A throng of orange-and-black-clad fans gathered around a few dozen oversized screens Monday, taking an air-conditioned sabbatical from the unrelenting early May Phoenix heat inside the retail sportsbook at Footprint Center.
The FanDuel Sportsbook facility is among the first of its kind inside an NBA arena, representing the dawning of a new era for Dan Costello.
Costello, who serves as the Suns' Legacy Partners executive vice president and chief revenue officer, was tasked with forging the team’s Arizona sports betting partnership with FanDuel.
Eight months after the downtown Phoenix facility opened its doors, Costello is still awestruck at how strong the response from Suns fans has been, with steady business inside the facility since its opening date Sept. 9 — which coincided with the first day of legal sports betting in Arizona.
The building was packed Monday night a few hours before Phoenix tipped off its Western Conference Semifinal series against Dallas. The Suns, now the NBA betting championship favorite, won 121-114. Game 2 is Wednesday.
“[Our partnership with FanDuel] has been beyond our wildest expectations, for so many different metrics and reasons,” Costello told BetArizona.com. “But I think probably for us the most important piece is just the engagement that we’re seeing in the game. Our TV ratings have gone up in such a high direction, and not just because the team’s winning.
“We’re seeing better ratings in the earlier parts of our games than we’ve seen in the past, and we’re seeing steady ratings during the entire game.”
A New Way to Enjoy Games
The partnership between the Suns and FanDuel Sportsbook has been equally successful for the New York-based operator.
Noah Kirk, who serves as the general manager of the downtown Phoenix retail sportsbook, helped FanDuel open retail sportsbooks in other markets. He said the Phoenix facility has achieved far greater success than anyone with the company imagined when it opened its doors in September.
A big part of that success rests in the Suns' red-hot 2022 season, when they set a franchise record with 64 wins and sold out most of their home games.
“Up to this point it's been very exciting. The crowds just keep getting larger and larger,” Kirk said. “We do have a promotion going on right now for the duration of the Suns playoff run. We're giving out $20 free bets to each person who hasn't been here before. So, we're seeing a good turnout on that. But yeah, the energy's great. And the people like this added aspect of the game-day experience.”
In Kirk’s opinion, FanDuel’s decision to partner with the Suns has been an ongoing success story, with packed houses on game days and non-game days alike.
The longtime FanDuel employee said one of the biggest surprises for him has been seeing how many people pack the Footprint Center sportsbook when the Suns aren’t playing, such as when the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament kicked off in mid-March.
That Thursday was the first time the FanDuel sportsbook in Phoenix tried its hand at fan-friendly events, which were a smashing success, Kirk said.
“The biggest highlight for me would've been our 3-point contest that we allowed customers to go down and shoot on the court [during the tournament],” Kirk said. “That got a great turnout, great response, very unique promotion.”
FanDuel will soon have some downtown competition, as Caesars Sportsbook is finishing its permanent retail location in the former Game 7 Grill on the northwest side of Chase Field.
A Digital Solution for a Digital League
One thing Costello touched on that many basketball fans might overlook is how important it is for NBA teams to meet fans where they spend most of their time, which is on their mobile devices.
Costello said that having a partner like FanDuel, which has an entrenched mobile and retail sportsbook apparatus, fills that niche perfectly.
“I think for us the exciting thing is that this is really just the beginning,” Costello said of the new Arizona sports betting apps. “Our fans seeing more value and coming to the game, and participating in the game, feeling like they have a stake in the game, I think adds another level of investment and authenticity when people have come down here, and that’s the retail sportsbook side of things.
“From the mobile side, we know the NBA as a whole is a digital business. Fans are catching highlights on Twitter. They’re streaming the game looking for ways to engage in different ways, and that was always our premise.”