Features

Thomas Knapp – Paramount

SVP wins the jackpot with groundbreaking deals for CBS Sports Digital

Thomas Knapp has spent his career immersed in games that deepen people’s engagement with sports. Over the past 20-plus years, he’s watched fantasy sports evolve from just a platform for people to organize their leagues, to season-long games in which operators took an entry fee and paid out prizes, to the current era of FanDuel, DraftKings and now, Caesars—with whom he did a big deal not too long ago.

In 2020, Knapp forged a marketing partnership that allowed Caesars, a hotel and casino entertainment company, to become the official sportsbook of CBS Sports Digital, where Knapp heads business and legal affairs. For its part, CBS got Caesars’ official odds and lines for sporting events.

Thomas Knapp | SVP, Business & Legal Affairs | Paramount

Thomas Knapp | SVP, Business & Legal Affairs | Paramount

“After the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, there’s a general perception that sports gambling is legal, and you’re seeing the advertisements and you’re seeing trusted brands offering it—like FanDuel, like DraftKings, like Caesars, like MGM, that are licensed and regulated—so there are new folks coming on to play,” Knapp says. “A lot of people do it because it just makes watching the game more fun.”

The Caesars deal was a passion project for Knapp, who relished the complexities of “venturing into uncharted waters,” he says.

“We were doing the first deal in a space that was just becoming legal,” Knapp says. “So we had to do a deal in a legal and regulatory environment that was going to transform over the life of the deal.”

Entering uncharted waters with sports gambling

When Knapp struck that deal, New Jersey and Pennsylvania were the only states that had legalized online sports gambling. So, he and his legal team had to work with the casino’s legal team on a structure that anticipated what licenses each party would need to get in the states that were going to come online in the future, and how both parties would enter different states.

There were a lot of unknowns. How would they put parameters around their activities in the states that had yet to come online? How would they comply with procedures that hadn’t been written yet?

Much of what was yet to be decided hinged on market access, which is governed by laws at the state level. In some states, it’s relatively open, and in others, it’s more restricted, because access is grounded in the state’s legacy casino industry, which requires working through a casino to get what’s known as “skin” to operate an online sports book.

Knapp knew that in some states, they would have to get registrations or licenses to run the advertising and the integrations for Caesars. So, he made sure the agreement included provisions laying out how that process was going to unfold.

“Sports gambling was really interesting, because it was like, my world turned upside-down,” Knapp says. “My whole career—especially because I had all these relationships with leagues who obviously had extraordinary concerns around issues of gambling—you couldn’t do anything around gambling. And so all of a sudden, saying, ‘Hey, we’re going to do it,’ was kind of like Superman living in the Bizarro world.”

Launching a new soccer network

The Caesars deal only further bolstered the CBS Sports brand, which arguably didn’t need any help—Knapp says the brand has been a huge asset to him in negotiating rights deals.

He notes that while sports leagues are naturally concerned about the money their media partners pay them for rights, each league is also thinking about how media deals can help build their league’s brand.

Thomas Knapp | SVP, Business & Legal Affairs | Paramount

On April 11, CBS launched a new network dedicated solely to soccer, the CBS Sports Golazo Network. CBS Sports Golazo Network will differ from CBS Sports Digital’s previous FAST (Free Ad-Supported Television) network, CBS Sports HQ, which is a multi-sport news, highlights, analysis and scores network that launched five years ago.

With a one-sport focus and more diversity of content, CBS Sports Golazo Network will have “its own unique flavor,” Knapp says. In addition to airing live games, the network will have in-studio analysis, interviews, post-game coverage, highlights and updates.

“You’ve got to have content to fill up a channel, so you’ve got to go out and do rights acquisitions,” he says. “We do believe soccer is at an inflection point in the United States. You’re seeing that reflected in the fees the rights deals are commanding in the marketplace. Because it is growing, and we like the demographic, right: It’s younger, it’s more diverse, and we believe it’s a great opportunity to really start to build our soccer universe.”

Doing groundbreaking work

After earning his B.A. from Southern Connecticut State University in 1990, Knapp received his J.D. from Northeastern University School of Law in 1993. He says a turning point in his career was joining SportsLine.com as a deputy general counsel after working for AT&T as a manager of business and legal affairs.

After five years with SportsLine, Knapp joined Paramount via acquisition, which owns CBS Sports Digital, in 2004, and he’s been there ever since.

“A big part of my practice has been dealing with IP rights,” Knapp says. “I was really involved in resolving all of the IP issues around player names in fantasy. That was impactful for the whole industry.”

In 2009, Knapp secured a favorable verdict in CBS Interactive’s lawsuit against the NFL Players’ Association over whether CBS had a First Amendment right to use players’ names and playing records in its fantasy sports offerings without paying licensing fees. There had been one previous ruling establishing such a First Amendment right, but the district court decision extending that precedent to football was a groundbreaking win for the fantasy sports industry, he says.

“If there’s one consistent theme to my career, it’s that I like to be involved in things that are new and to figure them out,” Knapp says. “From the browser wars, to the sports data wars, to the streaming wars, to online sports gambling, the one constant in my career has been change. While I may lose a night’s sleep here and there… I would not have it any other way.”

View this feature in the Vanguard Summer I 2023 Edition here.

Published on: May 16, 2023

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