Sports Illustrated Picks Colorado For Company’s First-Ever Sportsbook

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Online gambling operator 888 and Authentic Brands Group, owner of the Sports Illustrated brand, on Wednesday announced an exclusive partnership to develop SI-branded online gambling products in regulated U.S. online gambling markets.

888 will power a SI Sportsbook, which is expected to first launch in Colorado in the second half of this year.

“We are delighted to announce this strategic partnership, enabling us to accelerate our investment into the U.S., which represents one of the most exciting long-term growth opportunities for our company,” Itai Pazner, CEO of Gibraltar-based 888 Holdings, said in a statement.

“Sports Illustrated is an iconic sports media brand, with high awareness and consumer loyalty,” he added. “This agreement provides us access to millions of engaged sports fans across the U.S., giving us a high-volume and cost-effective customer acquisition channel, and great content to engage sports fans. We are excited about the potential to deliver our cutting-edge, proprietary sportsbook platform into the market, providing Sports Illustrated fans with a first-class betting and gaming experience.”

Jamie Salter, founder, chairman and CEO of ABG, commented: “Sports wagering represents a large and high-growth market, allowing us to diversify the brand’s revenue streams and engage directly with our sports consumers, broadening the reach of the brand. 888 is one of the leaders in online betting and gaming globally and has outstanding technology, products and marketing capabilities, and we are excited to partner with them to offer an innovative product experience for sports fans.”

Last December, 888Sport received licensing approval in the Centennial State when regulators approved its temporary Internet Sports Betting Operator license at a Colorado Limited Gaming Control Commission (LGCC) meeting. 888 previously gained access to the Colorado market through an agreement with Colorado Grande Casino in Cripple Creek.

Exclusive advertising rights with SI

The agreement includes “certain exclusive advertising and editorial integration rights on select Sports Illustrated branded digital assets,” according to a news release. ABG will receive “certain brand license and affiliate fees, and a minority passive interest” in 888’s U.S. “licensed [business-to-consumer] activity.”

888 also agreed to a minimum annual advertising commitment on certain ABG media assets.

Sports Illustrated was purchased by ABG in 2019 for $110 million, despite SI ad revenue being on the decline. At the time of the acquisition, ABG was eyeing new licensing opportunities with the brand thanks to legal and regulated gambling, made possible by 2018’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

The ABG purchase followed the acquisition of SI by Meredith Corp. in 2018 as part of its purchase of Time Inc.

Why Colorado for the initial launch?

The Centennial State has a very industry-friendly market, highlighted by licensing fees of less than $100,000 and a 10% tax rate on sports betting revenue. Colorado sportsbooks handled $2.32 billion in wagers between launch in May 2020 and the end of April 2021, according to figures from Sports Handle.

The state also has a robust population of 5.77 million as of last year’s census. The state’s population grew nearly 15% from 2010, making it one of the fastest-growing states in the country. The state also has what is considered a diehard sports fan base, though many states can lay claim to that as well.

Regulators with the LGCC have also been at the cutting edge of the online sports betting marketplace when it comes to approving events for wagering. For example, Colorado appears to be the first state in the country to approve wagering on the upcoming FIDE World Chess Championship. Other states more than likely will approve it, but Colorado was out in front.

All considered, Colorado is a good first market for a Sports Illustrated sportsbook.

Sports Illustrated casino?

Colorado doesn’t yet allow online casino gambling alongside sports betting, like other markets such as New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. SI could be an iffy brand when it comes to blackjack or poker.

The presser announcing the 888 and SI arrangement didn’t mention online casino, but it referenced “iGaming products” which means more than sports betting. So it appears the idea of a SI online casino could come to fruition in markets that allow the activity.

SI would sort of be in the same boat as Barstool Sports, which of course is predominantly known for its sports content. Barstool is also an online casino brand, and in the state of Michigan, for example, it’s not yet a major player for online casino market share.

ESPN, another brand known for sports, is eyeing an online gambling product as well.

The crossover between sports bettors and online casino players is there, though.

Brian served as a senior reporter and online content manager for Card Player Magazine for nearly a decade before joining USBets in October 2018. He is currently focused on legal and regulated sports betting and online gaming. He's an avid jiu-jitsu practitioner in his free time.

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