A Major League Baseball team for the city of Nashville? Musician Justin Timberlake is betting on it.
Tennesseean.com reported Wednesday that Timberlake, a Memphis native and one of the biggest names in the U.S. music industry, has invested an undisclosed sum in a group known as Music City Baseball, formed to push for a big league team in the state’s most populous city.
Timberlake joined the group at a time when the state is about to kick off legal and regulated online/mobile sports gambling, an activity that makes a team in Nashville even more attractive for investors as well as state and local officials. State-sanctioned sportsbooks would also greatly welcome it, especially considering Tennessee has high costs of entry into the legal betting market.
The Volunteer State’s upcoming sports wagering market would greatly benefit from an MLB team in Nashville, to go along with its NFL and NHL franchises and the NBA franchise located in Memphis. That said, Tennessee was an early state for passing legislation for online/mobile sportsbooks, so it will benefit from fans of sports teams in the region crossing into the state to bet. Missouri, Kentucky, Alabama, and Georgia have all not yet legalized sports gambling.
Timberlake made no mention of gambling in a statement about joining Music City Baseball.
“I am thrilled to be involved in the movement to bring Major League Baseball to the great state of Tennessee,” Timberlake said. “I believe in Music City Baseball’s vision of linking baseball and music in a unique way to unite and entertain people and I am excited to help generate awareness throughout the community as we share our vision for bringing MLB to Music City.”
Former Boston Red Sox President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski, also a recent addition to the group, said that Timberlake coming on board was an “extremely important” development in the quest to snag a team for Nashville, giving the efforts much greater publicity.
The group will need it, as a team would require public money for a stadium, according to the report.
How much would sports betting market benefit?
When legalizing sports wagering in 2019, state officials were expecting the Tennessee sports wagering market to be worth about $3.5 billion annually in terms of handle once it matures, generating about $250 million in revenues. It will take some time to get there, as only four sports betting firms have so far sought licensure in the state and it will take many months for the public to become acquainted with the new apps.
For example, the state of Indiana is expected to have a larger market than Tennessee’s, and through Indiana’s first 11 months of wagering, it saw just over $1 billion in handle. To be fair, that performance would have been much better in the absence of COVID-19 and its impact on the sports world.
In Nevada, a sports betting state also lacking an MLB team, 21% of the 2019 statewide sports betting handle was on baseball. Many in Las Vegas also want an MLB team. The handle share for baseball would likely grow relative to other sports with a squad in Sin City.
In the sports betting business, we’ve seen that a rising sports tide lifts all boats. An MLB team in Nashville would help drive traffic to a sportsbook in the so-called slow betting season (the non-NFL summer months). In other words, there would be more betting on other sports thanks to a baseball team in Nashville because people would be spending more time on the apps.
Regardless, Tennesseans are going to be betting heavily on baseball with or without a local MLB team.
The most popular baseball team in Tennessee is the Atlanta Braves, a squad that plays a roughly four-hour drive by car from Nashville. Rivalry games between a Nashville team and the Braves would be great betting days for Tennessee sportsbooks. The St. Louis Cardinals are popular in western Tennessee.
Is Major League Baseball eyeing Nashville?
While MLB teams are inking sponsorship deals with various sportsbooks around the country in fast and furious fashion, the league hasn’t designated Tennessee as a state that could use a franchise. That could change.
“Major League Baseball has expressed no support for a franchise in Nashville,” according to Music City Baseball’s website. “Major League Baseball has been clear that there will be no movement towards expansion until issues related to current franchises are addressed. Our goal is to be ready when Major League Baseball is satisfied these conditions have been met.”
Furthermore, the Nashville-based group isn’t yet officially proposing a site for a potential stadium, but it has eyed a location next to Nissan Stadium that it thinks would work.
Sports betting states should be more attractive to MLB as time goes on. The American Gaming Association, the casino industry’s top lobbying group on Capitol Hill, found in 2018 that MLB stands to gain $1.1 billion in additional annual revenue thanks to sports wagering. That includes more than $950 million in boosted revenue from “fan engagement” and about $150 million in “gaming related” revenue in the form of sponsorship, advertising, and product fees.
The stadium for a Nashville MLB team would be home to plenty of advertising for sports wagering. Unlike Illinois, for example, which is allowing the Chicago Cubs to pursue a sportsbook at Wrigley Field, casino-less Tennessee went with online/mobile sports betting only. So, there wouldn’t be a retail sportsbook at a theoretical Nashville stadium, unless lawmakers change the law.
Tennessee is in the minority of U.S. states to have passed sports betting legislation in the two years and change since the famous U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2018. That won’t be the case for very long, as 2021 should feature another flurry of legislative activity. Georgia is a contender for legalization, which would not be advantageous for Tennessee. One small but meaningful thing the tourism-heavy state could do to keep up economically is expand the footprint of professional sports within its borders.