Last Wednesday, the Vegas Golden Knights announced a multi-year deal with UpickTrade that raised eyebrows among sports-betting industry insiders. By Saturday, the partnership was over. The team issued a nondescript statement saying: “The Vegas Golden Knights have ended their sponsorship agreement with UpickTrade. The organization will not have additional comments on the matter at this time.”
It’s unclear if the decision to walk back the deal, touted—pun intended—as the first between a National Hockey League club and a Mexico-based company, was made at the team or league level (neither responded to our inquiries). “We are still in shock about the whole decision,” said Erick Sapien, COO of Xoy Capital (the parent company for UpickTrade).
But with the alliance universally panned, some experts say it’s no shock that the team won’t be partnering with the sports-betting recommendation service after all. Dustin Gouker (head of content, U.S., Catena Media) said: “I am not surprised the deal was killed. I am surprised no one stopped it before it happened.”
Our Take: It is not known what details, if any, the NHL was aware of before the team finalized the pact. But the league has thoroughly evaluated gaming opportunities in other markets before providing their approval, leading one to believe the Golden Knights announced the deal with the NHL’s support. Multiple attempts to gain comment from the league office went unanswered.
Considering the history of sports and gambling, it is “obviously it’s a bit disingenuous” for a team to partner with a company that tells fans how to bet, Gouker said. But the bigger problem with the Upick deal is that the team is now effectively promoting a company with a vested interest in the outcome of individual games. Simply from an optics standpoint, that wouldn’t seem like a great idea for a league concerned about maintaining the game’s integrity. And “if they [were getting] inside info, it’s completely wrong. It’s not just optics, it’s morally corrupt,” said Matt Perrault (sports gambling voice, Sports Map Radio; Host of “The Daily Juice Podcast”). Sapien said there was “no exclusion of teams in our deal,” meaning the company could have picked (or picked against) the Golden Knights on any given night.
Proponents of the deal will argue that if the league is going to embrace sports betting and partner with gaming operators, there is no reason why it should draw the line at “sports pick” partnerships. But as Gouker explained, there is a fundamental difference. Sportsbooks are “regulated places to bet and are just booking the bets. They’re agnostic as to what people bet on [and/or the results of any game].” To the contrary, a tout service’s business is entirely reliant on correctly predicting winners and losers (which also makes them vastly different from a media partner that might be providing picks). “And a lot of the time they are going to be wrong,” Gouker said. “If Upick tells people to bet on the Knights and the Knights lost, the negative reaction [the team] is going to get from fans is easy to forecast. Why would a pro franchise want to expose themselves to [that]?”
If Upick was presenting itself as industry research, Gouker said he personally would have had “far less of a problem” with the partnership. But the company’s website explicitly states if bettors follow their recommendations as given, they will make money in the long-term. “No pro team should be telling people to use a service that promises [bettors] can make a living from betting on sports. There is absolutely no guarantee [a bettor] can follow sports-betting picks from a subscription [service] and make money off of it. [That idea] is nonsense.” Gouker said. Of course, Upick customers don’t just have to win 52% or 53% of their bets to turn a profit. They need to win at least $90 each month just to cover the additional cost of the subscription.
Pro sports is a copycat industry, so had the deal stood it certainly would not have been hard to envision other NHL teams adding an ‘Official Sports Pick Service Partner’ of their own. Considering the negative blowback, that now seems unlikely–even if the NHL is going to allow teams to sell the sponsorship category. The NFL, NBA and MLB do not permit clubs to explore partnerships within the tout category.
While it’s logical that Vegas would have been the team to introduce a new category around sports betting (a long-established industry within that market), it’s far less clear why the Golden Knights opted to do a deal with Upick. As Gouker noted, there is no shortage of Nevada-based companies providing picks, and he had never heard of Upick until now. “It’s hard to even find much information on them [online],” he said.
It’s also not obvious why the team first tried to introduce the category now, considering sports betting has been legal in Nevada for as long as the franchise has been around. Multiple attempts to reach the club went unanswered.