Post-Charlie Blackmon, MLB Betting Endorsements Have Vanished

Post-Charlie Blackmon, MLB Betting Endorsements Have Vanished

About a year ago, Evan Kaplan was getting multiple calls a week from the agents of Major League Baseball players looking to get clarification on what their clients could and could not do to endorse sports betting operators and other gambling companies.

Charlie Blackmon of the Colorado Rockies had just signed a new deal to be a brand ambassador with MaximBet, and the agents wanted to see if their clients could get in on the new rush of advertising dollars coming from the industry. Previously verboten, such opportunities arose after the collective bargaining sessions between the players association and Major League Baseball heading into the 2022 season.

“Agents are champing at the bit and begging to get in,” Kaplan said at the time.

That seems like not just a different time, but a different world. The expected rush of opportunities for players never materialized. Blackmon remains the lone active MLB player to land a brand ambassador deal with a sports betting company — one that’s now defunct. Kaplan, the managing director of MLB Players, Inc., the for-profit side of the Major League Baseball Players Association, told US Bets this week that he hadn’t heard from an agent asking about gambling deals in months.

It’s part of Kaplan’s job to help drum up opportunities for players to leverage their popularity into paid endorsement deals.

“I don’t know if the betting partners just haven’t found a way to get value out of the players, or figured out how to use them as marketing assets, but, yeah, there hasn’t been any progress or additional opportunities for players, unfortunately,” Kaplan said. “It’s not like I’m hearing from agents looking for clarification. Everyone was running to get deals, but not anymore.”

MGM deal hasn’t revolved around betting

Last July, MGM Resorts became an official partner of the MLBPA, but Kaplan clarified that MGM has used player endorsements strictly to help sell its resorts, not its casino operation or sports betting app, BetMGM.

“It’s more like, ‘Hey, come out and enjoy our properties.’ They can promote it on social media and show up at their events, but there’s nothing actually going on when it comes to promoting gambling,” Kaplan said.

When he signed his deal last April, Blackmon and NHL superstar Connor McDavid were the only active players in one of the big four North American sports to land brand ambassador deals. Another NHL star, Auston Matthews, has a deal with the gray-market Canadian sportsbook Bet99. Aside from those agreements, there has been scant movement toward active players endorsing gambling operations.

Political factors in play

As Kaplan said, one explanation for the lack of deals could be that operators don’t yet know how to capitalize on them. But there has been another trend working against them in the intervening months: political resistance.

The United Kingdom was the first country to ban major sports stars from endorsing sports betting companies, with the Committee for Advertising Practice saying such endorsements had a “strong appeal” to people under 18. Now, Maine and Ontario are considering similar bans on such arrangements. In fact, those jurisdictions are contemplating banning any celebrities from endorsing betting products as a way to ensure they’re not reaching prospective underage bettors.

At the moment, sports betting operators and gambling companies in general seem to be simultaneously cutting their marketing spend while keeping a close eye on state regulators. It has led to far fewer of the kinds of deals Kaplan and others were expecting just 12 months ago.

There may come a time when the political and financial winds shift, but for now, Kaplan and the agents can only wait to see where the industry goes from here. What once appeared to be a promising new avenue of business has, at least for the moment, proven to be a short road leading nowhere.

Photo: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Author: Ryan Gonzales