Sportsbooks Preparing for MLB Lockout with Lessons from COVID Shutdown

Sportsbooks Preparing for MLB Lockout with Lessons from COVID Shutdown article feature image

Omar Rawlings/Getty Images. Pictured: Mike Trout

By: Avery Yang and Sam McQuillan

A stalemate in labor negotiations has already cost Major League Baseball the first two weeks of its 2022 season. Now sportsbooks are gearing up to make sure it doesn’t cost them.

Baseball accounts for 25% of all bets placed between April and October in places that report data by sport. That's roughly $7.5 billion nationwide, according to figures from the American Gaming Association.

“MLB is BetMGM’s mainstream summer sport and revenue driver,” said Matt Cosgriff, director of trading at BetMGM. “To go without it would not be ideal.”

With the very distinct possibility that the 2022 season will suffer a prolonged lockout, sportsbooks are discussing how they’ll lean on other sports, a strategy they employed when COVID-19 desolated the American sports calendar in 2020.

Most sportsbooks have already taken down odds on MLB team win totals. Many never offered MLB futures at all, with the season calendar in limbo.

PointsBet is considering an increase in marketing for other summer sports such as the WNBA and MLS, said Michael Korn, a trading content analyst at the sportsbook.

With a gap between March and July 2020 that featured no major U.S. sports, the company leaned heavily on nontraditional sports, with Russian table tennis its biggest revenue driver, said Patrick Eichner, PointsBet’s senior director of communications.

“That’s not PointsBet specific either — that’s for all the books,” Eichner said.

FanDuel is exploring how to get creative with daily fantasy sports and free-to-play offerings, said Kevin Hennessy, director of publicity at the sportsbook, who added that the last time it dealt with a shorter sports calendar it even offered odds on game shows like Survivor.

“It’s always great to have MLB available for customers but we have been through it before in the pandemic,” he said.

Other leagues outside of the United States dominated the landscape during pandemic shutdowns, like the Belarusian Extraleague (hockey), Korean Baseball Organization, Chinese Professional Baseball League and Liga Primera de Nicaragua (soccer).

And niché American leagues like the UFC — the first U.S. sports organization to return after the start of the pandemic — saw betting handles reach record highs during the spring and summer of 2020.

So, sportsbooks will harken back to those strategies in upcoming months, should MLB hold firm on their work stoppage. Until more games are formally canceled however, books are hesitant to commit to a specific plan. Most are still holding out hope for their largest summer revenue driver.

In discussions with nine different sportsbooks, FanDuel was the only one to get into specific examples regarding how it would make up for lost revenue.

“I think every [sportsbook] is thinking like, ‘We’re just going to get through March Madness, get through online remote registration in Illinois and conference tournaments.’ By then, we’ll hopefully know where we stand,” Eichner said.

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