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Historic sponsorship deal inked between CU Buffs, PointsBet gambling company

Partnership rare for Division I athletics program

Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Colorado athletic director Rick George said it didn’t take long for him to realize Mel Tucker was right for the coaching job.
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Colorado athletic director Rick George has stated repeatedly he does not plan to cut any of his school’s sports programs, despite the layoffs and continued furloughs that have marked the financial fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Tuesday, CU announced a unique partnership that will mitigate at least some of that economic damage, as Buffaloes athletics has entered into a corporate partnership with PointsBet, an online sports gambling forum headquartered in Denver. PointsBet entered into a similar agreement earlier this month with Kroenke Sports and Entertainment, which owns the Denver Nuggets, Colorado Avalanche, the Colorado Rapids, Colorado Mammoth, and the Pepsi Center.

The state of Colorado voted to legalize sports gambling in November, and legal sports betting in the state was launched in May. It is one of only a few corporate sponsorships between a sports gambling company and a major NCAA Division I athletic program.

The deal was brokered by Learfield IMG College, the media rights holder for CU Buffs athletics. PointsBet is expected to secure premier signage space at Folsom Field and the CU Events Center, in addition to having marketing space within CU athletics broadcasts.

George did not disclose the financial terms of the partnership, describing it as an agreement between PointsBet and Learfield IMG College, but it is a five-year deal with the funds earmarked for the CU athletic department’s Scripps Leadership and Career Development Program.

“This is going to benefit our student-athletes in the areas of leadership and career development,” George said. “And that’s an important part of what we’re doing. To be able to provide the support, internship opportunities…they’re a technology company, and we’re a school that has a tremendous amount of students, and student-athletes, in those areas. We think there’s a real positive in that regard relative to this partnership. We’re pretty excited about what that will do for us.

“A big component of this is geared towards our Scripps Career and Leadership Development department. We feel good about that.”

While the landmark agreement does not change the rules for gambling within the athletic department — per NCAA regulations, athletes as well as athletic department staff members are prohibited from gambling on NCAA events — it arrives in a timely manner. The loss of CU’s expected appearance in the 2020 NCAA men’s basketball tournament, combined with the delayed start to the football season, has forced the financial standing of CU’s athletic department upon shaky ground.

Despite the Pac-12 holding its men’s conference basketball tournament in Las Vegas since 2013, with the league’s football championship moving there with its next edition as well, the NCAA historically has maintained a strong aversion to allowing even a hint of the gaming world into its version of amateur athletics.  George said he discussed the pending deal with officials from the NCAA as well as the conference before making things official with PointsBet.

“We are committed to working with responsible corporate sponsors who conduct business ethically and who are the best at what they do,” George said. “PointsBet is certainly one of those and has been viewed as a market leader for its responsible gaming efforts. And the partnership with CU athletics will emphasize and create awareness around responsible gaming and sports betting education.”