MLB Players Allowed To Sign Sports Betting Deals Under CBA That Ended Lockout

Written By Brant James on March 18, 2022 - Last Updated on April 20, 2022
Sportsbook Brand Ambassadors Positions Are Now Available For MLB and NHL Players

Major League Baseball players will be allowed to become paid sports betting brand ambassadors for gambling companies, according to details negotiated in the Collective Bargain Agreement that ended a 99-day lockout.

In a Major League Baseball Players Association memo obtained by various outlets, including The Athletic, the union lays out three major gambling-related developments involving player safety, “investigatory due process,” and personal sports betting sponsorship deals.

The new CBA has been agreed ratified by owners and players but not yet made public.

The memo, as reported by The Athletic, details the following gambling provisions:

  • “All Clubs will be required to institute enhanced ballpark safety measures…”
  • “ … a hotline will be developed for the purpose of reporting threats made against Players or their families relating to sports betting;”
  • “… and it shall be illegal for Major League Baseball and any Club to sell and/or license a Player’s confidential medical information, personal biometric data, or any non-public data used to evaluate Player performance in practices or training sessions.”
  • “… The Sports Betting policy recently negotiated will also enable Players to enter into sponsorship, marketing, and other commercial arrangements with Sports Betting companies (subject to various restrictions).”

Those restrictions were not detailed in the memo to player agents. MLB sports betting currently has sponsorships with seven companies, including DraftKings, FanDuel, and BetMGM.

It’s all a matter of when the players get in on the game. Some of that may depend on when the states where they play legalized sports betting.

“You might not see it this year. Or if you do see it, you’re going to see it very small,” Spotlight Sports Group senior vice president Rick Wolf told PlayUSA. “You’ll see this explode as California, Texas, and Florida flip.”

Field of revenue streams: Baseball players follow NHL comrades into ambassador side hustle

Baseball’s newfound comfort with betting outfits is in keeping with the national trend. But the announcement of a first MLB sportsbook spokesman will certainly be jarring to mainstream sports fans, who are likely to equate gambling and baseball with the Pete Rose and the 1919 White Sox scandals.

Last week, the National Hockey League became the first North American professional league to sanction an active team sports player in becoming a brand ambassador for a sportsbook. After Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid was announced as a spokesperson for BetMGM, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told Catena Media:

“We have negotiated extensively with the NHLPA over how, and on what terms, we can and will permit these types of relationships. We are very comfortable that we ultimately were able to strike the right balance, and that we incorporated appropriate and sufficient safeguards to ensure the integrity of our competition.”

The NHL sports betting endorsement deal with players was agreed upon last October when a 2012 CBA was updated and re-ratified. Specific language concerning gambling sponsorships is not outlined in the memorandum of understanding updating it, however.

Only a notice forbidding betting on NHL games is noted in the CBA. Written five years before the US Supreme Court enabled legal sports betting nationally by striking down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, that CBA could not have foreseen the prospect of players shilling for sportsbooks.

The NHL CBA says nothing about gambling sponsorships while specifically forbidding alcohol – except beer – and tobacco partnerships.

NBA, NFL players can’t reap sportsbook sponsorship bounty yet

The National Basketball Players Association also entered into its last CBA pre-PASPA in 2017. That deal ends after the 2023-24 season. Personal sponsorship sports betting deals will almost certainly be an issue for players, especially considering the lead the league took in harnessing gambling as an engagement tool.

The 2020 NFL CBA deals with the division of gambling-related revenue between management and labor and outlines player conduct, including forbidding betting on NFL games. A player is subject to punishment if he “knowingly associates with gamblers or gambling activity.”

Players are required to comply with their team’s sponsor obligations reasonably – and NFL teams have plenty of gambling affiliations – but there is no language specifically barring them from any type of personal deals. That said, there’s none allowing it, either, and no team has foisted a player to promote a gambling partner yet.

Photo by Shutterstock / Brant James illustration
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Brant James

Brant James is a veteran journalist who has twice been recognized in the Associated Press Sports Editors Awards, most recently in 2020. He's covered motorsports, the National Hockey League and Major League Baseball among a myriad of others beats and written enterprise and sports business for publications including USA TODAY, ESPN.com, SI.com.

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