It has been just over a calendar year since the Phoenix Mercury made American sports betting history.
The WNBA cornerstone franchise achieved that status by becoming the first women’s professional sports franchise to sign an Arizona sportsbook partnership, doing so with Bally’s and its BallyBet platform.
The 15-year partnership between the franchise and Bally’s, which is reported to be worth $66 million overall, has allowed the Las Vegas mainstay to gain access to the Arizona sports betting scene.
It also has allowed the Mercury to continue growing the team’s fanbase by generating fan engagement in new ways.
That’s the takeaway from Mercury President Vince Kozar, who told BetArizona.com that the team’s first year with Bally’s has been phenomenal for both sides.
Kozar and the Mercury should only generate further interest on Arizona betting apps, as the franchise clinched its 10th consecutive WNBA Playoffs berth on Sunday, setting up a first-round clash with the top-seeded Las Vegas Aces.
The Mercury and Aces will meet in a winner-take-all, single-game elimination contest on the Strip at 7 p.m. Arizona time on Wednesday, in a game that ESPN will air live nationally.
Here’s what Kozar had to say about the franchise’s opening year of sports betting with BallyBet Arizona, as the team looks to one-up its Western Conference championship from last season.
Impact of Mercury-BallyBet Partnership
BetArizona: One year later, how has the Mercury’s historic sports betting partnership with BallyBet Arizona impacted the franchise as a whole?
Vince Kozar: To be honest, it couldn't be better. We went into that process, knowing that the betting licenses that came along with a team partnership, were incredibly valuable for these partners.
And so, part of that process for us was ensuring that we selected the (sports betting partner) that made the most sense for us. Both in terms of mission and brand alignment, and how much Bally’s wanted to be the company to partner with the only women's professional team in this market and the only women's team that had a (sports betting) license.
So, it’s been tremendous. And it's been really gratifying to see the partnership come together. So, it's really impacted our business because, frankly, it's a huge revenue driver for us. And that allows us to invest back into our business. And sometimes that means in advertising and promotion. And sometimes that means investing to help drive memberships and ticket sales. And sometimes that means the experience in the arena. And overall, partnerships like that, and revenue like that, will one day really impact the player experience overall as well. So, it seems cliche to say, but I don't think it could be going better so far.
First Women's Team With Sports Betting Partnership
BetArizona: You mentioned that the Mercury were the first women’s professional sports franchise to partner with a betting company. Take me through the importance of that BallyBet Arizona partnership, one year later, and how the Mercury see themselves as a trailblazer of sorts for other franchises in the years to come?
Kozar: As we said at the time, we were excited to be the first and we hope that we won't be the only, because sports betting can be such a game changer for WNBA teams and women's teams in general.
And that's not just because of the revenue associated with it. It's really also because of access, right? The ability not just on BallyBet, but across platforms to bet on women's sports. And not just the games, right? It’s about the game within the games.
It’s hugely important for women's sports to be included on the same level as men in that situation. So that part is great. In terms of being the first, look, our organization is comfortable with that position, we like it, we were the first team to sign a jersey partnership in the WNBA.
So, we feel like we understand what our brand is about. We feel like we understand how to find companies that really share our values and are able to best represent us. So, whether that's across the front of our jersey, or if it's a presenting partner like Bally’s, but we're extremely happy to lead but like I said, we don't want to be the only one.
More Access With The WNBA
BetArizona: I’m curious to get your thoughts on how the WNBA sees sports betting as a whole and whether it can benefit like the WNBA as it looks to evolve and mature?
Kozar: I would never speak for the league. But I think in general, what I would say is continuing to grow fandom and continuing to grow access, however they want to can interact with your league is hugely important.
And so, for some people, that means buying a season ticket in a market and supporting one team. And for some people that means watching games on TV. And for some people that means buying jerseys. And for others what it means is I have a favorite a bunch of favorite players and I play fantasy. Or I'm just super interested in the game within the game, and I love to watch all six games that are on one night and bet who's going to score the first bucket in each of those games.
Whatever it is, that is expanding that access, which in turn expands the number of people who are interested in our game and our league and our players, which is only beneficial for us. So, it's a new frontier revenue-wise, and it's also a new frontier fan experience-wise and so we're very excited to continue growing it.
Unique Aspects of the Deal
BetArizona: The Suns and the Mercury each have their own sports betting partnerships (with FanDuel Arizona and BallyBet, respectively). What has BallyBet meant to the Mercury and how the company’s offerings are unique and fit into your brand, or the identity that the Mercury have as a franchise?
Kozar: I think the first thing that I would say is that FanDuel has also been an incredible partner for our entire organization in this process, through their deal with the Suns.
And we're one organization, and their deal with the Suns happened first. And they have a retail sportsbook in our arena, and they easily could have said, ‘No, that’s all ours.’ But instead, what they said was, ‘Go find the best partner for you guys. And we absolutely will not stand in your way if that helps in your growth.’
So, FanDuel has been an incredible partner in that as well. But to your question about BallyBet — look — they came to the table and said, ‘We think what can differentiate this partnership is that we can be the organization that is directly supporting women.’
They came to the table and said, what we think is going to differentiate us to a marketplace that is crowded with ways that you can place mobile bets in sportsbooks. What we think is going to differentiate us is we're going to be the ones investing in women. And they truly, from the very first conversation we’ve had, they’ve seen it that way.
That's how they've talked about it to us about how they've helped build the activation. That's how they've supported the investments. So, it wouldn't work if we weren't completely aligned on what this means. And how transformational it can be for not only us, but for women's sports in general. And since we are they were the right partner from the beginning and the first year of the partnership has really helped demonstrate that.
'Interest is at an All-Time High'
BetArizona: What’s your parting shot for people that read this article on the Mercury’s first year of sports betting with Bally’s?
Kozar: I think the biggest thing is that sports betting is the new frontier, and it’s what you’re seeing across the board. In the WNBA, or the NWSL, in collegiate women's sports, interest is at an all-time high.
And interest and eyeballs being at an all-time high means the investments that companies are willing to make in this product are also at an all-time high.
And we're continuing to see that the belief not only in the product, but the belief in the value of making that investment and showing your customers, showing the fans of these teams and league where your values are in terms of supporting women, in terms of supporting a product that leads on the diversity, equity and inclusion front is super important to these companies and we continue to see that Bally’s is a great example of it. That makes us really excited about this sort of next wave for the WNBA and women's sports in general.