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What Turner Sports, DraftKings, FanDuel get from partnership 

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Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Surrogate advertising.

It’s the term one sports executive used when describing Thursday’s sports betting media deal with Turner Sports featuring DraftKings and FanDuel. The executive said the sports wagering companies are still competing for brand exposure and market share to position their future paths to revenue.

“It’s a good play for both Turner and DraftKings,” said Chris Lencheski, the chairman of private equity consulting company Phoenicia and CEO of Granite Bridge Partners‘ Winning Streak Sports, when speaking about the partnership to CNBC.

Under the deal, Turner — which is part of AT&T‘s WarnerMedia — will integrate betting information from DraftKings and FanDuel into content from TNT, TBS and Bleacher Report, and will collect referral fees if betters place wagers through the sites.

For instance, Turner’s TNT network might send out a mobile push alert about an NBA game whose score is tied in the fourth quarter, along with FanDuel’s odds on the game based on that score. Recipients could click on the link to place a bet through FanDuel’s site. Turner will also license content for DraftKings and FanDuel to integrate directly into their sites.

The U.S. sports betting market is growing with 18 states, and Washington D.C., already active. Betting revenue is showing, too, as New Jersey reported its sportsbooks “collected $3.3 billion in bets through the first nine months of 2020,” with roughly $750 million in bets for September, according to PlayNJ.

Lencheski said sports betting companies want to secure potential revenue sources with media agreements while making their own wager that more consumers will join to grow the industry.

“These are a path to revenue deals,” said Lencheski, also a adjunct professor at Columbia University. “They might be looking down the road, where the path to revenue starts with this deal, and lead to significant, incremental revenue because they had the path built first.”

What Turner wants

Each of the properties wants something from Thursday’s pact.

Turner Sports is trying to drive excitement to boost ratings, as viewership for the National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball has been down.

There are various reasons for the decline in sports ratings, including consumption habits changing, a presidential election year and a pandemic.

The expectation is viewership will bounce back next year, but after such a sharp fall, sports leagues and the networks that carry them will need to make just as sharp a comeback to justify higher advertising rates.

Will Funk, Turner Sports’ executive vice president, sports partnerships and branded content, said there is a “competitive fight for eyeballs with a lot going on these days” as he explained how this agreement could help TNT.

Funk identified sports wagering as “a key role in driving viewership” for its NBA postseason games and The Match 2 event in May featuring Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.

The outing attracted 5.8 million viewers, the most-watched golf event in cable history, and featured wagering content provided by DraftKings.

On the NBA front, though the league experienced a ratings hit, Funk said the network’s “TNT Bets” simulcast for NBA games showed engagement growth. The separate airing provided “real-time data and analytics” during the NBA’s bubble postseason for sports bettors.

Funk said consumers are “more inclined to watch for a longer period of time if they are also either betting, playing fantasy sports, or free to play games in conjunction with the viewership of the game.

“Time spent viewing converts to higher ratings,” Funk added. “And higher ratings for us, that’s how we run our business, and then we’re able to monetize the advertising in that property.”

Turner Sports will also gain revenue from the partnerships through fees associated with helping the betting companies land customers.

Asked about the revenue from the fees, Funk declined to provide specific financials of the agreements but added, “there is certainly a partnership aspect to this where we’re incentivized to help them grow their businesses, and we’ll be doing that.”

The company will use its Bleacher Report app to help track metrics associated with new betting consumers. It envisions a more in-depth app and wants to engage Bleacher’s roughly 9 million users through their mobile devices.

Inside FanDuel’s NBA play

Under the agreement, FanDuel becomes the exclusive betting partner for Turner Sports’ NBA content. The company provided data and analytics on TNT’s simulcast games and received brand exposure on the network’s popular “Inside the NBA” show.

FanDuel wants to continue leveraging the show to entice fans to bet on games, using former NBA superstars Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’ Neal for assistance.

“It’s such iconic programming,” said FanDuel’s chief marketing officer, Mike Raffensperger, in an interview with CNBC on Thursday. “They’re great, and they’re fun to watch.”

FanDuel will also build on its partnership with tech company Simplebet. The firm is developing its micro-betting platform and currently using a free-to-play football game on FanDuel for potential betters to learn micro-betting. Simplebet allows users to wager on quick odds like which player will make the next catch or will the next call be a passing or running play.

Raffensperger said the company would develop a basketball version of the free game in time for the next NBA season as it will continue collecting data on fan engagement before transitioning the technology into real-money bets.

“Real-time betting and micro-betting are probably the future of sports betting,” Funk said.

Expect FanDuel to add more media partnerships and align with influencers to continue building its brand awareness and attract consumers.

Raffensperger also said the company is “excited about the momentum” of more states allowing sports betting, especially as they seek additional tax dollars to make up for Covid-19 losses.

FanDuel is monitoring Tennessee and Michigan as the next markets to open up mobile betting as the company looks to expand. Ohio and Massachusetts are also on the radar, according to Raffensperger.

A general view of a ‘March Madness’ logo is seen during practice before the First Round of the NCAA Basketball Tournament at Vivint Smart Home Arena on March 20, 2019 in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Patrick Smith | Getty Images

Access to the ecosystem

DraftKings will have rights to Turner’s Major League Baseball games. In addition, rumors have started to circulate about another major golf competition — The Match 3.

Funk declined to comment when asked about a third golf event but did confirm DraftKings would be the “partner” should the game occur.

Aligning with Turner Sports will help grow its brand, but DraftKings has been using other deals like an equity partnership with Michael Jordan and agreements with the New York Giants and Chicago Cubs to grow its name.

This deal allows DraftKings to access the Turner Sports ecosystem, and the NCAA could be key.

Turner has the NCAA college basketball March Madness event locked in until 2032. That’s more than enough time for the NCAA to change its perspective about allowing betting to create its new stream of revenue, especially as name, image and likeness policies become effective.

Funk said the network isn’t “activating around our college sports platforms” at the present time but didn’t rule out DraftKings as its partner should the college property, even on a branding/sponsorship deal, open up.

“If it becomes available, it’s something we’ll talk about” Funk said. “At this point, it’s not on the table.”

But by aligning itself now, DraftKings could make itself eligible for some of the projected $8.5 billion in wagering on NCAA basketball games.

That would give it another revenue path to sustain its future.

Disclosure: CNBC parent Comcast and NBC Sports are investors in FanDuel.


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Nationwide reduces Flex travel insurance cover for Covid cancellations | Money

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Nationwide building society has announced a significant downgrade to the travel insurance it provides to Flex account customers that means trips booked from 1 January 2021 will not be covered if the account holder is forced to make one of a number of Covid-related cancellations.

The popular insurance, which is supplied for worldwide travel as part of the £13-a-month FlexPlus current account and European trips on standard Flex accounts, currently offers cancellation cover if lockdown or other rules change after a holiday has been booked.

However, for trips booked from 1 January, it will no longer pay out if the Foreign Office changes its advice post-booking and warns against all but essential travel.

Equally, if the insured or a travelling companion are forced to abandon the trip because they have been told to self-isolate – even though they do not actually have coronavirus – they will again be unable to reclaim their losses. It is the same story if your pre-booked accommodation goes into local lockdown.

The building society says it will still pay cancellation claims if the policyholder, a travelling companion or a close relative are diagnosed with the coronavirus after they booked the trip. It will also pay emergency medical expenses abroad if they are diagnosed with Covid-19 while abroad.

Cutting a trip short because of a change in Foreign Office advice, as long as you were not aware of this advice when you travelled, will also be covered.

Until this week’s announcement, Nationwide’s FlexPlus policy was one of the few offering cancellation cover to those caught up in a change of advice by the Foreign Office.

A few specialist insurers still offer this cover at a price.

Currently, UK travellers can only travel to a handful of destinations without having to quarantine, while the government is still advising against holidaying in many popular destinations.


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Cold comfort: UK outdoor swimming venues stay open to meet demand | Business

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The nights are drawing in; it is chilly and damp. But these are ideal conditions, it seems, for the country’s newly converted army of outdoor swimming fans.

In the summer, the pandemic closed indoor swimming pools across the UK – about one in five have yet to reopen – and thousands of swimmers started taking regular dips in open-air pools, lakes and rivers as an alternative.

At one point, demand was so high that the Outdoor Swimming Society was forced to take down its map of wild swimming spots in an attempt to prevent overcrowding.

But colder weather, more challenging water temperatures and the discomfort of wriggling into dry clothing in public is failing to deter many of the converts.

The National Open Water Coaching Association (Nowca), which operates bookings for 30 open-water venues in England and Scotland, from Manley Mere in Cheshire and Portobello Beach in Edinburgh to London Royal Docks, said the number of swimmers in October was up fourfold or 323% year on year, after a 60% rise in swimmers over the summer.

Better, which manages leisure services for local councils around the country, said it was keeping its West Reservoir venue in east London open for swimming into the winter for the first time this year because of the high demand.

The number of swimmers attending West Reservoir has soared from 1,600 in 2019 to 19,000 this year, making it busier than some of the heated pools on Better’s roster.

Visits to the group’s outdoor lidos are also up despite limitations on visitor numbers to facilitate social distancing.

At the popular London Fields heated lido in north London, numbers were up nearly 25% between August and October as swimmers have kept ploughing up and down the lanes in the cooler weather.

Andrew Clark, at Better’s parent company GLL, said people were desperate to get their swimming costumes back on once lockdown ended because “it is not an activity you can re-create with a virtual class like Jo Wicks. The prolonged closure of indoor pools forced people to try outdoor swimming. That’s created people who have said, ‘This is me now’ [and they have carried on into the autumn].”

He said the obvious health benefits had combined with a trend in exercise for “more experiences and something to brag about” by swimming outdoors in the cold.

Swim England says the health benefits include better sleep, circulation and increased happiness. A report published last week suggested that outdoor swimming could even delay dementia.

South London swimming club (SLSC), which manages winter swimming at the unheated Tooting Bec Lido, said more than 330 additional members had signed up this year, with double the number of people swimming daily in October compared with last year – despite the pool temperature now dropping to about 11C (52F).

Margy Sullivan, SLSC’s membership secretary, said more under 45-year-olds had signed up than usual: “It’s a much younger demographic. Outdoor swimming became the thing in the summer when pools were closed and a lot of people took to the sea and rivers and lakes. People discovered they could swim outside.”

She said the switch to working from home had made it easier for locals to pop in for a morning or lunchtime swim, while the younger generation had committed to the sport by buying the latest kit, such as changing robes and gloves.

The surge in outdoor swimming has been a boon for kit suppliers. Sales of swimsuits are down because of the closure of indoor pools, but cold water gear is thriving.

Frostfire, which makes the Moonwrap waterproof changing robe, said sales were nearly three times those of last year and its factory has been working at maximum capacity as demand continues into the autumn.

The online sports retailer Wiggle said demand for wetsuits was up by 80%, and sales of accessories such as neoprene socks, caps, and gloves – vital for many open-water swimmers to keep fingers and toes warm – are up by more than 150%.

However, not all outdoor swimmers are looking to chill out. At Hathersage pool in the Peak District, where the water is heated to 28C in October, the number of swimmers taking a dip this month is nearly three times that of last year, and there has been a surge of almost 90% since July, despite social distancing limitations.

George Foy, the pool’s assistant manager, said: “People want to be outdoors. In this Covid situation, all the advice points to being outdoors as much as possible, and once people have been here, they see how they can swim into October.”


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You don’t need a search engine to see why Google won’t lose this lawsuit | John Naughton | Opinion

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So, in the dying days of Trump’s first term, the US Department of Justice (DoJ) has finally taken Google to court. Attorney general William Barr, in conjunction with the AGs of 11 states, has filed a 58-page complaint under the Sherman Act “to restrain Google LLC (Google) from unlawfully maintaining monopolies in the markets for general search services, search advertising and general search text advertising in the United States through anticompetitive and exclusionary practices, and to remedy the effects of this conduct”.

Google’s initial response was predictable: a blog post headed “A deeply flawed lawsuit that would do nothing to help consumers”. The DoJ’s lawsuit, apparently, “is deeply flawed. People use Google because they choose to, not because they’re forced to, or because they can’t find alternatives.” There then follow useful animated gifs showing how easy it is to change your preferred search engine on your phone etc. But of course there’s no mention of the anticompetitive behaviour cited in the government’s suit.

So far, so predictable. But this sudden outbreak of regulatory zeal in the DoJ raises two questions. The first is: what took it so long? The second is: why now? Of these, the second is easiest to answer. There’s an election coming and Bill Barr wants to be seen as fulfilling his boss’s threat to “do something” about the tech companies that, Trump believes, have recently turned against him by suddenly refusing their traditional role as relay stations and amplifiers for his lies.

The first question – about why it took so long for US authorities to complain about corporate behaviour that had been obvious for years and, indeed, had provoked responses from the European commission – is interesting. There are at least three explanations for the regulatory somnolence of several US administrations (including that of the sainted Obama).

The first is what one can only call legislative dazzlement. For well over a decade, lawmakers everywhere were hypnotised by Silicon Valley. Prime ministers and presidents alike craved an invitation to the campuses of the tech giants, where they could bask in the reflected glory of a new generation of teenage billionaires. And this translated into a lot of backroom influence for the companies. One thinks, for example, of the way Google’s former chairman Eric Schmidt became a fixture in the inner councils of the Obama administration and the Democratic party. And of the servility with which municipalities abased themselves in the hope that Amazon would deign to land a warehouse or even an office in their neighbourhoods.

A second reason is ideological. With their contempt for regulation, their views on state incapacity and their aversion to paying taxes, the tech companies were cheerleaders for neoliberalist ideas about unshackling corporations, especially when they did stuff that dazzled politicians and the media – and provided “free” services that voters loved and valued.

And then there was the shift in judicial thinking about antitrust triggered in the late 1970s by the prominent legal thinker Robert Bork and promulgated by the economics and law faculties of the University of Chicago. The essence of this new philosophy was that the size and dominance of corporations were only a problem if they resulted in consumer harm, inevitably measured by prices. And if the products were “free” (Google, Facebook and Twitter, say), where was the consumer harm?

These three factors shaped the unregulated environment in which the tech giants flourished. So the big question now is whether that era is coming to an end. Europeans have been thinking that for a while (though the news has yet to reach the Republic of Ireland, which is still in thrall to digital monopolies). The US was slower off the mark and the first, farcical congressional hearings last year did not bode well. But then a few weeks ago we had the majority report of a subcommittee of the House of Representatives after it had conducted a major investigation of Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google, which concluded that they were all, in their different ways, abusive monopolists. And now comes Tuesday’s legal action by the Department of Justice.

I’m no lawyer, but the chances of the Justice Department winning this one seem slim because it is focusing on the wrong targets – search dominance and special deals with Apple and other companies that supposedly hobble competition. It’s as if nobody in Washington read the papers of the European commission’s actions against Google in 2010 over its suppression of independent shopping comparison sites in favour of its own. (In 2017 the company was found guilty and fined $2.7bn.) This was, as the veteran observer of the tech industry Charles Arthur observed on Wednesday, “the right move and concerned with the correct topic: that Google was manipulating search to favour its own products over what consumers evidently wanted. Effectively, that’s annexation: using your power in the market to push others out of an adjacent market.”

A cynical observer may conclude that the attorney general isn’t really interested in winning this case. And that would be an astute assessment: the lawsuit is a token gesture to keep the boss off his back. And, besides, Barr will be on gardening leave after 20 January so he won’t give a damn.

What I’ve been reading

Does no one get Covid?
It Wasn’t Just Trump Who Got it Wrong is a bracing piece by Zeynep Tufekci on how the reality-based, science-friendly information sources many of us depend on largely failed to understand the pandemic.

Biden – his time?
Joe Biden Has Changed is an intriguing essay by Franklin Foer in the Atlantic on how Trump’s opponent has been altered by the campaign.

Seeing is believing
How to write a reference for a student in the age of Zoom. Or perhaps not. Lovely piece by Matt Cheung in McSweeney’s.


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