Athletic departments at major universities have sponsors across an array of industries and gambling companies are among the newest category to many such institutions. Like for any other business that partners with a gambling company, it’s important to understand that cross-promotional activities aren’t as simple as putting out an email blast advertising a sale on a tankless water heater.
A LSU Caesars marketing email featuring a promotion for LSU’s official sports betting partner, Caesars Sportsbook, went out to at least some undergraduate students at the university earlier this month. The sportsbook’s response reinforces that there’s no room to treat that as a non-issue.
What happened with the LSU Caesars marketing email
Some questions remain about the incident, mostly because LSU’s athletic department has maintained radio silence about it. An email to the department seeking comment has not yet been responded to. This is the message in question, though.
Because of LSU’s silence on the matter, there’s a lot to speculate about. The details could provide a lot of context to guide understanding of the situation.
What we still don’t know about this
Among questions LSU has not provided any insight into are:
- Whether this email went out to all undergraduate students at the university
- If so, how that happened
- If not, how the department decided which students would and wouldn’t get the email
- Whether any of the students who got the email are currently members of any of its varsity athletic teams
- Whether this email also went out to any people who are not currently undergraduate students at the university and if so, whom
Caesars did provide a little insight in a statement, however.
“We are committed to upholding our promise not to market to LSU students. Through our partnership with LSU Athletics, they agreed to send exclusive promotions to their 21+ database of fans and alumni. Our contract with LSU Athletics expressly requires them to remove any and all LSU-based student accounts, regardless of age, from any list to which our promotions will be sent. We are disappointed that this did not happen, and this message was shared with students. We have asked our partners at LSU Athletics to identify and solve the system breakdown that led to this distribution.”
It’s possible that there was simply some miscommunication in the athletic department’s marketing team about which email list this particular campaign should use.
Athletic departments pushing their sponsors’ products to their customer bases via email is no new or rare thing.
That further exposes the issue, though. It’s one that LSU isn’t alone in at all. These athletic departments act like businesses when it suits their needs.
Then, when that isn’t preferential, they play the educational mission card.
Another example of college sports’ inconsistencies
In its institutional mission statement, LSU says it wants to challenge students to,
“Achieve the highest levels of intellectual and personal development.” It also speaks to a desire to use its resources to solve “social challenges.”
It’s interesting, then, that the athletic department under the institution’s auspices is promoting a sportsbook to college students.
The National Council on Problem Gambling says college-aged participants in its research showed signs of being at the highest risk for developing a pathological gambling issue. Not quite a challenge to achieve the highest level of personal development, is it?
The inconsistency becomes worse when you consider what could have been. When online sports betting launched in most of Louisiana on Jan. 28, LSU had all the expertise and resources of Caesars at its behest. Caesars has decades of experience in best practices around responsible gambling.
A university resource, the GEAUX-MAIL system, could have distributed an email containing information about how to gamble responsibly.
The same email could have featured links to resources. In that way, LSU could have used its resource to work toward solving the social challenge of problem gambling.
Instead, LSU chose to use its resources to promote one of its sponsors. LSU isn’t alone in this regard. Several other college athletic programs count gambling companies among their sponsors.
In that space, they need to pick a lane. They either need to separate themselves from the schools they use as a tax shield or they need to put the institutions’ mission into actual practice.
Doing the latter would be of great service to students. The current approach, though, is a disservice to the same.