Ahead of SBC Summit North America, Danielle Cranin, Senior Director, Content Integration & Partnerships at NBC Sports Group, discusses how the relationship between TV broadcasters and the betting industry is evolving, the success of NBC’s trailblazing BetCasts product, and the exciting potential for integrating a sportsbook with cable technology – removing the need for additional devices.
Could you tell us more about your remit as the Senior Director of Content Integration and Partnerships at NBC, and specifically how that relates to the betting industry?
My day in, day out job is working specifically on sportsbook relationships. Sportsbook and fantasy sports, but betting and gaming is my category. I’ve been doing this almost four years for NBC Sports as part of the team that figures out the sponsorship opportunity for each sports club partner. We craft the sales package for them, whether it’s traditional media units or integration into our shows.
For example, Football Night in America, our pre-game show we figured out with DraftKings when executions are going to be in the show pending league rules and what the NFL permits. Then I craft with production. I’m the connective tissue between production and the sportsbook to establish what the partner wants from a branding and messaging perspective. How are we hitting their KPIs, and how do we translate that into really good content because everything we do at NBC is storytelling.
If you look at what we are, our bread and butter, is telling stories. My job is to tell the story of the game through a betting lens whilst making sure that we hit on what’s important to our sportsbook partners, be that acquisition of new customers, retention of current customers, driving handle, unique bets, whatever it might be – finding a unique way of integrating the sportsbook so they are getting value for their sponsorship and we’re providing content that is meaningful to the viewer. And I do that across all our sport categories.
Your career background is in journalism and broadcasting. How did you find yourself positioned in this unique convergence point, one which the US seems to find itself now, between content and betting?
It’s been an interesting journey. I was an English major prior to doing programming and acquisitions at ESPN – essentially acquiring the content and then scheduling it. As a strategic partner I used to pick what baseball games went on television and I did that for about 10 years across a variety of sports. I had a knack for knowing what was good content, learning what rated well and drove viewership across the sport categories that I worked on, be it baseball, horse racing, tennis, boxing.
I worked on a dozen or so different sports whilst I was at ESPN and garnered an understanding of what people want to watch, when they want to watch it and how they want to watch it. We’ve transitioned from traditional broadcast to linear cable to now streaming where people want it on their phone, their tablets, everywhere they go. Wherever they want it, that’s where you have got to put it.
I did that for a while and then I transitioned to a role with US Open Tennis with USTA. Initially, it was the opposite side of the coin. I was selling our broadcast rights to partners. I knew the value of content and then sold it to our global partners. Predominantly we sold it to ESPN here in the States and then working with IMG Media out of the UK. They were our global rights partners, so they were the ones representing us worldwide.
This transitioned into a production management role, which was overseeing the U.S. Open World Feed, which was great, because then I was working with the people creating the content – the producers, directors, audio techs and operators – understanding what their roles were. I oversaw that for four or five years which really let me appreciate how production comes together.
This uniquely positioned me in my role now with NBC Sports because I know what it takes to get something done. I don’t ever ask production for something that’s unreasonable. If a partner comes to me and asks for something that is untenable for production, I can steer the conversation into a direction that’s reasonable but still really good content. It’s hits on something they want to achieve, but it’s also something that I know we can execute upon, as opposed to going to production and asking them for something they can’t execute upon.
I joined NBC Sports right before the pandemic in a different role working across our regional sports networks. My boss at the time was big into NFL betting and I’ve always been someone who bets on things. I find it fascinating. It’s all probability and statistics, right? It is just probable outcomes based on the data set that you have in front of you.
When I told him that I went 58 per cent against the spread the previous year, he was shocked but saw an opportunity with a new department being established. At the time it was just a side project where I was helping and then the pandemic hit, sports shut down and we didn’t have as much to do which gave me an opportunity to transition into the role full time. And I’ve ran with it since then.
A couple of promotions later and now I’m the one that’s running the content piece of it for us. I think all my experience in tennis and at ESPN really allowed me to have a full picture of what our rights are worth, what the value is to the sportsbook, and how to turn a concept into content in a way that makes it compelling for viewers and not just to slap a sponsor logo on the screen.
Rather than a sponsored segment for DraftKings, we’re going to talk to you about a particular parlay that makes sense for tonight and here’s why. We break it down through football analysis. Live in-game betting is where it’s at, a favourite for sportsbooks at the moment.
How do you utilise this experience and an understanding of how NBC’s audience watches sport to help sportsbooks execute strategies for integrated sports streaming content?
It’s a good question. We’ve done probably north of 20 different BetCasts. So, BetCasts are an alternative telecast whilst the main show is live and we’ve done these across our regional sports networks – NBC Sports in Philadelphia, Chicago, we have still got our Washington DC-area network, RSN, which rebranded to Monumental Sports Network in September. We’ve got a few planned for Boston this year.
Let’s use Philadelphia as an example. We’ve got a Philadelphia 76ers game going on the main channel and a live betting show on a secondary channel which we use to discuss live markets, live bets, and follow the game along. When Joel Embiid gets his 11th rebound of the game, we can talk about how and why the over-under was set at 10.5 prior to the game. This allows us to break down the nuts and bolts of betting for an audience that might still be nascent to it. The aim is to prevent it the audience from feeling overwhelming and negate whatever negative stigmatism there might be towards betting.
A secondary channel gives us two and a half hours to talk to an audience about sports betting in a positive, constructive manner with responsible gaming messaging. We know who the audience is because we’re driving the acquisition of new first-time users for our sportsbook partner. And they’re getting that first party data when that person signs up to use their app to use the book. And we learn who they are.
Sports bettors are the perfect viewing audience for sports. They are younger, more affluent, more diverse, they come back more often and watch longer. It’s literally the perfect combination for what you want from ratings. It feeds the cycle for television because if you’ve got younger, more diverse people coming back more often and staying longer, it’ll raise your overall ratings for the show that you’re doing, making it more saleable for non-sportsbook partners.
Now we can sell commercial advertising potentially at a better level. A rising tide lifts all boats. That first market data we get from our partners is to say who’s betting, who’s tuning in to these shows, and that alternative telecasts are compelling in nature. They don’t cannibalise the main show at all. It’s not like we’re detracting from the non-betting telecast.
It allows us to then get first party data where we can market to those folks on a one-to-one basis and hopefully provide them with marketing opportunities that they’re interested in. We view this as an interesting way to speak to viewers in a much more targeted manner than probably anything else we’ve done on TV.
What gaming operators is NBC working with and how are those agreements structured? Are they domestic or global in nature?
All of this is done for domestic rights. We were lucky enough to work with the IOC on our Olympics deal, and if we could do something on a global nature we would. Each sport category has different rules that we must operate within. The NFL is different from the PGA Tour, which is different from NASCAR, which is different from the Premier League. We abide by the rules that the leagues and the governing bodies set for their sport’s gaming rights. Then it’s really about what is most interesting or most desired from the sportsbook.
We’ve partnered with DraftKings this past season for NFL content, BetMGM for our Big Ten collegiate football content, and PointsBet for the last four years for our regional sports networks. They’ve exclusively had our regional sports networks whereby they’ve been able to basically own everything if they’ve wanted to on our RSN air. So, they’ve had NBA, MLB, hockey, you name it. If there was a sports integration that we were doing for sports betting with our RSNs, it was owned by PointsBet.
PointsBet has recently been acquired by Fanatics Sportsbook, so we’re working through that transition as they have now assumed the PointsBet contract, if you will. We do it on a annual basis because the governing bodies update the rights and rules. Taking the NFL as an example, in the States a sportsbook needs to have a deal with the league itself to be an official partner of that league. DraftKings has a deal in place with the NFL where they’re an official partner, whereas PointsBet chose not to do a deal with the NFL, so they have no rights to NFL IP.
This means that if we wanted to do a deal with a non-NFL official partner, unfortunately, we would have to do it where there’s no footage, no marks, and logos. That’s the first block that needs to fall. Does the sportsbook have a deal in place with the league? Depending on the answer, we’re then open to discussing with them about whether it’s for a single season, multi season, what they want to do, what do we want to do, and can we come to terms on value and price.
In terms of KPIs, can a media brand such as NBC successfully convert bettors on masse to an app?
Yes, we can. And we’ve proven that we can. The sportsbooks come up with promo codes. So, first time users sign up and use code SNF for Sunday Night Football. And if somebody signs up and use that code, we get credit, if you will, for a first-time conversion. In the early stages of sports betting, there was a referral fee that you would get like a bounty which was great additional revenue, and we were then incentivised and motivated to help them convert first time users.
Now that has become a little bit more of a normalcy here, the referral fee is sort of gone, but the promo code remains. We’re still being evaluated on whether we’re converting first time users. Secondly, there are user journey paths you can establish by linking from a written article or a video, and then going straight to the sportsbook. The sportsbook can see if they are coming from an NBC Sports platform or an NBC Sports entity and that’s also part of the evaluation process.
Where is NBC on its journey with the betting industry?
I wouldn’t say we’re at the beginning, but it’s still early. I think we’re doing things that other networks aren’t. Like I said, we’ve done north of 20 BetCasts whilst there are other networks that are just starting to try it out. We’ve been doing it for multiple years now. ESPN partnered with Penn, and they’ve created ESPN Bet, where they’ve licensed their name to become a sportsbook. I don’t see that as a direction that NBC Sports is going to go in, namely because the regulatory hurdles you must jump through and the checks that you must do to become a licensed sportsbook operator are very thorough.
I think the next iteration is about how we can make this frictionless? How can we make this easier and more accessible to the sports fan? We know that these people come back more often, stay longer, and it’s better for ratings. I think that’s going to be the holy grail. If we can integrate a book into our cable technology where you don’t need another device, that’s exciting. I would love to be able to work on that and figure that piece out. That’s highly valuable for us and for the book. That partnership could be lucrative for both sides of the coin.