While I have been a Nevada resident for some time, both my mom and dad have ties to the area surrounding Memphis, TN. My immediate family relocated there in 2011, which means Memphis is the city I spend the most time in besides Las Vegas.
Some family business brought me back to Bluff City over Thanksgiving weekend. It was my first chance to see the Tennessee sports betting market in action for myself, so I decided to take advantage of the opportunity. And what better place to survey the sports betting landscape than Buffalo Wild Wings?
BW3: A hotbed of betting activity
With no actual physical sportsbooks or casinos in the state, it is hard to pinpoint exactly where betting is taking place in Tennessee. We know that plenty of betting is happening though.
Tennessee Lottery’s Rebecca Hargrave said just this week that the state will take in roughly $2 million in tax revenue from the opening month of action. Given the 20% tax rate, that means roughly $10 million in revenue and potentially nine figures in betting handle.
For a state with fewer than 7 million residents, it is a strong start. However, with no home base for the action, I wondered just how people learned about the new industry.
My best guess was on television during major sporting events. Since no one in my family cares about sports, I set out to Buffalo Wild Wings for the morning slate of games, expecting to scope out the advertisements more than anything.
MTV getting more play than sportsbooks during NFL coverage
Were Tennesseans seeing ads on TV and then downloading the sportsbook app then?
If the opening games last Sunday are any indication, the state seems to feature even fewer ads than I have seen in Vegas. Now, I can’t tell you the details of the restaurant’s cable package, but paying particular attention to the bout between the Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans, the commercials for sportsbooks were pretty sparse.
Instead, every other commercial was for what many Gen Xers will claim is America’s fifth great sport, MTV’s The Challenge. If you’re not familiar, it is a reality show that pits alums from The Real World and past Challenges against one another in various semi-athletic feats.
In case you are wondering, no you can’t bet on The Challenge in a regulated US market. Though I am sure there are plenty of people who would be eager to get in on the action.
TN sports fans looking at phones, not commercials
Gnawing on some lemon pepper wings, I looked around, trying to ascertain if anyone besides me gave a crap that you could bet on these football games. That is when I noticed that I was just about the only person paying attention to the commercials.
When a game went to break, the phones came out. Thanks to social distancing, I couldn’t get a good look at exactly what people were looking at on their phones.
As sports betting develops and advances though, there is a good question about how useful commecials will be to reach bettors. In-game betting, particularly on betting apps, is a format rapidly gaining popularity in new markets.
The best time to get in an in-game bet is during commercial breaks. Trying to bet in between plays is possible, but tough to execute with ever-changing odds. Getting in a bet during commercials is a lot easier, so eyes remain on the phones and not on the TV.
Of course, most ad pushes for sportsbooks in new markets like Tennessee are to acquire new customers. Nonetheless, it is worth wondering if sportsbooks’ money is better spent on mobile ads than alternating commercial spots with a TV show featuring a guy unironically named Johnny Bananas.
The local sports bar is the new sports betting water cooler
Curious, out of chicken, and not finding answers on my own, I turned to my server for help.
“So, this may be a weird question, but with sports betting legal here, do you see a lot of people in here betting?”
He didn’t miss a beat.
“Oh everyone in this bar is betting. When my manager and I were out here earlier, we were checking all the scores for our bets because I bet on FanDuel.”
Turns out he used to drive the 40 minutes or so to Tunica to bet each week at a Mississippi retail sportsbook. The advent of online betting is something he and his gas mileage are happy about.
Really though, he probably deserves an affiliate deal of his own given how much his job has become about refilling drinks, taking orders, and knowing the spread on every game.
When I started watching more closely, I noticed the server conversing with his regulars and nearly every chat wasn’t just about the game– it was about the total or the spread.
The real pièce de résistance of his interactions was when a middle-aged couple came in as the afternoon games started to begin. Both were decked out in Memphis gear, clearly local sports fans who came here regularly to watch games.
The server greeted them and, in no time, the woman had her phone out trying to show him some sort of problem.
The problem, it appears, is that she did not understand how to bet the total of a game. While the server walked her through how to read the betting odds, the man at the table took out his phone and fired up FanDuel for his own wagers.
Buffalo Wild Wings and BetMGM might be on to something
There is a reason those of us writing about Tennessee sports betting from home can’t quite figure this market out yet. It’s because more than commercials and billboards, this is a state where a sports bar is a de facto sportsbook, complete with customer service in this instance.
No one understands this more than Buffalo Wild Wings, who inked a deal with BetMGM last year for emerging markets. What is curious is that in a state like Tennessee, so far the deal isn’t amounting to anything visible at the restaurant.
As we learn more about Tennessee and see how important the neighborhood watering hole is for disemminating information though, don’t be surprised to see a Jamie Foxx cardboard cutout touting parlays along with poultry in the near future.