In a way, sports betting has run through the veins of theScore since its genesis.

So it seems appropriate for the Toronto-based media company to become a sports betting provider.

On Tuesday, theScore announced it had partnered with New Jersey racetrack Monmouth Park and with technology provider Bet.Works.

As a result, theScore has set itself up to join an ever-expanding NJ sports betting market with a target launch of mid-2019.

“Even before PASPA was repealed, there was a lot of discussion internally about what the right way in that environment would be for us to take the next step,” Benjie Levy, COO of theScore, said in a phone interview.

“Lots of media companies talk about becoming affiliates. There’s other types of partnerships you can look at. … When we were assessing those options and looking at what the best role was for our user base in that context, any time we looked at anything short of becoming an operator seemed like it was less fulfilling of an opportunity. Like we’d be leaving something on the table.”

Merging media with sports betting business

Before the internet transformed the way in which the world disseminates information, theScore was around.

Though its mobile app debuted in 2007, theScore was once a cable network in Canada.

A bottom-of-the-screen ticker scrolled scores even during commercials. Oldies music serenaded viewers of the channel, then known as Headline Sports.

Since then, theScore, which sold its TV network to Rogers Communications, has become a go-to source for sports information. For the past 10 years, theScore has gained traction in the US, where, according to Levy, two-thirds of the company’s users live.

Now, theScore is taking its next step, a “natural next phase,” according to a statement from company founder and CEO John Levy, Benjie’s father.

“This is a transformational moment for theScore, becoming the first media company in North America to announce its plans to launch online and mobile sports betting in the United States.”

“Gaming’s always been part of our DNA,” Benjie Levy said. “Our view is that gambling is just another part of the sports experience.”

Fan engagement tops all else

A company that provides sports scores and news via its mobile app and website, theScore began considering entering the sports betting space since before PASPA was repealed in May.

Internal conversations ramped up over the summer, leading to theScore bringing in David Wang, an iGaming veteran formerly with Wynn Resorts and MGM, as a senior advisor in August.

Interestingly, Wang also serves as the CEO and founder of Bet.Works. With Wang, theScore began exploring “opportunities in sports betting,” according to John Levy.

During the past few months, theScore started building the pillars of becoming a sports betting operator. And on Tuesday, the company announced its partnerships: Monmouth Park (which also boasts William Hill NJ as a partner) and Bet.Works.

Media + sports betting

When theScore does roll out its product, which will be featured in a sportsbook app as well as a browser, it will tap into its standing as a media provider integrating sports betting rather than the other way around.

That, Benjie Levy said, will help theScore stand out from the crowd.

“When we look at what’s going on in the sports betting business today … with betting increasingly happening on mobile and in-game, you see the operators all working their tails off to try to increase the amount of engagement that happens on those platforms. They’re adding live data. They’re trying to add live video. They’re trying to create a sports engagement experience on the betting platform to try to keep users there longer and stimulate more betting.

“Our view is entirely to flip that situation on its head. We have the platform where it’s natural for users to engage around sports, to consume the content and chat with their friends while the game is going on and before and after. We think that moving the transactional element closer to the engagement is a much more natural experience than trying to recreate an engagement environment on a fundamentally transactional platform.

“Because of that, any option short of becoming an operator ourselves wouldn’t give us the latitude to execute that that was fulfilling. Not fulfilling just to us but to our users, who we put out in front of all of this.”

Joining NJ sports betting late not a worry

Certainly, the NJ sports betting industry has ballooned since going live in June.

Last month, the fourth month of available online wagering, saw mobile products account for 72 percent of an unprecedented $330 million in handle.

DraftKings Sportsbook and FanDuel Sportsbook, once primarily focused on daily fantasy sports, have emerged as heavy hitters. And of course, there are European  bookmakers such as William Hill and BetStars NJ.

Yet John Levy is not concerned about entering the industry late. For the reasons detailed above by his son.

“The other guys should be worried about that,” the company’s founder said. “We’re not in the least worried about that. I’m not trying to sound arrogant. We have a pretty solid user base in New Jersey already in our app. That’s true for users across the US.”

‘We know our users’

More than 4 million active users utilize theScore’s app, which the Levys said is the second-most popular in North America. The company also reached 50 million sports fans on its social and emerging platforms in the third quarter.

“We know our users have a high propensity to gamble,” Levy continued. “We did our own surveying, we see it in the behavior patterns of users in the app. Our theory is simple: We’re doing all the hard stuff. We’re giving them all the data, all the information, we’re pushing all this stuff out to them. It’s a very personal experience, and they’re going elsewhere to place wagers.

“Our whole philosophy is not to push anyone to do anything. That’s not our style. We’re going to make (sports betting) available. … We honestly think we have the opportunity in this space to go up against the biggest or the smallest … to really be the predominant brand in the sports betting business in New Jersey. Because of the trusted relationship and the relationship we have with our users.”

Added Benjie Levy:

“We don’t shy away from anyone. Our offering is going to be as competitive with anyone in the marketplace, both in terms of core sportsbook offerings and in terms of innovation we’re going to bring to the marketplace. … We think there’s really, across the board, areas for us to differentiate.”

New Jersey first, then …

The Levys continue emphasizing the importance of user engagement and enjoyment.

“All we care about,” John Levy said, “is providing the users with the best experience they can have in sports.”

Sports betting, he added, “is just one particular aspect of why people love sports.” Because of that loyalty, he noted, theScore could gain “the inside edge to penetrate the market effectively and at a significantly reduced cost” compared to competitors.

A team of engineers — actually, theScore’s whole team, John Levy said — is focused on meeting the company’s timeline of a mid-2019 launch of its NJ sports betting app.

It seems like the perfect time, he said.

When will theScore launch in NJ?

Depending on actual activation, theScore’s sportsbook could begin at the tail end of the NBA season, during the dog days of MLB summer, and be honed by NFL and college football kickoff.

While theScore is focused on getting off the ground in New Jersey, by no means does it have tunnel vision.

“Our users are in every state,” John Levy said. “This was never thought to be just a one-state solution. Our brand is recognized across the country. And yes, New Jersey happens to be the first (entry point for theScore) and it’s a great one to start in. … Obviously I think we’re going to be able to shine there. But clearly our intention is to roll this out across the country depending on how states open up and how they deal with it.”

Added Benjie:

“Our intent is not to get into it as one-state operator. We’re ready to consider and engage other opportunities in other states. … We’re actively engaging now.”

Grant Lucas

About

Grant Lucas is a longtime sportswriter who has covered the high school, collegiate, and professional levels. A graduate of Linfield College in McMinnville, Grant has covered games and written features and columns surrounding prep sports, Linfield, and Oregon State athletics and the Portland Trail Blazers throughout his career.