Imagine reading an Associated Press story about milk, and the writer says it’s $15.49 a gallon. (I don’t do the grocery shopping.)
It would be fair for the reader to wonder where exactly the reporter has gotten that number from. And normally, there would be some sort of attribution, usually from a dairy trade group or federal agency or some such thing.
But what if, instead, the reporter said that’s the price at Kroger, one of America’s largest supermarket chains. And what if there was a hyperlink to the Kroger website. And what if every story the AP — you know, the place that calls itself “the definitive source for independent journalism from every corner of the globe” — wrote about food came with Kroger pricing and Kroger links and even Kroger content? And what if Kroger was paying for this privilege?
Well, if that happened, there would be a lot of hand-wringing in media circles about the AP selling itself out.
Welp, allow me to wring some hands over the AP’s recent deal with FanDuel, because it’s no different than the make-believe deal above. FanDuel is paying the AP to be the exclusive provider of odds in AP stories, complete with hyperlinks back to the FanDuel sportsbook homepage and links to FanDuel content.
This is a bad look for the AP, and it’s worse for readers.
“The Associated Press and FanDuel Group today announced an agreement that makes FanDuel the exclusive provider of sports odds across AP’s global sports report.”
— Matt Perrault (@sportstalkmatt) May 25, 2021
Details? Who needs details?
First, the details of the deal can be summed up in a word: scant.
We do not know how much FanDuel is paying the Associated Press to be the sole provider of odds in AP stories. We don’t know how long the deal lasts.
Details we do know: In AP game preview stories, odds stories, or most any other sports story, FanDuel odds will be provided along with links back to the FanDuel homepage. Additionally, there will be FanDuel widgets on the AP home page and FanDuel content across the AP wire.
Basically, if you take in AP content — and you do, as the AP is featured in more than 1,300 newspapers and broadcasts — you will be seeing FanDuel’s odds everywhere.
This doesn’t exactly scream “independent journalism.” FanDuel does not have a monopoly on the U.S. sports betting market, but casual readers of AP stories might think they do.
This is lousy journalism, frankly.
As we learned this week, top leaders at the Associated Press are very concerned that the wire service's stories may appear biased, but not so concerned that they won't allow FanDuel to pay to include the company's betting odds in AP sports stories. https://t.co/R1QS43qc9Q pic.twitter.com/FVYWgvS7Lz
— Max Tani (@maxwelltani) May 25, 2021
For starters, no one sportsbook should be the “official” partner of any independent news organization. It is not fair to the readers, as the odds of any game are going to be different across other sportsbooks (duh). And it’s not like there aren’t websites out there that do the not-so-hard work of listing all the odds across all the sportsbooks.
Really, if the AP wanted to continue its independent journalism thang, would it be so hard to write “the best price for the 76ers is +175 at BetMGM at the time of this writing, and best price for the Nets is -205 at DraftKings”?
Or, honestly, even better would be to take the odds at a handful of sportsbooks, add ‘em up, divide ‘em up, and come up with aggregate odds? Wouldn’t that be better? (Yes. Of course it would.)
What’s most telling about this deal is how the two sides see it. Normally, when two businesses enter into an agreement, the messaging is the same.
In this case? Not so much.
“I think the thing where we move the needle is partnerships with media companies,” FanDuel Chief Marketing Officer Mike Raffensperger said to Axios, which broke the story.
And in the press release announcing the deal, Adam Kaplan, FanDuel Group’s general manager and vice president of content, said, “AP is a globally recognized leader in trusted news, making them the ideal source for us to disseminate our industry-leading sportsbook’s proprietary odds and content.”
Clearly, to FanDuel, this deal is in the same world as DraftKings buying VSiN or teaming up with Dan Le Batard: A media deal to further their reach. And they’re not being shy about it.
But the AP … well, it sees the deal differently, at least in its public stance.
“We want more context in our reporting,” says Barry Bedlan, AP’s global director of text and new markets products, told Axios. “That’s ultimately what this is about.”
If they wanted more “context,” they’d aggregate the odds, at minimum, and not give one sportsbook full control. Providing one sportsbook’s odds — and ignoring all the others — is the opposite of context. And again, let’s not forget: FanDuel is paying the AP for this “context.”
Unbiased, and should remain so
Of course there are other deals like this in place. FanDuel has similar deals with The Ringer, Turner Sports for NBA content, and others. DraftKings (like BetMGM, and PointsBet, and everyone else) has deals with sports teams and other entities. Sportsbooks being “exclusive” partners and whatnot is an advertising ploy, and no one really should have any issue with that.
But the Associated Press is, for better or worse, the most unbiased source of news in America. And as someone who worked in the newspaper industry for more than 20 years, I can say with confidence it’s almost always for “better.” The AP has done, and continues to do, an incredible job of covering the news, both here and abroad. Without the Associated Press, the American newspaper business would be in even more serious trouble than it already is.
And for the AP to effectively punt sportsbook odds to FanDuel — or any sportsbook — for an unspecified amount of cash just feels like it’s going against what they purportedly stand for.
I’ll tell you this much: If I’m Kroger, I’m setting up a phone call. What’s to lose?
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