Austin Dillon hasn’t seen the renderings of what his BetMGM-sponsored race car will look like. It could be platinum. It could be black. The 2018 Daytona 500-winner doesn’t really care.
“You know me. I just like shiny things,” he quipped.
No matter the color and no matter how shiny the final paint scheme, his No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet will be attention-getting. Because when BetMGM adorns the car for the first time as primary sponsor it will underscore RCR becoming the first NASCAR team to secure a national sports betting operator as a sponsor.
In a deal announced on Feb. 4, MGM will serve as primary sponsor for multiple races for Dillon and teammate Tyler Reddick’s No. 8 Chevrolet, associate on others and become the “Official Sports Betting Operator of Richard Childress Racing.”
NASCAR has sanctioning body-level partnerships with Penn National Gaming, BetMGM and WynnBet. This, however, is an evolution that titillates a series and a garage full of teams scavenging for funds and groping for new sources of them.
How the BetMGM-Childress deal came together
Jason Golden, RCR senior vice president of revenue and strategy, told PlayUSA that BetMGM will “focus on the states in which they operate,” and is therefore likely to serve as a primary sponsor in the six states where NASCAR races and the sportsbook is licensed. That would make the grand debut on March 7 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Subsequent races fitting both criteria are:
- Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway on March 28 and Sept. 18
- Martinsville (Va.) Speedway on April 10 and Oct. 31
- Richmond (Va.) Raceway on April 18 and Sept. 11
- Nashville Superspeedway on June 20
- Pocono (Pa.) Raceway on June 26-27
- Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Aug. 15
- Michigan International Speedway on Aug. 22
- Las Vegas again on Sept. 26.
Golden would not confirm the number of races where BetMGM will be the primary, however.
BetMGM is also licensed and active for Colorado, New Jersey and West Virginia.
NASCAR drivers have been sponsored by gambling entities in the past, such as Brendan Gaughan, whose father, Michael, owns South Point Hotel, Casino and Spa in Las Vegas. The BetMGM deal, however, is the first for a sports betting brand.
Betting deal a long time coming
Golden said RCR has been pursuing sports betting sponsorship for more than a year. He got there first among a pack of other teams. It was a hindrance in negotiations, he admitted, that NASCAR betting handle remains miniscule nationally compared to professional and college football and basketball, baseball and hockey.
Key in convincing BetMGM to enter a relationship in which individual races cost upwards of $500,000 for a competitive effort was proving through NASCAR and third-party research data that race fans bet on more than stock car races.
“There was an education process on us trying to share with them what we think NASCAR fans and RCR fans would be aligned to do and what they have a propensity to do,” Golden told PlayUSA. “And then the other piece is additional legislation allowing for more sports betting in more states. It’s an easier alignment when you’ve got more critical mass, because our sport is national.
“We’re racing in Florida this weekend where people all over the country are going to see and watch that race and consume that product on a bigger national stage than say, an NBA team that has most of their games on a [regional sports network] and is really kind of talking to their local [area]. So when we got to 10 states and six of which are NASCAR racing states, that’s enough critical mass.”
Sports betting is not legal in Florida, site of the Daytona 500 on Sunday, although that didn’t stop Super Bowl fans from doing so last week.
Sports betting sponsorships may be easier for NASCAR to mitigate
NASCAR outlined a code of gambling restrictions in 2019 which prohibit any stakeholders from betting on races:
“NASCAR Members shall not engage, nor attempt to engage, in any legal or illegal gambling activity …. that in the judgment of NASCAR could represent the potential for a conflict of interest, unsportsmanlike conduct, or other action(s) detrimental to stock car auto racing or NASCAR.”
While Dillon can promote the gambling brand and bet on other sports, NASCAR remains off-limits for him and all co-workers and series employees. Golden said RCR discussed the deal with NASCAR officials before completion and is focusing on activating the sponsorship “in a very proper way.”
For a series that throughout its modern history has had to assess the potential fallout of adult-oriented sponsorships — specifically tobacco and alcohol — NASCAR was cognizant as an organization, Senior Vice President and Chief Digital Officer Tim Clark said, of perception and protocol. NASCAR enlists Sportradar as an integrity partner and in 2020 became the first professional sports league to join the American Gaming Association’s responsible gambling campaign.
“Yes, we see the opportunity from an engagement standpoint, and yes, we see the opportunity from a financial standpoint, but we’ve got to do it the right way. We’ve got to do it responsibly,” Clark told PlayUSA. “There’s certainly some boundaries here that we’re cognizant of and I think those partnerships are critical for those boundaries.”
Clark said he was unaware of any special limitations RCR would face in promoting BetMGM where sports betting is not legal. There have been no such problems activating Penn and Wynn branding in such places, he said.
Dillon, who was espousing sports betting as an engagement tool as early as a year ago, already envisions how he can project his influence beyond the cockpit of a race car.
“From the NASCAR aspect of things, there’s a lot of sports betting platforms can use and I’m interested to see what BetMGM does,” he told PlayUSA. “And I’m thinking about maybe starting a little podcast up just for sports in general for them, just because I have such a love for sports when it comes to basketball, football, baseball, that I’d maybe do like my top 10 picks of the week for sports and kind of help them in that way, just to draw more attention to what that BetMGM is doing.”