not disrupting the experiences of our fans who are not interested.

We rely on our blue-chip partners to deliver incremental experiences to our betting-interested fans – this includes an array of shoulder programming, data and statistics, and second-screen experiences like free-to-play games. It is critical to pair these initiatives with a robust platform supporting responsible betting, as well as avoiding oversaturation of betting messaging across our platforms.

We continue to monitor our fan behaviors and attitudes in this space and we will evolve our approach as the research informs us.  

Several NFL teams have already secured partnerships with sports betting brands. What limitations has the NFL set for teams regarding these deals? Is it just market access or can they go beyond that?

Our clubs can sign their own sports-betting partnerships, which are separate from our League partnerships. Clubs have been excited about the opportunity to serve their fans with new content and to enhance the in-stadium experience.    

We’ve seen a variety of innovative activations from clubs, including sportsbook credits with ticket purchases or renewals, unique hospitality and access, in-stadium sports betting lounges, free-to-play games, and a range of digital and TV content. Our clubs and their partners have been creative in their approach, and our research shows fans have been receptive to these activations.

Several Clubs are also located in states that provide sportsbook operators market access benefits if they partner with a professional sports team. With these arrangements, the partner operates all elements of the sports betting business. 

In the future, will the NFL allow advertisements on their jerseys? If so, will sports betting operators be allowed to advertise?

The NFL does not have any plans to allow sponsor branding on game jerseys. Broadly, we want to remain thoughtful about how sports betting shows up in and around our games, and to ensure that we are targeted in our approach.

Will the NFL ever operate its own sportsbook or allow teams to do so separately from their current partnerships?

Our policies do not allow for clubs to operate a sports betting business. We think it is in our collective best interests to serve our fans the ways we know best through live experiences and content, and have no plans to operate a sportsbook.

For both NFL fans and NFL players/staff, what is the league doing to protect the integrity of the game as sports betting becomes a larger part of its ecosystem?

The integrity of the game has always been a central point of focus for the league and our clubs – well before the repeal of PASPA, and of course afterwards. We have a multi-faceted approach in this space. We have a comprehensive integrity and compliance program that focuses on education and training modules related to our gambling policies.

We also have robust integrity monitoring software and services, which include in-house resources and external providers. We continue to advocate for key integrity provisions in legislation, including know your customer, anti-money laundering, and information sharing. We continue to identify and assess integrity risks across the league and clubs to evaluate and enhance our integrity and compliance programs.

Atlanta Falcons WR Calvin Ridley has been suspended indefinitely through at least the conclusion of the 2022 season for betting on games. What has the NFL learned from this incident?

As mentioned, the integrity of the game has been and will always be a top priority. We have a comprehensive integrity and compliance program that focuses on education and training of our gambling policies, and Calvin Ridley’s situation is just a reminder of why that program is vitally important.

Our vast network of monitoring services also helps us quickly detect policy violations, which helps enable us to address them early.

Last year the NFL pledged funding and efforts to a responsible gambling initiative. We saw a couple of ads run in the US last season, what can we expect in the 2022 season on this front?

Last year, we launched a responsible betting campaign in collaboration with the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG). This partnership came with a $6.2m grant that funds problem gambling resources (all found at responsibleplay.org). This funding also supports NCPG’s Agility Grants – a platform that funds other non-profits focused on problem gambling prevention programs.

Our platform was supported and amplified by our clubs and our corporate partners. We will continue to be a leader in this space. Expect to see additional fan-facing communications, PSAs, and support from our partners. Responsible betting is an area that is critically important to us.