In just a few months sports betting in Kansas will launch, joining more than 30 other states and Washington, D.C., that have legalized sports wagering.
One of the chief beneficiaries of that decision will be MLS side Sporting Kansas City, which is the only professional sports team located in the state.
Sporting KC, which plays its home matches at Children’s Mercy Park near Kansas Speedway and the adjacent Hollywood Casino at Kansas Speedway, figures to be a prime target for a national sports betting brand in the months ahead — as Kansas hopes to begin taking bets by the opening date of the 2022 NFL regular season on Sept. 8.
BetKansas.com recently chatted with Jake Reid, who serves as the president and CEO of Sporting KC, to discuss their sports betting blueprint, as well as his take on the MLS’ new $2.5-billion-plus media rights deal with Apple and more.
Below is a transcript of that conversation, edited for brevity and clarity.
Sporting KC a Vocal Supporter of Sports Betting
BetKansas.com: What’s Sporting KC’s take on sports betting becoming legal in Kansas?
Jake Reid: I think we've been vocal about it throughout — it's been several years now. I think from our standpoint, we try to look through the lens of fan experience, how does this impact a fan watching the game, whether that's in their house; at a bar or restaurant, or certainly in-stadium.
And to us, [sports betting] is a net positive in all those aspects — in terms of fan engagement with us as a brand, and I think the league and the sport in general. So, we're excited about it, we're ready to ready to get it going.
BetKansas.com: How important is sports betting as the lone major professional team sports franchise located in Kansas?
Reid: I think it’s well documented, on the relationship that we have with the greater Kansas City region and the state. We’re all kind of in the Kansas City region, two of our pro teams occupy the Missouri side of the state line, and we're the lone one in Kansas.
But I think for us, we're just excited about [sports betting]. [The legislature] did a good job on the bill and the way that the final language reads, I think you've got the good parameters around it, and the legal structure of it.
And it’s probably not an apples-to-apples comparison to fantasy sports and the impact that had when it first came on board. But we think this is kind of that continued evolution of fan engagement, when you're talking about betting, whether it's your club or clubs in general in the state of Kansas, so we're excited to be the team that represents that and carry the flag.
BetKansas.com: How does the MLS view sports betting as a whole?
Reid: I think the professionalism of [sports betting], and the actual state putting the parameters around it, I think makes it safe for everyone to feel comfortable with it. And more importantly, we've got mechanisms in place for those who need help, and none of that's available if it's not legal.
So certainly, it's well documented how much activity takes place on an annual basis in the black market. So, for us, I think putting it in the forefront, having the right structure around it and being able to do it properly has been the league's main focal point throughout. So, I think the league is very excited and very bullish on sports wagering in general as well.
BetKansas.com: Does SKC have a strategy for finding a sports betting partner?
Reid: It’s a similar process to finding any other type of partnership. Obviously, this one's unique in the fact that we're going to be going to market together, and they're going to be the ones that are running and operating business on our behalf.
But the financial piece is obviously a part of everything. And for us, I think it's also key that we find the right partner. And on this, I think partner is the key word.
We’re not looking for a transaction, we're not looking for a contractually obligated, sports wagering partner. We want a partner in this because I think how we represent the brand, how we represent the league, how we go to market, how we're interacting with the community, all those things are really important to us.
And so having someone that understands that and shares that vision of what we're trying to accomplish is going to be important. So we've been engaged in this for a while even prior to [sports betting] happening — just anticipating that at some point, it would happen.
So, we’re in ongoing discussions. There’s nothing I can really talk about but I think someone who shares our vision for what this can look like is ultimately the most important piece as we try to find the right partner.
BetKansas.com: How does SKC feel about Kansas adopting sports betting before Missouri and using its tax proceeds to lure a professional sports team to the state?
Reid: The short answer is, the more the merrier. There's sort of an argument for being first in terms of state. We’re not necessarily concerned if it was Kansas first and then Missouri, Kansas, Missouri at same time, whatever.
I think that's probably more of a casino issue than a sports team issue. So we didn't really necessarily have a dog in that fight. And as it relates to the bill, it's interesting, we were obviously not privy to that aspect of it at all.
So I was reading that real time as were I'm sure you and everyone else were to learn [tax revenue allocated for moving a team to Kansas] had been inserted in there. So, I think from a sports standpoint, I honestly don't really have a strong opinion one way or the other. I think that's up to Kansas, Missouri and ultimately, whoever that team they're trying to lure is so at this point rather than the Chiefs or Royals but from a Sporting Kansas City standpoint, we're going operate as we always do, regardless of where that aspect lands.
BetKansas.com: What’s SKC’s plan for developing a retail sportsbook location at Children’s Mercy Park, especially given Kansas Speedway/Hollywood Casino being in the same vicinity?
Reid: So in the bill we're able to have kiosks in venue as I'm sure you've seen that's going to be driven as much by our partner as it is us so depending on where that lands. But the short answer is yes, we would love to have [retail capabilities in-stadium].
We’re taking a look right now with a couple designers on stadium and space and where would be the ideal spot for that to take place. But yeah, given the bill and the ability to do that, that is something that we have plans on moving forward.
MLS to Partner With AppleTV on Media Rights
BetKansas.com: What are your thoughts on the MLS’ new media rights deal with AppleTV, and how does it impact SKC in particular?
Reid: I think it's a fantastic deal. It’s a deal like no other literally in terms of sports media partnerships … I think from a fan standpoint, that's the lens I try to put on for this stuff, and you know right now, even if you're a Sporting Kansas City fan, if you live in our DMA, there's a couple avenues you have to go to, to be able to watch our matches from a local standpoint.
If you live outside of our region, there's another aspect, and if you're international, there's another aspect.
Just speaking from someone who's a transplant to the region trying to get your family and friends and everybody else on the right platform to watch games can be confusing.
Not to mention, I think the disparity in start times and game dates and everything else. So I think this makes it simple, and simple is good for fans and consumers. And I think having a one-stop-shop with a brand like Apple — I mean, it'd be hard to custom pick a better brand to partner with in the world — just from devices, how integrated they are into the majority of people's lives. And more importantly, just the ease of being able to click a couple of icons on your phone or tablet or whatever and be able to watch all of our matches at all times in one place.
So, I think it's a fantastic deal. I'm excited for the fans. I'm excited for the league. I think we got a great partner in Apple.
BetKansas.com: What are the club’s thoughts on St. Louis FC joining the MLS in 2023 and creating a Border War on the pitch?
Reid: We're thrilled. We've been excited for this for a long time. I think if you look at our “quote-unquote” rivalries that we've got right now in MLS, I think they're largely driven based on — I would say — playoff clashes we've had over the years, right?
So, the Seattle's, the Portland's of the world, the Salt Lake’s of the world all come to mind. And you know, Minnesota, to some extent is a new club. But to have a natural geographic rival that all Kansas Citians know — a franchise and city that they want to beat and vice versa. I think they've got a great soccer history in St. Louis. And I think to have that kind of I-70 Corridor rival starting next year is amazing.
So, I think there's a bunch of fun things that we're going to be able to do together but we're thrilled for them.
I think the stadium they have — I have not been there personally, but just having looked at it — and I think they did an amazing job. They've got a great ownership group; I have no doubt they're going to have a ton of success out of the gate from a stadium standpoint.
So, we're excited to welcome them into the league and obviously hopefully beat them the first time we play.
BetKansas.com: What would you like readers to know about Sporting KC’s stance on sports betting in the Sunflower State?
Reid: It just feels like there’s good momentum around all things sports wagering right now. If you zoom in specifically to Kansas, which is what we pay a lot of attention to, I think all the things you've covered crystalize with that happening with the media deal, with the World Cup looming.
I still think the momentum of having World Cup 2026 across North America is going to raise the tide for everyone.
So, it just feels like you’ve got a bunch of these really positive announcements taking place. I think it's exciting for those of us that are fortunate enough to be in the sport and certainly for those of us representing the Midwest, I think it's been a great, great couple of weeks of momentum, so we’re excited to keep it going.