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The rise of social betting

| By Hannah Gannage-Stewart | Reading Time: 4 minutes
The days when the igaming sector would be revolutionised by social betting on Facebook are long gone, but features that grew out of social are making waves, writes Jake Pollard

The days when the igaming sector would be revolutionised by social betting on Facebook or via peer-to-peer platforms are long gone, but features that grew out of social, such as Sky Bet’s Request A Bet, are now being supplemented by player feeds and group betting, writes Jake Pollard

The rise of social features in sports betting has been one of the key trends of the igaming sector over the past two years, but it is not a re-run of the social betting model that so many start-ups tried to develop with little success five years ago.

This is visible from the current user-generated products that have proved so popular in the past two years or from features such as BetBright’s BetFeed. This acts as a recommendation tool that enables punters to see what other players have bet on. In essence, it gives them ideas or suggestions.

Sky Bet kicked off the whole trend with (what has turned out to be) the game-changing Request A Bet. It’s worth remembering that the product had humble beginnings: it started out on Twitter on Friday afternoons, with the bookmaker telling customers it had a trader available to price up any weekend markets they fancied. Soon enough it had more customers than it could handle and the rest, as they say, is history.

The Leeds-based bookmaker’s latest ‘social’ feature is Group Betting, which allows punters to create a group and invite friends to join. Each player is able to add a leg to an accumulator and the group can track its progress in-play.

However, this is not a repeat of the Facebook or peer-to-peer social betting trend of circa 2012-2013. Where those companies were extolling the virtues of word of mouth, bragging rights and fantasy football leagues as prime examples of how social interactions could power them to untold fame and fortune, these days the social features launched by the likes of Sky Bet or BetBright are add-ons to existing products, rather than the main attraction.

The fact that all online bookmakers now offer some variant of the bet-request model is proof that the product works when it comes to attracting customers and will stay in its current form for some time.

This explains why Sky Bet has continued to develop social features such as Group Betting. But as Brian MacSweeney, formerly of Betgenius and now a consultant for DraftKings, explains, the social factor within online betting only works up to a point.

“The new wave of social features are more semi-private, where you are really sharing with a tight group of friends,” he says. “You can see the genesis in Australia where they have ‘punt clubs’ and the like. Betting is a private matter, shared with trusted friends and a lot of the business failures along the way didn’t really reflect this.”

MacSweeney is right; for all the talk of players bragging about their winning bets, how often have you seen punters post on Facebook or Instagram to brag about their winnings?

The counter to this argument is that the power of recommendations and seeing what other people bet on acts as a conduit for players to look around and potentially bet on the same or related markets.

“Across e-commerce, ‘most read’ or ‘most popular’ are powerful features,” adds MacSweeney, “so I’ve been surprised we’ve not seen more of this sooner. All of it is based on social proof, an age-old technique that we all are susceptible to, and for that reason I think it has a lot of potential.”

Marc Thomas, formerly of William Hill and Sportingbet and now working as a consultant with Propus Partners, agrees that it is more about harnessing social features than going ‘all in on social’. Referring to Sky Bet’s accomplishments, Thomas says, “Request A Bet was something of a happy accident and prior to it the customer journey and experience for specific bet requests was very clunky and slow, so it has played a major part in moving the sector forward.

A social platform like Twitter was also ideal, because it enabled positive engagement with customers, differentiation for Sky Bet and fast service for pricing up markets. Where SkyBet’s qualities really came through is that it is more progressive as a company than many of its competitors and uses the best tech and strong marketing to come up with excellent products.” 

This is certainly true, and in 2018 it is not unfair to say that where Sky Bet leads, the rest of the industry follows. In corporate terms the group also benefited hugely from being associated with its broadcasting parent company Sky and long-standing association with the TV show Soccer Saturday. That said, having huge brand recognition isn’t enough on its own as the Sun Bets experience of the past two years has shown. To succeed, operators must combine operational excellence with the best strategy execution.

In terms of product development it will be interesting to see where the whole social-group betting, build-your-bet products head to next. They generate some margins for the operators, but how sustainable are they? Surely some player fatigue at rarely winning will slow the juggernaut down. Unfortunately, BetBright did not return requests for comment from iGaming Business, while Sky Bet said it was “too early to share anything on Group Bets
at the moment”.

When it comes to financials, a quick look at William Hill’s most recent results revealed that Your Odds, its own version of Request A Bet, generated 25% of the group’s World Cup-related gross win. While this is impressive, it didn’t lead to any substantial rise in betting revenues across the group, which implies that punters are simply switching spend from existing products to Your Odds. Nonetheless, there is no denying that having a crack at a potential major accumulator payout is fun and same-game multiples are now standard across the betting portfolio.

MacSweeney is unequivocal in his thinking. “A weekly social-led acca is more about the chat and group dynamics and not really about the revenue,” he insists. “Where the value is likely to be is in keeping a group with the brand and helping acquire friends who may not already have a Sky Bet account. It is another addition to betting, which is turning into a rich tapestry of options from the days when a single bet on the league outright winner was the only offer.”

As to how much extra revenue these products bring in, William Hill’s figures suggest punters’ leisure spend is being spread around more, rather than increasing. Sky Bet might change that with Group Bets, but the focus will remain on real-time feeds of overall betting activity to provide stimulus and data to players.

More likely, bookmakers’ homepages will soon have players’ and their friends’ activity showing personalised offerings according to latest bets and suggestions for related markets. In other words, betting with a side of personalisation, social and recommended products.

Jake Pollard is a leading journalist and content producer in the igaming sector. He has covered the industry for many years and worked on all the major business-to-business publications.

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