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The Sun always shines on TV?

| By iGB Editorial Team | Reading Time: 5 minutes
Sunbets is a major new player in the UK igaming space. It has the potential and resources to rival the major operators, but the hard yards start now, writes Jake Pollard.

Sunbets is a major new player in the UK igaming space. It has the potential and resources to rival the major operators, but the hard yards start now, writes Jake Pollard.

The full launch of Sunbets.co.uk, the online sportsbook of the UK’s biggest selling newspaper The Sun, this Saturday will be watched closely by all industry stakeholders, and, if those involved in the project are right, with good reason.

After all, The Sun's most recent circulation figures show that it has a daily print readership of nearly 4.4 million (from a print run of 1.7 million), of which  30% is made up of 25-44 year olds. Its PC traffic totalled 42 million unique visitors in July.

Even more relevant is the fact that on mobile it is visited by 3 million unique visitors while on Facebook it has 2.3 million likes and 1.1 million followers on Twitter. 

The obvious rebuke to such statistics is that a big audience does not guarantee success in the highly competitive world of UK online bookmaking. So why does The Sun, and its platform partner – Australian wagering behemoth Tabcorp, believe they will be successful in becoming a “tier 1 operator” in the UK?

Craig Nugent, chief operating officer of Tabcorp, said the UK “is a large market and our aspiration is to be a tier 1 operator. But to be a tier 1 operator in this market we are going to have to get a tier 1 percentage from the market. There are no forecasts other than that.

“The market has changed slightly over the last year in terms of consolidation but we come from a space where we have 50% of the market (online and offline combined) and we expect over time, not arrogantly, to realise that aspiration”.

For Sunbets it will all come back to content, audience and monetisation. The focus will not be on price, the offering will be embedded into the reams of sports and show business coverage that The Sun generates every day, leveraging the scale and reach it has through its  print, online, radio and TV (through its corporate connection to Sky TV) platforms.  

A point emphasised by director of betting and gaming David Robinson, who said the company had been working on the project for close to a year and now was the time to monetise this reach.

Reaching out to its readers
“Everyone knows the newspaper and the reach it has, a website that is growing by some margin (42 million unique visitors last month across sun.co.uk, Dream Team and Favourite), so huge digital reach on platform and off platform with all the social channels.

“What we’ve got is the bedrock in terms of where the Sun comes from: relevant content, a sizeable audience that in many ways has been waiting for this; the ability to strike a bet in a forum that is actually helping them inform their betting options. The final part of the jigsaw is partnering with someone who we believe is right for us and they are as competitive and as excited about this.”

Kate Bird, marketing director at Sunbets, said: “Half our readership are betting regularly and we know (that) when it gets to the big (horse racing) festivals, our circulation goes massively up and we know that people come to The Sun for that sort of content.

“So our marketing is very much leveraging that and internally we are an extension of our Sun team and that’s where we felt that we have a really strong advantage, harnessing what we do at The Sun as a brand. We don’t need to create a personality like lots of other outlets are trying to do. We (already) have a very strong personality.”

The group will launch the official marketing campaign for Sunbets this weekend, accompanied by the tagline ‘Youbetcha’. This will include a homepage takeover on thesun.co.uk and in-game adverts on Sky TV. 

Former Arsenal and England striker Ian Wright will be the face of Sunbets’ football betting offers while Matt Chapman will do the same for its horse racing products.

Beyond those high profile moves, Sunbets will drive traffic by integrating content offers through ‘bet boxes’ in the newspaper, with the aim of driving its offline readers to Sunbets. While online the newspaper’s website will have widgets that scrape content to offer odds and prices where relevant.

The bet boxes will feature in the sports pages as well as in the widely-read show business column ‘Bizarre’, where the focus will be on novelty bets and driving female traffic to Sunbets.

The focus on recreational, novelty bets and celebrity-led markets is deliberate. The objective is to marry The Sun’s strong sporting coverage and the millions of mainly male readers it has with the more light-hearted, show business columns that many women readers follow.

Tabcorp’s Nugent said the Sunbets deal was the “first major foray into the international B2C business” for the Australian group.

“The important part about the customer is that The Sun is a massive brand, with customers who love sport, racing and like to be entertained; our role is working in partnership to create a wagering product but more importantly a gambling experience for customer of The Sun that is very compelling.

Content remains king
“The key to this is utilising content: we know that for the brand’s customers the content is vital and we can create an experience that is second to none and integrate it in a way that has not been done before in the UK.

“News Corp and Tabcorp are two big companies and we believe that we can play big, not to be arrogant, we’ll start with a solid foundation and build it from there.”

While much is expected from Sunbets and the boasts have to match the ambitions of the group, Robinson added some perspective: “We have the capacity to build products and evolve going forward. I think it will be important to judge us on that basis, where we are going and where we want to be.

“By all means critique what is there at the starting point and that will be solid. The ultimate aim is for us to offer the best product we can. We are just excited to be launching at the time (start) of the EPL (English Premier League).
“The reason why we’re here and haven’t launched a gambling site before is because it feels like the right time for The Sun to monetise that audience and betting and gaming is the natural next step.

“We’ve had Dream Team (fantasy football), we’ve had a very successful bingo business (Sun Bingo, powered by Gamesys, Playtech will take over the contract later this year) and we’re hugely excited to be here.”

There is no doubt that Sunbets is backed by major corporate players in News Corp and Tabcorp, which must view this deal as a springboard to acquire further business in Europe.

The Sun’s takeover of radio station TalkSPORT includes the free weekly, Sport, which is also the UK’s largest men’s magazine (300,000 circulation), and provides it with another in-house platform.

Another important factor is that much of Sunbets’ marketing will essentially be free or, at the very least, priced in at some discount (rate card for a full page advert in The Sun is around £55,000).

The content strategy has been thought through, “with the editorial teams of both The Sun (sports and show business writers) and Sunbets completely on board” with the project. 

On the flipside however, other publishers have tried launching betting and gaming sites and have come unstuck.

And while sports readers might like to bet, it is worth asking if Sunbets will succeed in getting them to buy into the concept of placing a bet on a site that bears the name of a newspaper, especially if these prospects are at the more serious end of the betting spectrum. 

It must be said that there is also a sizeable portion of the UK population that boycotts The Sun and related products for historical reasons and will not be shy in making their views known.

Nevertheless, Sunbets is a new and major operator and as such it will be fascinating to see if it can become a true rival to the major UK bookies already in the space.

Related articles: Tabcorp profits hit by legal costs and Sun Bets investment
Sunbets brand goes live in UK
Tabcorp appoints Hart to drive new Sun Bets brand in UK
Tabcorp, News UK target spring for UK launch

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