The last remaining purveyor of jai alai action in the United States has a deal with ESPN to give the sport more exposure.
Magic City Jai Alai and ESPN announced on Monday that ESPN2 will air a one-hour special on Magic City’s reimagined version of the world’s fastest ball sport at 8 p.m. ET Tuesday. ESPN then will stream the casino’s Battle Court season on ESPN3 starting with the first games in late September.
Magic City, which boasts the only active fronton in the U.S., launched its version of jai alai, which deviates from the traditional version of the game, five years ago and had its first Battle Court season last year. Battle Court places the players on four teams — the Cesta Cyclones, Chula Chargers, Rebote Renegades, and Wall Warriors — against each other in singles and doubles matches, with the season running Sept. 23 through Nov. 18.
Magic City’s chief operating officer, Scott Savin, told US Bets in January that, while the casino has yet to make a profit on jai alai, it will continue to offer it through at least the end of the 2023 season.
Part of jai alai’s revival?
Jai alai once was a popular sports betting option in Florida and along a few parts of the Eastern seaboard before a players’ strike in the 1990s and the decoupling of parimutuel wagering and casino offerings in the Sunshine State two years ago nearly wiped it out. Savin revived the sport by amending its rules to make it more TV friendly and breaking the players’ union by offering to train former athletes from the University of Miami to play jai alai.
For ESPN, the move brings jai alai — invented four centuries ago in the Basque region along the Spanish-French border — back to its airwaves seven years after the network aired a 30 for 30 documentary titled, “What The Hell Happened to Jai Alai?”
Savin previously had worked out a deal with FTF sports to stream Magic City’s matches live. A partnership with Bet Rivers allows gamblers in Pennsylvania, Illinois, and five other states to bet on the sport via the operator’s mobile sports betting platform. Magic City said the deal with ESPN will bring its version of jai alai to as many as 200 million homes in the U.S. alone.
“We are thrilled to collaborate with one of sports’ most respected brands,” Savin said in a statement. “The relationship with ESPN takes jai alai to a new level of prominence and exposes the sport to a new generation of future fans.”
Magic City will hold its first-ever Battle Court draft this Friday, with private owners having spent $100,000 to own a team. The winner of the Battle Court season will make at least $50,00 in prize money.