Morning Buzz

Caesars entering New York with huge MSG deal

By Bill King
Comic JB Smoove plays Caesar in the company's familiar ad campaignmsg

Caesars Sportsbook will enter the soon-to-open New York betting market behind a sweeping MSG deal that includes sponsorship of both the Knicks and Rangers, branding of a premium club in the arena’s lower bowl and development of an MSG Network series featuring comic JB Smoove, who plays Caesar in the company’s familiar ad campaign. Caesars also gets a fleet of traditional marketing and advertising assets, including TV-visible signs, in-arena video features, on-court and on-ice promotions, digital advertising across team/MSG platforms and digital boards in the plaza outside the arena and in the nearby Moynihan Train Hall at Penn Station.

“When we looked around and said who’s the best partner we could choose, this seemed like a fairly obvious outcome, actually,” said Caesars Digital co-President Eric Hession. “When you looked at the assets that they have ... you end up with a really great package that can all be used in different ways. And it’s in the most populous city in the most populous state where we can have sports betting.” Expected to open to online sports betting in time for the Super Bowl, New York last month approved nine sportsbooks for online licenses: Caesars, FanDuel, DraftKings, BetMGM, PointsBet, WynnBet, Bally Bet, Resorts World and Kambi (operating for BetRivers). MSG has struck deals with Caesars and BetMGM and may add a third sportsbook. Long-time DFS sponsor DraftKings previously held the category exclusively.

Though executives from Caesars and MSG would not discuss financials, the scope of their deal, which includes a connection to two franchises and exposure at the epicenter of N.Y. transit and across MSG Network, likely will make it the most expansive, and expensive, sportsbook sponsorship in what is expected to be the nation’s busiest sports betting market. “We are privileged in that our home base sits atop the largest commuter hub in North America in Penn Station and that New York state is projected to be the largest gaming market in the country,” said MSG Entertainment Exec VP/Marketing Partnerships Ron Skotarczak. “It starts with, we’re privileged. But we also understand our portfolio and the value we can deliver.”

The deal checked a series of boxes for Caesars, which has moved aggressively to make up ground after acquiring William Hill and re-launching both its retail locations and mobile app under the Caesars Sportsbook moniker in August. The premium club not only gives it access to market to high-end patrons at the top of the arena’s lower level, but also will serve as a perk for Caesars Rewards members, amplifying a differentiation that the brand has played up in its ad campaign. Now known as the Madison Club, the space will get a makeover at the end of this season, re-opening with Caesars branding and boards posting lines and odds in time for '22-23. It will remain a ticketed area, with Caesars and MSG still working out the specifics of how rewards program members will be integrated, Skotarczak said. The club also will serve as a host for celebrity appearances tied to the rewards program.

The connection between Smoove and MSG was serendipitous. Raised in nearby Mt. Vernon, he grew up a Knicks fan and, after a successful run on HBO’s "Curb Your Enthusiasm," landed an interview show that premiered on MSG in '13. “Four Courses with JB Smoove,” which featured Smoove dining with athletes and celebrities, was the precursor for the new Caesars-sponsored MSG show “One Course with JB Smoove,” which will touch on a range of topics, integrating Caesars odds and lines when the talk turns to betting. “He happens to be a huge sports fan and New York sports fan, so it just seemed like a natural fit,” Hession said. “When you have a talent like him and an ad campaign that seems to be resonating with people like ours is, we really wanted to try to do something different that our competitors couldn’t match.”

Caesars is no stranger to the more expensive tier of team deals, having signed on for $10M a year for naming rights to the Superdome, paying about $6M a year for access in Arizona through a deal that includes a downtown retail location at Chase Field and inheriting a retail sportsbook at Capital One Arena from William Hill. Though Hession wouldn’t speak specifically about financials, he said the opportunity in New York could be classed with the highest tier. “Given the fact that these are a premier set of assets in a state like New York that arguably is going to be the biggest sports betting state immediately once it opens, you’d expect that this would be on the higher end of the spectrum when you talk about various deals,” Hession said. “Plus, it’s not just one team, it’s two teams. It’s the broadcasting. It’s the signage. It’s the millions of people that go by. It really is more than a typical deal you’d see.”

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