The Boulder-based school has a new five-year deal with the betting operator, which is building its U.S. headquarters in nearby Denver. Legal sports betting went live in Colorado in May, and partnering with the state’s biggest athletic department is a way for PointsBet to separate itself from the sports books currently taking bets there.
It is among the first—and likely the most in-depth—partnerships between an athletic department and a sports betting operator. William Hill, for example, has been advertising with the University of Nevada Las-Vegas and University of Nevada Reno since 2017, the company said.
The PointsBet deal, which covers sports betting, fantasy sports, casino games and free-to-play contests, was negotiated by Colorado’s commercial partner Learfield IMG College. PointsBet will have signs placed at the school’s football stadium and basketball arena, plus a presence on radio broadcasts and other media. It also includes career development opportunities for Colorado students.
“This isn’t a deal just to get PR, this is a long-term view for both parties, and both parties had to get very comfortable with one another,” Johnny Aitken, CEO of PointsBet’s U.S. business, said in an interview. “It is centered around education and those career pathways, and being in-state, the trust factor is heightened because we’re just miles away, not a plane flight away.”
Though terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, the money comes at an important time for Colorado. The athletic department typically has a budget of nearly $100 million and the vast majority of that comes from football and men’s basketball, which the Pac-12 canceled until at least Jan. 1.
Athletic Director Rick George has been adamant that the school won’t eliminate any sports or areas of athlete support, such as mental health, nutrition and academic advising. The school has reportedly laid off or furloughed about 30 staffers.
The PointsBet deal includes support for the Colorado athletic department’s Leadership and Career Development Program. Aitken said the partnership gives PointsBet a line into Colorado’s business and technology students, including a presence at job fairs and internship programs.
“The scale of our growth as a business is going to be huge, going from operating in three states to operating in 20 or 30 over time,” Aitken said. “We’re going to have a large team, primarily based in Denver, so we want access to the brightest minds. And we feel the brightest minds do their education in Colorado at CU.”
For years, the NCAA was in lockstep with the major pro leagues in fighting the expansion of legal sports betting in the U.S. Once the Supreme Court declared the federal ban unconstitutional in 2018, pro leagues warmed to the idea of signing commercial partnerships that would grow their businesses.
College sports have been much more resistant, driven largely by tradition and integrity concerns. College football games are as popular as NFL games, but NCAA athletes are unpaid, have more restrictions around injury disclosures, and are typically much younger. As more states legalized sports gambling, individual schools have lobbied to prevent its spread. In some states, like New Jersey, gambling on in-state colleges is prohibited.
The NCAA itself has no sports betting partner, nor a big-money data deal for sports books. (It does work with an outside provider to monitor gambling lines and detect fraud.) This deal was approved both by the Colorado athletic department and university brass.
“We are impressed with their commitment to raising awareness around responsible gaming,” Colorado Athletic Director Rick George said about PointsBet. “And we’re particularly excited whenever we can partner with sponsors who call Colorado home.”
PointsBet was founded in Australia and launched in the U.S. in 2019. In addition to standard betting options, it offers a unique type of wagering where bettors can make (or lose) more money depending on how right (or wrong) they are. The company hasn’t yet launched in Colorado, but it plans to in the coming months.
The Buffalos deal continues an active few weeks for PointsBet. Last month the company signed a long-term deal with NBC Sports, which could be worth as much as $500 million. Shortly afterward, the company’s stock price in Australia nearly doubled. The company also has new partnerships with the Indiana Pacers, and a multiyear deal with Kroenke Sports & Entertainment that makes it the exclusive betting partner of the Denver Nuggets, the Colorado Avalanche and their home arena.
(This story has been updated in the headline and with details of William Hill’s agreement in the third paragraph.)