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Change in landscape allowed NFL to hire new betting czar from within

A few hours after sending an email informing NFL staff that she’d chosen an internal candidate to fill the league’s newly created role of VP and GM of sports betting earlier this week, NFL CRO Renie Anderson fired off a text checking in on her selection.

“All good with everything?” Anderson asked David Highhill, a 10-year NFL employee who was previously VP/strategy and analytics. “I am floored by the response,” Highhill texted back. “I’m excited to get going and I’m so humbled by the internal support. Let’s go crush this.”

There was a time, a few years ago, when the idea of the NFL staying inside for a new betting role would have been unthinkable. While Anderson said she was “rooting” for Highhill from the time he expressed interest in the job, she concedes that she at first thought it unlikely that the league would fill the position from within. The initial job description, first posted early in 2020, read like an invitation to someone already working on betting matters for another league or, better yet, at a sportsbook; someone well-versed and well-connected.

That position went unfilled, frozen after COVID hit, and scuttled soon after. When Anderson finally was able to post the position again three months ago, she began to re-think her expectations. She realized the league no longer needed someone with gambling industry connections to shepherd it to the right sportsbook pairing. It now has three of those, all of which happily share their expertise and insights.

Handling sports betting through a committee led by then-chief strategy officer Chris Halpin, working closely with Anderson, the league had -- in two years -- bid out its data rights, opened a sports betting sponsor category, established a responsible gambling initiative and counseled teams on both legislative and commercial matters. Halpin left the league in January, but the rest of the committee remains.

“It’s interesting to see how we have this foundation built now that we didn’t have before, from the people who are internal that have become subject matter experts within these spaces,” Anderson said. “Going through the process, we met some amazing candidates with really interesting experience. But it was experience that I think we needed a few years ago, not now.”

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