NBC Sports has begun exploring football betting with a live predictive gaming telecast. During the NFL preseason opener between Washington and Cleveland, fans within NBC Sports Washington’s broadcast area could place game predictions, and collect cash prizes. So while the Browns won 30-10, some Washington fans may still have left as winners.
The preseason alternate broadcasts are available through NBC Sports Washington Plus, the same overflow channel that produced a betting-themed broadcast for eight Wizards games this past NBA season. Fans can answer questions through NBCSW’s “Predict The Game,” available both via a mobile app and online.
Contestants are served as many as 80 questions per game, with a $1,000 prize available for the fan with the most correct answers per quarter. During the first game there were six cash winners, two fans winning quarters outright to collect $1,000 each, and another four splitting the lead to take away $500.
“When it comes to sports betting, we are looking at the casual bettor. We’re not going after the high rollers. We want this to be fun, to be microtransactions over time,” says Damon Phillips, GM of NBC Sports Washington. “When it comes to predictive gaming, we’re trying to engage the casual fan who maybe they would have watched 30 minutes, but now they’re going to watch 45 minutes or maybe they would’ve watched an hour and now they’ll watch an hour and a half.”
The Predict The Game app was previously used for select Washington Wizards games during the 2018-19 NBA season. The alternate broadcasts for those games included in-game betting features such as odds and point spreads. Much of the betting-specific content was stripped out of the NFL version, but the system can still be viewed as a test of sports gambling content.
“This is the precursor for really sports betting once it goes national. The networks are able to use it and experiment with this to see what would be working in sports betting,” said Kevin Annison, an executive at iPowow, the platform that powers NBCSW’s predictive app.
iPowow previously built a fan-voting app for NBC Sports Chicago and a prediction game for this year’s Oscars. The predictive platform has evolved each time. NBCSW’s prediction contest for Wizards games awarded just one prize to one fan at the end of each basketball game, but the NFL contest spreads the prize money out to winning fans per quarter.
“The way we’ve designed this game is very different from what we do with the Wizards because we’ve learned a lot,” Phillips said. “Fans want instant gratification. With this [NFL game], we’ve shortened that window to lower the barriers so fans can win on a quarterly basis.”
There is also now a real-time leaderboard for the NFL games that tracks a user’s standing against the field of competition, and a new feature that lets fans go back to see how they answered previous questions.
iPowow envisions its free-to-play prediction platform spreading beyond just fans watching on TV or mobile device. Annison says the company is talking to representatives within golf, the NBA, the NFL, the NHL, and college football teams about bringing its gaming platform inside venues.
“We are speaking to a number of in-venue teams and leagues about gamifying the experience at their events in real time that is not connected to the TV at all,” Annison says. “It would be a call to action on the big screen and then an announcement telling the audience to go play along in real time [on their mobile device].”
Shortly after NBC Sports Washington debuted its NFL prediction game, the Los Angeles Rams launched their own free-to-play game for Rams preseason games. That game was developed by Tally, and is more widely playable across the U.S., though it does not offer cash prizes and is not connected to an alternate broadcast. (And the two teams are not set to play each other this year.)
The Jets, though, can claim to have been the first team to launch a predictive gaming app, having released I Called It back in 2017. That game was created by Xperiel.
To win prizes this preseason via the NBCSW app, participants must be legal residents of the NBC Sports Washington territory and be at least 18 years old. The broadcast area includes all of Washington D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, as well as parts of Delaware, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and North Carolina.
So far, Washington D.C., West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Delaware have all fully legalized sports betting. North Carolina, though, only permits it on Native American-owned retail locations. Virginia has yet to pass any law related to legalizing sports betting.
“We’re watching the betting regulation very closely. It’s a very fluid space and it’s going to be different in each of the states or districts that we operate in. Our feeling here is we want to be ready for whatever happens,” Phillips explained. “And the way we get ready is by doing free to play games, by getting reps and getting a lot of practice and learning. So when sports betting becomes legalized in all the states in our footprint, we’re ready to roll.”
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