The NFL is set to kick off Thursday as the Atlanta Falcons take on the defending Super Bowl champions the Philadelphia Eagles. The start of the NFL season combined with the proliferation of sports betting -- I heard my first sports betting advertisement on the radio today -- got me thinking about the best investing plays in the sports business. There are the media plays: ESPN and ABC owner Disney (DIS) - Get Report, and DirectTV owner AT&T (T) - Get Report , CBS (CBS) - Get Report and then whoever comes away with the Fox Sports assets not included in Disney's acquisition. But there may be more on the horizon. FanDuel, which recently merged with the U.S. operations of U.K. bookmaker Paddy Power Betfair, is eyeing a reverse merger that would bring itself public. If it does hit the markets, FanDuel could make for a decent late-season addition to your portfolio, as it already is part of the sports consumers' psyche given the rise of daily fantasy sports. As for other stocks to play the gaming market, London-based International Game Technology (ITG) , trades on the Nasdaq and provides tech to the gaming and betting industries that could prove important in the coming months and years. Traditional casino stocks, such as MGM (MGM) - Get Report, Wynn Resorts (WYNN) - Get Report, Boyd Gaming (BYD) - Get Report and Penn National (PENN) - Get Report, could see influxes of bettors, though it is likely that online platforms in certain states could stop some of the growth those traditional gaming companies actually see. So far, investors haven't been too keen on the collective group of casinos as they are about flat to slightly negative on the year as a whole. ITG, meanwhile, is up about 12% year-to-date.

Mergers are often driven by activists, but frequently today they are being completely molded or hijacked, if not blocked, by activists, reports The Deal's Ron Orol. Carl Icahn's attempts to scuttle Cigna's (CI) - Get Report deal with ExpressScripts (ESRX) , were unsuccessful. However, it was at least the fourth M&A deal that Icahn has waded into just over the past 12 months, Orol said, and it represents a growing number of friendly deals in the U.S. being targeted by activists. In May U.K. hedge fund TCI urged Fox to consider a bid for the company's entertainment assets from Comcast (CMCSA) - Get Report if one emerged. The effort didn't upend Walt Disney's bid but did cause Disney to raise its bid. On the lesser known front, HG Vora Capital Management acquired a stake in LaSalle Hotel Properties (LHO) and urged the company to accept a hostile bid from rival hotel REIT Pebblebrook Hotel Trust (PEB) - Get Report rather than consummate an all-cash merger with Blackstone (BX) - Get Report. That saga continues today. More deals are expected in the public markets this year and next and you can expect activists to be involved in many of them.

Markets Today: Stocks were mixed on Wednesday, Sept. 5, and global stocks tumbled for a second consecutive session. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 23 points, or 0.09%, to 25,975, the S&P 500 fell 0.27% and the Nasdaq fell 1.19%. Twitter (TWTR) - Get Report CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook (FB) - Get Report COO Sheryl Sandberg were testifying Wednesday before the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in an extended grilling that covered foreign influence operations on U.S. elections. Recap with TheStreet's live blog of the hearing here.

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