WNBA’s Betting Partners Dropped Ball On Commissioner’s Cup Opportunity

Posted on August 13, 2021

Any instructor at any business school would probably agree that taking advantage of opportunities to recoup earlier investments is a wise strategy. Capitalizing on such an opportunity was minimal despite a ready-made opportunity for two of the league’s sponsors with WNBA Commissioner’s Cup betting.

BetMGM Sportsbook and PointsBet Sportsbook, both of which have paid undisclosed amounts to the WNBA for trademarks and other property, waited until the 11th hour to get their markets for the Connecticut Sun vs. Seattle Storm title game live.

Given all the details of the circumstance, the situation had all the makings of a huge unrealized moment.

WNBA Commissioner’s Cup betting almost didn’t happen at all

For unfamiliar fans, this is the first season that the WNBA has offered a Commissioner’s Cup. It’s essentially an in-season tournament that runs concurrently with the league’s regular season. All intraconference games that teams played prior to the Olympic break counted toward standings for the Cup.

This year, the Sun and Storm finished at the top of the East and West standings, respectively. That put them in Thursday night’s title game. In addition to the actual trophy, the players split a half-million-dollar prize pool.

The league announced this format prior to the commencement of the 2021 regular season. The announcement of the date of the championship game happened a few weeks later. The exact matchup for the game was a public commodity for weeks prior.

Despite that, the response from Virginia sports betting apps left much to be desired.

BetMGM didn’t get its markets up until 10:30 a.m. ET on Thursday, a mere 10-and-a-half hours before tip-off. Caesars Sportsbook got its lines up around the same time, beating PointsBet to that punch. PointsBet’s markets launched around 11:30 a.m. ET, joined by DraftKings Sportsbook at that time.

FanDuel Sportsbook and WynnBet Sportsbook were next. They took their markets live around noon ET. BetRivers Sportsbook joined the party even later in the day.

Thus, if these sportsbooks didn’t realize much value from offering action on the contest, they really have nowhere else to look but in the mirror. Given emerging information about how valuable women’s sports properties are as commercial products, these lapses come off as quite short-sighted.

Burning money at both ends

For PointsBet, this optic is especially poor. Not only did it waste an opportunity to recoup its own investment into the league, but it just had a reminder of bettors’ interest in women’s sports.

Earlier this week, Emily Caron of Sportico laid out how wagering on women’s events at PointsBet during the Tokyo Olympics wasn’t just part of the company’s handle and tickets; it represented the majority of the money and wagers.

In hindsight, this should have been one of the easiest marketing wins for US legal sportsbooks. Both of BetMGM’s top two MVP futures contenders – Breanna Stewart and Jonquel Jones – played in Thursday night’s Commissioner’s Cup game. US women’s basketball was just coming off the high of winning a seventh consecutive Olympic gold medal.

Several of the players on that Team USA, including one of only two people to ever win five Olympic gold medals as a basketball player (Sue Bird), played in the game as well. It was the first WNBA action in weeks. FanDuel did do a promotion around the event but not specifically around its betting markets on the contest.

The route that most operators took over the past few weeks was to ignore the event entirely then merely offer the standard moneyline, spread, and totals markets for the game at the last minute. It begs several important questions.

Questions arising from this series of events

In fairness, the title game happened on the same night as MLB‘s Field of Dreams game and a slate of NFL preseason contests. That’s a busy day for sportsbooks. The WNBA itself hasn’t been very active in terms of promoting wagering on its events, so it’s hard to put the full onus on its partners to carry that torch.

Still, this is seemingly a curious move for BetMGM and PointsBet. They also had weeks to prepare something. After making investments into the WNBA as a betting property, why not capitalize on a moment pertaining to that property while it’s available?

A bigger problem, for all VA sportsbooks regardless of their relationship with the league, becomes crystal clear with a hypothetical situation.

If the NBA held a championship game for an in-season tournament coming off several of its players winning an Olympic gold medal, with some of those players appearing in the game, and also featuring the league’s two leading MVP candidates, would these same sportsbooks have waited until 11 a.m. the day of that game to get any markets live whatsoever?

In that same hypothetical, would they have only offered standard lines, with no prop betting? Furthermore, would they have not created any promotions for markets on that game in advance, or done any advertising for their markets on the contest at all? Anyone who follows US-regulated sports betting knows the answer to those questions.

Whether the approaches to Thursday’s game represented deliberate choices or oversights, they represent a missed opportunity. Speaking of missed opportunities, there might be some action for bettors to consider right now around the Washington Mystics.

Could it be time to buy on Mystics futures right now?

Also earlier this week, news broke that Mystics forward Elena Delle Donne returned to practice. While the timetable for her actual return to games for Washington remains uncertain, along with how many minutes she would actually play, the potential for the Mystics is significant.

If Delle Donne is able to play significant minutes, that’s a massive shift in the WNBA championship picture. Even an 85% “EDD” when paired with Washington center Tina Charles, who just happens to be leading the league in scoring average, makes the Mystics a top-tier contender.

At the same time, it’s uncertain whether she’ll actually play. For that reason, sportsbooks haven’t moved their lines on Washington yet. The Mystics are still +1600 to win the title this year at BetMGM.

It’s a risk, but that’s what gambling is all about. You rarely get a sure thing.

Photo by AP / Nick Wass
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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a freelance journalist who resides in Chicago. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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