With the demise of enhanced odds offers and operators’ ability to differentiate on marketing being reduced by the day, an arms race on product rather than marketing is now underway, writes Scott Longley
Evolution happens by chance. The largest operators in the online sports betting space will like to feel they have some agency over the Darwinian struggle currently taking place in a range of major regulated markets. But it’s not hard to see how outside events are having an increasingly defining influence.
Take, for instance, the ubiquitous enhanced odds sign-up offer. Regulatory disquiet regarding bonusing practices, free bet promotions, TV advertising and other aspects of online gaming marketing means that offers such as these might soon be a thing of the past in the UK and potentially elsewhere.
Yet the demise of enhanced odds offers comes with benefits for the sports betting consumer as operators are forced to concentrate on improving their product offering at the expense of sign-up gimmicks.
“As a new-ish entrant to this market, I can say that the regulatory pressures are probably an advantage,” says Adam Wilson, co-founder and chief executive at Bookee. “Before we built Bookee, we were betting customers and we were fairly fed up with the archaic promotions offered by the industry.”
“It always baffles me that acquisition and retention are taken in separate contexts,” says Rob Morris, chief executive at digital agency Two Up Digital. “It may have something to do with larger operators justifying separate departments but surely a product that entices a player in also remains a product that they want to continue to bet with?”
The operators’ room for manoeuvre is being squashed in multiple areas, says Nathan Rothschild, co-founder and partner at Melbourne-based data product supplier iSport Genius, which works with Sportsbet, Unibet and Ladbrokes Australia among others.
“Given that their ability to differentiate on marketing is being reduced by the day, the sports betting operators widely accept now that it is all about the product,” he says.
“There is a genuine transition; an arms race for product rather than marketing. It’s about who can have the best product and genuinely be a step ahead and who can utilise the best product in terms of how they position and deliver it to consumers.”
Playing catch up
Engagement is the key word right now. Enticing customers to choose one product over another, and stick with that product, requires greater consideration of what the punter actually wants. There is an argument that the online gambling industry is long overdue an awakening over this point.
“Content is coming to the fore because the effective distribution of it allows for, first, product relevance and broader brand differentiation and, second, relationships to be made with users based on their transaction preferences,” says Andrew Sharland, chief executive at specialist online gambling marketing platform Fresh8. “This is common practice in most other online industries but one the market has struggled with historically.”
Broadly, operators are concentrating on the areas of streaming, visualisation and data to fulfil their own content brief, says Morris.
It means moving away from the “more is more” model consisting of an ever longer tail of increasingly obscure betting markets, and towards a more explicable interface for punters.
Products such as SnapBet from Fenway Games or the aforementioned Bookee with its Tinder-esque functionality are built with a focus on simplicity and ease of use.
“Our thoughts are that improvements to the user experience are often a case of less is more when it comes to what is displayed on the (mobile) screen,” says Peter Gough, founder and chief executive at Fenway.
The evolution of the sports-betting experience is being driven by changing consumer behaviour.
One such development is the emergence of what Gough calls the “armchair football manager”, the new generation of punter who is comfortable with data visualisations and consumer-friendly infographics.
This new breed of informed consumer, suggests Better Collective’s head of UX Henrik Dam Honoré, thrives on data-driven content and becomes a “more educated user” as a result. “This increases the overall retention power of the product,” he argues.
“By adding more data services, you are allowing your users to make more educated decisions when they place bets,” Dam Honoré adds. “It is because of this notion that users are demanding more data, and will actively seek it out to include it in their decision-making processes.”
This has a knock-on effect when it comes to the regulators, argues Rothschild. “The regulators like a more informed consumer,” he says. “It shows the operators are doing something about this. It is a proactive argument; adding this element to their offering is arguably the right thing to do.”
No prizes for guessing who is identified as being ahead of the game in the UK in making the content push. Sharland points to the recent efforts by Sky Bet when it comes to their branded markets such as Priceboosts and Request-A-Bets.
“They are not simply creating loss-leading markets to attract new customers,” he says. “Automated content delivery and the ability to target that content effectively is where the winners of tomorrow will come from.”
Dam Honoré, meanwhile, identifies bet365 as also well positioned in this aspect. “Since they own and operate their own site infrastructure, they are able to experiment and implement positive changes as to how a customer engages with their platform. That is one of the reasons why they continue to be industry leaders.”
Yet, as Rothschild says, the discussion about content is more than a “classic argument about buy versus build”. Instead, he sees the discussion around content provision as being a discussion about collaboration.
“The more content becomes an arms race, it is understandable why it also becomes a debate about the use of third-parties,” he says, suggesting that what operators lose in terms of uniqueness by taking this option they gain by adding immediate capability.
The addition of more targeted and smarter content is now on the future roadmap for all, whether operator, affiliate or supplier. On the simple premise that the customer should get what the customer wants, it is a fair guess that the rush towards providing ever greater engagement on the part of the sports-betting operators has only just begun.
Scott Longley has been a journalist since the early noughties covering personal finance, sport and gambling. He has worked for a number of publications including Investor’s Week, Bloomberg Money, Football First, eGaming Review and Gambling Compliance. He now runs his own editorial consultancy, Clear Concise Media, and writes for a number of online and print titles.