When it comes to sports betting, the Islanders remain in wait and see mode.
But once the NY State Gaming Commission (NYSGC) determines the winning bidders, the NHL franchise intends to partner with one sportsbook provider, two at the most.
The Islanders will move into UBS Arena in Elmont, NY this season, and are slated to host their first home game at the $1.5 billion venue on Nov. 20. The brand-new arena is located next to the famed Belmont Park racetrack.
NY State Sen. Joseph Addabbo is hopeful online sports betting is up and running in the state by the Super Bowl on Feb. 13, 2022.
Tom Pistore, president of commercial business operations at UBS Arena, spoke to PlayNY Wednesday about the franchise’s vision for sports betting.
Islanders content to see how things play out in Albany
Sept. 1 marked the first day bidders could make formal presentations to the NYSGC. The Islanders have had discussions with potential partners, but haven’t made any decisions yet.
“We’re certainly not going to get in the way of Albany, with the recent transitions (from former Gov. Cuomo to current Gov. Hochul), and what their plans might be,” Pistore told PlayNY.
Other NY teams have made significant lobbying efforts. The Yankees, Bills and Sabres supported the Super Bid featuring FanDuel, DraftKings, BetMGM, and Ballys. The Nets have supported the bid featuring their partner, Fanatics, and Penn National (Barstool Sportsbook).
“We’re effectively waiting for Albany, and we’re not going to weed anyone out until we feel we have a comfortable understanding of the landscape,” Pistore said. “Because I think you can get this wrong if you go too early and too quick.”
The Madison Square Garden Corporation, which owns both the Knicks and Rangers, is also in wait-and-see mode.
“I think MSG in many ways has been the lynchpin in the market, to see where they go, and we’ll follow suit,” Pistore said. “But we’re certainly following what the Nets and Yankees are doing, and some of the teams that have a more long-standing, established sponsorship base in the marketplace.
“But I would expect that we’re going to come out with one or two really great partners in this.”
Islanders still determining sportsbook setup
When the Islanders broke ground on UBS Arena on Sept. 23, 2019, legalized mobile sports betting wasn’t at the forefront of everyone’s minds.
Still, Pistore is confident that the venue has the infrastructure and funding to make an impact in the marketplace.
“We have the land, we have the space, so if it evolves via bricks and mortar, those are all concepts that are on the table,” Pistore said. “It’s something that we can likely afford, and maybe other venues can’t in terms of size and impression.”
One possibility, Pistore said, could include a combination food and beverage, sportsbook, entertainment lounge.
“We’re going to have the ability at the opening, and post-opening, to work something out with one or two partners in that range,” he said.
UBS Arena will feature an external-facing restaurant. The team wants fans to show up early and often. There will even be an option for fans to park at the venue in the morning on game days, take the Long Island Railroad into Manhattan for work or leisure and then be able to ride back and ultimately pull out of their spots postgame.
“We want them to hang around the venue,” Pistore said. “And if they hang around the venue and we’re giving them a great food and beverage experience, it becomes really fun.”
Why Islanders want one or two sports betting partners
The Devils, who already have a sportsbook lounge, have had several sports betting partners in William Hill, FanDuel, Caesars, Unibet, and PlayUp.
Pistore, who joined the arena project after working with Oak View Group CEO Tim Leiweke at Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, comes from the less is more approach.
“I think with our evolving strategy, I see that more as having advertisers, not partners,” Pistore said. “So, in my mind, it’s probably one or two partners, and maybe only one, but no more than two. And then you really go deep with those partners.
“You could, in many ways, do some math and chase probably a bigger short-term win with multiple brands and partners. But I just don’t think you can demonstrate the affinity to your fans and your venue over time, as opposed to having a smaller subset of core partners.”
As an analogy, Pistore said: “I’d rather go 10 feet deep than 10 feet wide.”
“I think we’re looking for a partner who wants to invest their time and energy over term with us,” Pistore said. “And then we’re gonna hold each other tight, and try to make a dent in the marketplace with them.
The Islanders, who plan to follow and analyze other teams that are single-partner entities, have an existing partnership with BetWay, which Pistore referred to as media-brand focused.
“They could certainly end up being a player in this, or they might just stay on as a short-term media (partner),” Pistore said. “They’re involved, but it could go a bunch of different ways.”
Arena sportsbooks as a non-gameday experience
The Islanders have 41 guaranteed home dates for 2021-22.
Based on the past two seasons, there should be some playoff games as well.
Overall, UBS Arena projects to host 150 major events.
But as in-arena and in-stadium sportsbooks, lounges, and kiosks come into play, the question for teams will be whether to keep them open on non-game days.
“I think that’s a little bit of the holy grail, if you can create a destination-type venue either driven by the book or the food and beverage, kind of that co-relationship there,” Pistore said.
“I know a lot of venues are going to be stuck in terms of heavy renovations trying to figure it out or not having the space. So what I’m most excited about with us, as we move through construction, is we’re going to have 24-7 restaurant capability, and also an opportunity in a couple other locations to have external access and value.
“I think we’re going to do it right, get a great partner, and we’ll be open for Jets and Giants’ games on Sundays. We’ll be open for World Series games. There’s just so much going on in the market, and we think it’s a great opportunity.”
Overall, the view on sports betting has changed quite a bit.
“It’s the absolutely hottest category between a bunch of the taxation-related categories,” Pistore said. “The pandemic is going to force a lot of hands. You look at the NHL helmets (with advertisements), jersey patches. It’s made what was a debate in prior years, now a requirement to catch up. So I think that out of necessity, gaming has been a big play for a bunch of teams that have announced.”
The Islanders and several other New York teams should be next.