Monday, December 4, 2023

Is Pat McAfee Sports Betting’s Biggest Free Agent?

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The New York Post reported that McAfee could walk away from an exclusive partnership with FanDuel that spans four years and could be worth around $120 million, which would be a huge deal in the legal sports betting industry.

The National Football League’s free agency period has officially begun, and people are dying to know who’s going where, for how much, and for how long. Recently, that has been truest about Aaron Rodgers, the future quarterback of the New York Jets — maybe, probably, likely, whatever. 

Rodgers, the longtime Green Bay Packers pivot, has a recurring guest spot on the Pat McAfee Show, the popular YouTube broadcast hosted by the former NFL punter, Pat McAfee. It was on the show Wednesday that Rodgers made clear his desire to play for the Jets next season, confirming a lot of recent social media scuttlebutt. 

Around these parts (my house), there is even more intriguing scuttlebutt about McAfee. The New York Post, perhaps seizing on some social media commentary by the man himself, reported Wednesday morning that McAfee could walk away from an exclusive partnership with FanDuel that spans four years and could be worth more than $120 million. 

In the world of online sports betting sites, that’s big news. McAfee kinda-sorta confirmed he’s considering some other options as well, suggesting during Wednesday’s show (and I’m paraphrasing here because he said a lot) that he wants to spend more time with his growing family and that he’s exploring the idea of joining a network or some other outlet that could clash with the FanDuel partnership.

“So these are just conversations that are happening,” McAfee said. “Nothing is concrete. We’re gonna be talking about FanDuel through March Madness here. This is just because there’s conversations that are happening where there’s a chance that the FanDuel relationship could jeopardize a conversation that’s happening somewhere else.”

McAfee added shortly after that “there’s a chance we end up somewhere, and FanDuel is the thing.”

So, while there’s a lot of NFL free agency talk on the McAfee show, there is a possibility that McAfee is a free agent in the realm of legal sports betting. That is potentially quite the get for another sportsbook operator, albeit not a cheap get. Still, it could be huge for whoever can finagle it. 

The sort of value McAfee provides was highlighted by FanDuel at a capital markets day in November. There, one exec noted that a same-game parlay promoted by McAfee for Super Bowl 56 was tailed by nearly 250,000 people, which would have cost the operator almost $50 million if it cashed, which it did not. 

Some sportsbooks surely envy that sort of reach and parlay-related windfall. I stand to be corrected, but I’m not sure there is any other single person in the sports-betting industry with that kind of pull, somebody who can essentially get the population of Scottsdale to back an SGP, a.k.a. a much-more-likely-to-lose wager. 

“Our keystone partnership with Pat McAfee meaningfully and materially moves the needle in our business,” said Mike Raffensperger, FanDuel’s chief commercial officer, during the investor event.

What’s the ‘next stage’?

So, if Pat’s gonna walk away from FanDuel — and that, again, is a big if — where might he go? FanDuel has become the undisputed leader among U.S. sportsbook operators, and companies in the industry are currently trying to figure out how to be profitable, so someone else from the gaming industry snatching McAfee away seems like an uphill climb. The Post also floated names such as Amazon, Google, and Fanatics (which is a budding sportsbook operator, in addition to a merchandise company) as potential landing spots. 

FanDuel has its own TV network now. But it’s worth noting that McAfee was on ESPN’s College GameDay this past fall. And ESPN, it should also be noted, is partnered with FanDuel rivals Caesars Sportsbook and DraftKings, as the Worldwide Leader in Sports is trying to capitalize on the sports-betting movement. Joining ESPN and its partners sounds like a potentially awkward predicament for someone with a FanDuel sponsorship.

Full disclosure: I’m no expert on the subject of Pat McAfee. I have no special insight into his thinking. However, what I heard on Wednesday sounded, to me, like a guy who has a lot going on, who wants to slow things down a bit, and who has already made a decent amount of money that frees him up to be, well, freer.  

McAfee also went out of his way to declare FanDuel a great partner — but just a partner, not an owner of him or his show, which will continue to go on via YouTube no matter what. 

“We appreciate the hell out of you so much,” McAfee told his six-figure audience on Wednesday. “I am forever indebted into you, but also with where we have gotten to, it would be nice to be able to just live a little bit of a life. You know, just a little bit of one, because I love my wife, and I can’t wait for the next stage.”

Will that next stage involve another sportsbook? I guess we’ll all have to keep tuning in to the McAfee show to find out. 

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