Navigating the Odds: Managing Reputational Risks in Sports Betting
Issues Management Public Relations Reputation Management

Navigating the Odds: Managing Reputational Risks in Sports Betting

By Gerald Nelson

The NBA playoffs are in full swing, and for the world of sports betting, that means more bets on games and players and even who will record the first basket in the NBA game or who will record a triple-double. Americans wagered a record $119.84 billion on sports betting in 2023, up 27.8% from 2022, according to the American Gaming Association’s Commercial Gaming Revenue Tracker. But as the betting has increased, so have the sports scandals, and that creates risk for long-revered and protected brands like the NBA and their reputation.

We want integrity in everything and everyone, whether it’s the brands we use or our leaders. With integrity comes trust, and with trust comes support and loyalty from customers and fans. This is especially true in sports, where game outcomes can be easily influenced. The thought of fans thinking that the product on the court or field is compromised has always been a nightmare for professional and collegiate sports leagues.

But it’s especially so now that you can bet on your favorite team with the swipe of your finger. The benefits are clear regarding revenue for gambling companies and sports leagues that benefit from advertising dollars. Plus, increasing fan engagement at all levels.

At the same time, the sports world has been shaken by two scandals in the past two months, alone, involving superstar baseball player Shohei Ohtani and NBA player Jontay Porter.

Strategies for Handling a Scandal

So, when scandals erupt, what do teams and leagues do to contain the immediate damage and ensure trust isn’t broken?

Start with these crisis communications strategies:

Assess the situation –

Gather all the facts. What’s being reported? What’s being discussed on social media? Is there an external investigation? What’s the risk to your organization? From internal and external sources, find out what happened to inform your response and immediate next steps.

Formulate your response –

Lead with your solution to the problem or the action steps you’ll take to get there.

Get in front of the story –

Be the first to share the facts of the situation and, most importantly, your response. This helps put you in the driver’s seat rather than allowing others to shape your narrative. It can also help shrink the window of attention—instead of the press and others digging up information, you’re providing it proactively.


How are your messages landing? Is new information coming to light? Do you need to update your statement or action plan?

Do what you said you would do –

Follow-through on initial statements is critical.

The NBA used these steps to handle the Porter scandal effectively. In early March, the NBA announced an investigation after sportsbooks notified them of an irregular amount of prop bets placed on Porter in two games he played. On April 19, the NBA announced Porter’s ban and that its investigation remains open, and that it shared information with federal authorities.

“There is nothing more important than protecting the integrity of NBA competition for our fans, our teams and everyone associated with our sport, which is why Jontay Porter’s blatant violations of our game rules are being met with the most severe punishment,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said when announcing the ban.

Swift and definitive action created a precedent while showing fans and everyone associated with the NBA that the integrity of the sport would not be compromised.

Then, shortly after, it was reported that the NBA and its partner sportsbooks were discussing changes to player prop bets to help minimize similar situations.

As the NBA and other leagues partner with more betting companies and betting advertising becomes more prevalent, there will likely be more of these incidents.

Devine + Partners is a Philadelphia-based public relations agency. We offer a full range of communications services – from message and content development and media relations to crisis communications and employee and community engagement.

Gerald Nelson

Gerald Nelson

In his role as Content Producer, Gerald works with the team developing content for multiple client accounts. With experience in journalism and communications, Gerald has a passion for storytelling and giving insight and life to a story.