Capital One Arena
Capital One Arena Credit: KELYN SOONG

Monumental Sports and Entertainment, along with their television broadcast partner NBC Sports Washington, plan to change the way local sports fans consume sports.

When Wizards fans tuned in to watch the Dec. 11 game against the Milwaukee Bucks, they had the option of participating in a first of its kind, live interactive broadcast on the NBC Sports Washington Plus broadcast of the game. The contest, called “Predict the Game” provided fans an opportunity to compete in a trivia styled challenge of answering a series of questions based on the outcome of the game, with the winner receiving $500.

The contest was just the precursor of bigger things to come in the future of sports gambling in this region, which is set to see an economic boom after the D.C. Council voted in December to legalize sports gambling in the District.

That legislation is already piquing the interest of many gambling enthusiasts and casual consumers.

“We’re interested in giving customers choices,” says Zach Leonsis, Monumental’s senior vice president of strategic initiatives. “There will be plenty of viewers who are not interested in this content and they can continue to watch the regular broadcast, which is incredibly well done on NBC Sports Washington, but there is a subsection of fans who really are interested in this type of content.”

“We have a lot of daily fantasy players in Washington D.C. and a black market for sports betting unfortunately. We believe that there is real interest from that audience to tune in and it is a responsibility of ours to cater to multiple audience interests,” he continues.

The interest is there, according to NBC Sports Washington general manager Damon Phillips. The company conducted a test in the spring, called “Guess the Game,” on several Wizards and Capitals broadcasts where announcers asked fans questions in order to engage with viewers.

“What we found was that not only were fans watching, but they were engaging at high levels,” Phillips tells City Paper. “We were also introducing our viewers to the concept of prop bets and we got a really good response from that … At the heart of what we’re trying to do here is whatever we can do to make the viewing experience better for fans. What can we do to get people more engaged in broadcasts? In a sense, we’re gamifying the game and sports betting is the backdrop of how we can do that.”

According to NBC Sports Washington, the Wizards-Bucks game rated 26 percent higher than the season average and that 20 percent of people who streamed the game watched the alternate telecast. Fans watched the broadcast with official game statistics plastered on the outlines of the screens.

Other information centered around sports gambling. The alternate broadcast provided numbers on which team was favored to win and the line for the final points total scored between the two teams. Bettors could bet over or under that total.

The “Predict the Game” interactive broadcast presented fans with a series of 10 questions during the game. Viewers had to answer within a specific time frame of when the question was asked in order to get credit for the right answer. The winning contestant won by simply answering nine of the ten questions correctly.

“Fans want choice, and over time viewing sports may turn into a personalized experience,” Phillips says. “What I want on my screen may not be what you want to see on your screen, but in the future we will try to cater to what our consumers want.”

The Dec. 11 game opened up with the Bucks being favored by 7.5 points, but the line finished at the Bucks being favored by just 1.5 points after MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo was ruled out. The Wizards not only covered the spread, but won the game 113-106 behind a triple-double performance from Tomáš Satoranský.

“One of the reason why we’re able to be as progressive in this market is because of the great work being done by Monumental Sports and Entertainment,” Phillips says. “They are one of the most innovative and technology driven sports ownership groups out there.”

Wizards owner Ted Leonsis‘ venture capital firm, Revolution Growth, invested in both DraftKings and sports data company Sportrader, which entered into a six-year, $250 million data deal with the NBA in 2016. This allows the companies to not only understand the people who will become their target demographic but also what type of questions or bets viewers will be interested in seeing in the future.

“It’s not about going after the sharks, it’s really about the casual fan and looking into the future at the type of microtransactions that people can conduct, where you see bets at $1, $2, $3,” says Phillips. “As far as the type of questions that we ask, you want it to appeal to the broadest possible audience and not have it be too complicated.”

Monumental Sports is not so much interested in turning their arenas into sportsbooks, as was widely reported, as they are in partnering with third party companies and maintaining visibility and integrity in this new endeavor. “I could see us partnering with a DraftKings, or an MGM, with a FanDuel. They’ll have the book, they’ll stand behind the money, and we would activate it and promote it,” Ted Leonsis told Reuters.

As the market shares for business in sports gambling increases, Monumental Sports and NBC Sports Washington are committed to getting into the marketplace at the ground-floor and will likely be influencing the rest of the industry instead of reacting to what everyone else is doing.

Phillips is excited about the work being done now and what it means for the future.

“These experiments that we’re doing is allowing us to learn from first-hand experience and is going to prepare us to be able to flip the switch when sports betting officially gets here,” he says.