At times, I can be a contrarian.
Not in the willfully difficult Jason Whitlock way, but more in the “everyone is zigging, so I’m going to zag” kind of way. Like, when the Buffalo Bills took Josh Allen and fans started hating on the pick, I started to like it. (I try to unpack this a bit in an upcoming episode of The Other 51).
So when the news broke earlier this week that the Supreme Court had ruled that sports gambling could be legalized on a state-by-state basis, and the flood of stories and takes hit the market that this was going to CHANGE EVERYTHING about sports, sports media and sports journalism, I hesitated a bit.
I’m prepared to be wrong on this. I am prepared to be loud wrong on this. But I don’t see massive changes coming to sports, sports media and sports journalism.
The main reason why is that there’s already so much interest in sports in this country. Is this going to bring more interest? Is legalized gambling going to bring new people to sports? I don’t think so.
Are more people going to bet? At first, probably. There will be the novelty factor. The first time people can legally bet on a football Sunday, or on the NCAA Tournament will probably bring a huge wave of betting. But I feel like that will wear off. The people most likely to gamble a lot are already doing it through less-than-legal ways, so they’re going to doing the same thing — only in a regulated space.
As far as sports media? Bryan Curtis at The Ringer put it best when he wrote that sports media has been normalizing sports gambling for years:
”The old, priggish media institutions are no longer effective censors. Sports pages like (Stanley Woodward’s) died or withered away. And whatever squeamishness might have haunted ESPN — which let Chris Berman, Norm Hitzges, and Hammerin’ Hank Goldberg pick games for years — has been replaced by the mandate “connect with viewers at any cost.”
The idea of changes to sports journalism is an interesting one. Josh Benton of Nieman Lab writes:
Because an awful lot of sports reporting is about to move from entertainment information — stuff you read because you enjoy it — to production information — stuff you read because you think it’ll help you make money.
This, in a lot of ways, flies in the face of a lot of the trends we’ve been seeing in sports journalism. In the past few years, it feels like a not-insignificant number of news organizations have been moving away from the lineup-injury-roster news style of sports journalism. If they can’t beat ESPN on these stories, they don’t try. They’ve been moving toward more analysis pieces, features, longford. This is the bet The Athletic is making.
I don’t know if I see local newspapers getting back into the utilitarian sports news space just because gambling’s legal. Will there be a thirst for that knowledge? Sure. But ESPN’s already doing it. Nothing’s changed in that regard.
Like I said, I’m prepared to be wrong on this.
But I don’t see the cataclysmic changes coming to sports media because of legalized gambling.