In-play betting has evolved from offering the highest number of bets possible to pushing for ever more granular and faster products. When it comes to customer engagement, the launch of Facebook Sports Stadium sees the social giant targeting Twitter's audience, but will these new products answer punters' appetites and, just as importantly, combine in-play betting with social media interaction?
Recent news from Facebook should give betting operators pause for thought when it comes to their in-play betting offerings. Facebook Sports Stadium is a real-time sports platform that allows users to contribute comments on sports as they happen, post commentary, leagues and experts and relay live scores.
The product is being viewed as a direct challenge to Twitter and Facebook says it hopes the product will make sports “even more fun and engaging”. “It’s a second-screen experience that we hope makes watching the broadcast even better,” the company trumpeted.
The launch of Facebook Sports Stadium did not go well. Timed to coincide with the Super Bowl at the end of January, the platform didn't cope with the live event and was constantly late with updates.
Nonetheless, the product is a note-worthy development, and not just for the somewhat ailing Twitter, because of what it says about how sports fans consume their content today and its implications for in-play betting.
If the first age of in-play was about making as many bets available as possible, and in particular making that offering available on a desktop, then the second age will be about making that offer appealing to an audience which will expect more from its live sport engagement, particularly via mobile devices.
Products designed to encourage real-time interaction have been around for some time. Cash-out is the most obviously successful innovation and many of the leading operators also now offer five-minute markets.
But the majority of in-play betting remains with markets which are de facto pre-match markets extended into the game time itself, such as match result and the scorecast.
“From a usability point of view and just in terms of how they are presented, the current five-minute markets we see resemble betting markets that have been designed by railway schedulers,” says Neale Deeley, managing director of gaming at Sportradar. “There is nothing instinctive about them. They don’t truly engage with the players.”
Sportradar's mvoe to address this has seen it develop ‘Goalflash’, an instant win sports-betting product that lets the customers decide on the bet when they want it, with short durations, and including a sliding scale of odds that syncs with the chosen time period.
Goalflash, Snapbet, BetUp: new instant betting products
Says Deeley: “We designed Goalflash to fit the way punters view a game, not the way the bet management system sees it; we’ve all seen games where the momentum builds and you just know a goal is coming. That’s when you want to place your bet. Not between two arbitrary time periods set by the system.”
Goalflash also allows punters to choose their odds. “Why not choose your own price by setting how long your bet lasts for?” adds Deeley. “One minute, three minutes, two minutes and 23 seconds – let the punter decide. It’s the natural way people think about football so we made a product to fit the punters instead of asking punters to fit the product.”
The casual bettor is more the target market for Fenway Games’ debut product ‘Snapbet’ which is similarly designed to offer instant markets although this time in a pool-betting format that is designed to entice small stakes customers.
“It’s about adding excitement to the game,” says Peter Gough, founder and chief executive. “This is action down to the second. In-play is obviously huge, but we think this is more engaging. What we are trying to do is make it super simple. Potentially it has more mass-market appeal.”
Another new instant offering comes from start-up Commologic, which has signed a deal with Unibet for its BetUp product. Founder Tamir Berler says current rapid-play markets are clumsy and often have the product “buried within an endless list of markets and the user experience is too jumpy”.
All three companies are keen to emphasise the point that they have each developed products with the express intention of matching how people actually watch and enjoy sport. “They like high-frequency,” says Gough. “We’ve been testing and people absolutely love it.”
Deeley says it is his belief that although the betting operators have managed to provide a workable in-play product, it certainly isn’t future-proofed. “I think the industry is still grappling with the idea of in-play and the mass market,” he says.
“We are well into the millennials now and what they want from betting is different. The operators know they need to up their game; they need products that will engage with that audience.”
Berler agrees: “Innovative betting games that introduce a simplified, intuitive and friendly experience, based on some game genres and concepts that are familiar and popular, can realise this huge potential.”
These instant betting innovations are only a step towards more immersive sports-betting experiences. But more artificial reality and augmented reality products are probably still a way off.
At a conference in San Francisco in early January design guru Andy Goodman, managing director at digital agency Fjord Madrid, told his audience that the world of so-called zero user interface where consumers are no longer “constrained by screens” is no simple step forward.
Looking at voice commands, for instance, he points out that services like Siri on iPhones currently work with simple commands, such as ‘call my husband’ or ‘who is the president of the United States’.
But ask such a voice command service a more complex question – such as, let’s say, ‘what are the odds of Wayne Rooney scoring in the next minute’- then Siri (or the betting operator version) might have trouble.
As Goodman told his audience: “It’s like learning to play 3D chess,” he said. “We need to think away from linear workflows and towards multi-dimensional thought process.”
Instant win might not be a quick win when it comes to development time. But products such as Goalflash, Snapbet and BetUp are steps in that direction.