Creating a market for free-to-play betting

| By Marese O'Hagan
Curating a strong repetoire of free-to-play products could be a valuable way of building an audience, at a time when US sportsbook operators are increasingly looking to differentiate their product ranges. Hussain Naqi of Inside the Pocket tells Marese O’Hagan about why he sees the free-to-play sector as similar to the field of his background: marketing.

Leaning into its name, free-to-play sports betting software platform Inside The Pocket packages its product offering in one compact solution.

Founder and chief executive Hussain Naqi believes this approach offers something unique in the market, as well as providing a range of new content for its clients. 

“I would argue that we are distinctly different from the rest of the market, in that through a single integration, we open up an entire market of free-to-play content,” he says. “So we are distinctly different from a specific developer in that, through this one engagement in integration, you can open up an entire arena of products.” 

In turn, sports betting operators can integrate what Inside The Pocket offers, with the idea being that a game that does not require money helps to build loyalty among players. At the same time, Naqi cites the Inside the Pocket aggregator model as something that offers choices to operators for the products best suited to them.

“Therefore, you no longer have to make a binary decision among these various operators. You do a single integration and choose whatever you want.” 

He adds that Inside the Pocket’s mobile platform has performed particularly well in the US, a market with a preference for mobile-first gaming. Unlike in Europe where desktop remains popular, US sports betting has been dominated by apps – something Naqi says applies to free-to-play as well.

“The vast majority, at least in the regulated markets where we are in, are witnessing the most traction on mobile,” he says. “Whether that’s in North America or even in newer markets, like in Asia – these are primarily mobile-first markets. 

“Even when you look at the data for usage, by and large, you’re seeing over-indexing from a mobile perspective. So for us, serving that market is critical because we’re here to serve our customers and that’s exactly where their customers reside.” 

Alongside this, Naqi’s background as senior vice president of international development for National Football League (NFL) team the Jacksonville Jaguars feeds directly into Inside The Pocket’s. 

“My background is primarily on the marketing and the fan engagement side of things,” says Naqi. “And when you are in the NFL, there’s nothing more important than your fans and trying to figure out how best to entertain them, how to best to attract them and how best to retain them. That’s precisely what we’re looking to do at Inside The Pocket.” 

This experience supports one of Inside the Pocket’s most crucial points – customer acquisition, for itself and for its clients. 

“For me and what we’re up to at Inside The Pocket, and even on the [consumer brand] WonderWins side – we’re looking to engage with customers,” Naqi continues. “We’re really about customer acquisition and helping our clients and our customers acquire customers of their own.” 

The content question 

A platform must offer relevant, dynamic content to ensure customer engagement.

“It’s cliché now to say content is king, but I think there’s a reason why it’s cliché,” says Naqi. “There’s certain truism to that.” 

Free-to-play platforms such as Inside the Pocket must also be attentive to changes in the industry, Naqi continues, particularly when trying to appeal to a wide range of potential customers. 

“Irrespective of where you are, your taste is going to be different than mine, perhaps, or my taste is going to be different than yours. Your taste will determine the content that you consume. My taste will determine the content I consume.” 

Naqi also believes that using content inefficiently can ice out potential business. 

“If you’re not able to be nimble and not able to flex your content offering based on what you want, versus what I want, then one of us gets tuned out and that’s not good for business – whether it’s my business or my client’s business.” 

In terms of flexibility, he argues that the extent of the data, verification and content Inside The Pocket has on offer speaks for itself. Furthermore, he believes that the sports betting space in general requires a certain level of adaptability. 

“For us, we think about the space a lot more as an entire ecosystem which we specifically cultivate as a flexible and ever-evolving piece of content.” 

Following a $4m pre-Series A funding round earlier this year – which included investment from a range of businesses, including Rokker and WinSure Global – Inside The Pocket is working to better integrate itself into the mobile sports betting market. 

But ultimately, Naqi believes the business’ perspective on the market is what allows Inside the Pocket to be a truly individual product. 

“I think for us, we view this domain as fundamentally differently to probably some of the others in this space,” said Naqi. 

“If you look at us within the ecosystem, we’re not really competitive with anybody. We help operators grow their business and we help developers grow their business. For us, we want to make sure that we are helping everybody out and not ruffling too many feathers along the way.” 

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