Is Texas back?
It’s a question college football fans ask themselves every year in regard to the University of Texas football team. Once one of the more successful programs in the nation, the Longhorns have won double-digit games just once since 2010. For reference, the team won 10-plus games every season from 2001-2009.
However, despite success evading them on the field, the Longhorns remain one of the most recognizable and profitable brands in the country. And with programs elsewhere signing lucrative sports betting partnerships with mainstream operators, the question begs to be asked – when will Texas get involved?
It’s a valid question, but one that deserves a caveat, and that is the fact that Texas sports betting is currently illegal. Some might think that puts an end to any sort of partnership discussions right there, but that simply isn’t the case.
Just how valuable is the Texas brand?
To help illustrate just how much the Texas Longhorns brand is worth, below are a few numbers:
- $1.1 billion – Total net worth of the Longhorn football program, per a Wall Street Journal study in 2019
- $295 million – How much ESPN reportedly agreed to pay Texas over a 20-year span for the Longhorn Network
- $250 million – The number figure attached to the then-record-breaking, 15-year contract Texas signed with Nike in 2015
The brand is expected to get even more valuable when the school officially joins the SEC, college football’s premier conference, in 2025. With the move, the aforementioned Longhorn Network will simply fold into the SEC Network, which is also owned by ESPN.
For reference, ESPN and the SEC agreed to a whopping 10-year, $3 billion deal that will go into effect in 2024. And while the SEC Network was already doing more than fine on its own without Texas (and Oklahoma), one would have to think that this anticipated move to the SEC will only fortify the Longhorn brand further.
“Texas is just one of those brands that will be powerful and valuable forever, even during down years,” said Brian Fagan, the founder of Oncoor Sports, a sports marketing agency that operates university collectives nationwide.
“The Longhorns are like the Yankees. They’re everyone’s rival, they’ve been around forever, have fans in every state, and have a history of winning.”
Sports betting in Texas
Sports betting is currently illegal in Texas at this time. There have been many efforts to make it legal, but all of them have fallen short. The next chance to legalize sports betting will come during the 2023 legislative session, but there are no guarantees or particularly hopeful signs that legalization is forthcoming.
All of this is despite most Texans being in favor of legalizing sports betting as well as casino gambling.
So this begs the question: Can the University of Texas even get involved in the space while it’s illegal? It’s trickier for a college, considering none in the Longhorn State boast any sports betting partnerships just yet. However, multiple professional teams in Texas – including the Houston Astros, Houston Dynamo FC and Austin FC – boast agreements with the likes of BetMGM, Fubo Gaming and PointsBet.
If any university within state lines was to break the sports betting ice, it would be Texas. Coupling the Longhorn brand’s worth with the booming industry that is sports wagering simply makes too much sense.
“From the school’s perspective, if the opportunity presented itself to partner with a sports gaming brand, it would drive significant revenue to the school,” Fagan said. “Gaming is a huge sponsorship category in 2022. It’s a top category by a lot of metrics. The fact that UT is located in one of a few states that doesn’t allow it means they are missing out on revenue that their rivals are capitalizing on. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a school like UT accept a sports gaming partnership, even though the activity isn’t allowed in their state… yet.”
Other teams creating the blueprint
While Texas is a leader in terms of brand worth and revenue, it’s already falling behind in the sports betting race.
And while Texas lawmakers will take the battle for legalization into 2023, other college football programs across the nation are cashing in on sports betting partnerships with operators.
The University of Colorado and PointsBet made history by creating the first collegiate sports betting partnership in 2020. The operator then turned around in 2021 and struck a deal with the University of Maryland.
The biggest college deals made thus far, however, have been by LSU and Michigan State, both of which have partnered with Caesars Sportsbook on multi-year deals. Neither school disclosed the monetary figures associated with the partnerships, but LSU did mention it was a “seven-figure deal” in its announcement press release.
PlayTexas attempted to obtain the details of the LSU deal; the request was not granted.
With these schools paving the way, it wouldn’t be that farfetched to think that Texas could garner a similar deal to LSU, if not more. However, Fagan warns the school – and any others looking to get involved in the space – to tread carefully when dipping into the sports wagering waters.
“You’ve seen LSU take some heat for their partnership with Caesars, given that gambling isn’t legal for most of their student body or players. Would it be worse for Texas?” Fagan wonders. “All brand partnerships create relationships and accountability between the brand and the entity, where one is essentially responsible for the actions of the other. When a player goofs up, brands sometimes drop him/her to avoid being tied to a controversial situation. The same goes for athletics departments and their corporate sponsors. So UT would have to decide if sports gaming is in line with their own brand values and partnership guidelines.”
LSU also caught heat when a promotional email for Caesars went to some undergraduate students.
What about the players?
Similar to the growth of sports betting, the passing of Name, Image & Likeness (NIL) legislation has brought a whole new element to collegiate athletics. Just ask Texas running back Bijan Robinson, who currently boasts deals with Lamborghini, Raising Cane’s and more. He even has his own branded mustard.
Bijan Robinson is set to release his own condiment called Bijan Mustardson as part of an NIL deal 🔥
— 247Sports (@247Sports) August 18, 2022
According to On3, Robinson has a NIL valuation of $1.6 million. The highest-ranked college player on the list is Alabama’s Bryce Young, who is valued at $3.2 million.
With companies throwing money at big-name college players, one could wonder whether or not schools would allow student-athletes to take on sports betting deals. On the surface, with the state of Texas sports betting, it seems like the answer would be a resounding no.
But Fagan believes the school would have to at least entertain the idea.
“NIL is a whole different story,” Fagan said. “The University of Texas wants their players to be enabled to make as much money as possible, and if a sports betting company was at the table offering their players money, it’s something they’d have to look into. Obviously the NCAA has long opppsed legal sports betting. We’ve seen some states legalize it in terms of NIL, and others still prevent it. Texas is one that prevents it in all aspects right now.”
While current collegiate athletes partnering with sports betting brands seems far away, we have seen current pro athletes make deals. Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers, for instance, is a spokesperson for BetMGM.
Will Fanatics get involved?
Fanatics is no stranger to college football, evident any time one logs on to its home page. It’s also setting the stage to become a player in the sports betting scene as more and more states approve legalization.
The company has applied for multiple licenses in multiple states under the BetFanatics name. CEO Michael Rubin, who claims BetFanatics may be operating by end of the year, even sold his reported 10% stake in Harris Blitzer Sports Entertainment (owner/operator of the Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Devils) earlier this summer to focus his full attention on Fanatics as it ventures into a new industry.
Fanatics also recently announced a merchandising partnership with the University of Alabama, the crème de la crème of college football. The company will launch a first-of-its-kind store at Bryant-Denny Stadium. It will feature customized Nike player jerseys, customized name and number t-shirts, headwear, official game-used memorabilia, and on-demand digital trading cards from Topps, and more.
While this falls under the NIL category, with the moves Fanatics has made of late, it’s reasonable to wonder if this could lead to a potential sports betting deal down the line if legislation is ever passed in the state of Alabama.
Coincidentally, while a store of Alabama’s magnitude might not be in the works in Austin, Texas and Fanatics are also working on a similar set-up at home games.
Because the school and the company are already working together in some capacity, a potential transition seemingly would be easier than starting discussions elsewhere. And for Fanatics, a sports betting deal with the Longhorns would allow it to make the big splash it hopes to in a new industry.
“Texas is a huge market, but the Longhorn brands transcends their region,” Fagan said. “They are a national brand. … So right out of the gate, the benefit of partnering with UT is bigger than the state of Texas. If you partner with Texas, you’re partnering with one of the premier brands in college football, the SEC (soon), etc.”
You can bet Longhorns would love to wade into sports betting pool
While Fanatics could have an inside track, for the reasons Fagan mentioned above, you can bet Texas will entertain any and all offers if/when it decides to venture into the sports betting space.
Whenever that will be is anyone’s guess, especially with the roadblocks being presented in the Texas Legislature during recent sessions.
But one thing is for certain: Whether it’s in 2023, 2025, or a decade from now, whenever Texas does get involved in the sports betting scene, expect the Longhorn brand to become even more valuable.