While some key players in the sports betting industry are retrenching by cutting back on money-losing aspects of their businesses or reducing marketing and customer-acquisition costs in a search for profitability, one entity stands out for its aggressive growth despite 2022’s high inflation and challenging economic conditions.
Hard Rock Sportsbook, part of Hard Rock International and owned by the Seminole Tribe of Florida, has had a busy 11-plus months.
The company launched its mobile sportsbook in four states in 2022: Arizona in February, Virginia in March, and Indiana and Tennessee in September. It has also opened retail locations at the Hard Rock Casino in northern Indiana and the Bristol Casino in Virginia. It maintained its mobile sportsbook operations in New Jersey and Iowa while preparing to launch mobile and retail operations in Ohio. Also, it applied for a sportsbook license in Illinois.
It has put its money where its mouth is in terms of promotions by offering a $300 free bet to customers as part of preparations to launch in Ohio.
"Charlie Hustle" and other Cincinnati sports celebrities will kick off legal sports betting in Ohio on Jan. 1. https://t.co/jhgMG1tEJo
— Cincinnati CityBeat (@CityBeatCincy) November 2, 2022
Other aspects of the larger company’s growth plans also have continued apace. Hard Rock International bought the iconic Mirage hotel and casino on the Las Vegas Strip from MGM Resorts last December.
Growth figures to continue in ’23
It certainly doesn’t sound like the tribe plans on hitting the brakes anytime soon, even as it continues to be blocked from taking sports bets in its home state of Florida. A federal judge ruled in November 2021 that the compact forged between the state and the tribe was illegal, a decision that is under appeal.
“Our overarching strategy is the same as it’s been from day one, before Florida even became a planned launch, which is to take Hard Rock, one of the world’s most recognizable brands, and bring it to digital casino, sportsbook, and social games players,” Matt Primeaux, executive managing director and president of Hard Rock Digital, said in an interview conducted by email with Sports Handle.
“This venture was never just about Florida — or even the United States. When you have as much global awareness and success across all types of entertainment as Hard Rock, you have to think bigger, about how you can bring your brand experience to the global online casino and sportsbook markets.”
Primeaux points to the speed with which the company developed its Hard Rock Sportsbook app, which has garnered a 4.8-star rating for both iOS and Android, and what he considers “promising” market share in several of the states entered. He described the company “deploying marketing spend in a rational way” as another key to the company’s rapid expansion.
He promised further growth in 2023 even as some companies have indicated they’re pulling back in some money-losing areas of their business. Bally’s, for example, said in a statement on its third-quarter earnings call Wednesday that it would be refocusing its attention on money-earning aspects of its business. At Hard Rock? Full steam ahead even if long-term profitability could be years away in some states.
“Our 2023 will continue to see new states and potentially countries opened and the debut of innovative new products, including our in-house casino platform,” Primeaux said. “We also intend to accelerate our marketing efforts while continuing to acquire at rational [cost per acquisition].”
Innovative app and marketing are key
The company gained 2.7% market share in Indiana in its first partial month of operation, Primeaux said, putting it sixth overall in that state and in the vicinity of Barstool and Caesars, both of which had been in the market for more than a year. Location numbers provided by GeoComply suggest Hard Rock had about 10% of all new, first-time sportsbook accounts within Indiana in September, when it launched. Primeaux said the company saw similar numbers in Arizona, Virginia, and Tennessee shortly after launch.
He said it did so with a fraction of the marketing spend of some of its competitors. The company has focused on the entertainment aspect of sports betting, with its Mystery Wheel promotion and Streaming Hub. The Mystery Wheel debuted in August and gives users a chance to spin the wheel for a chance to win free bets up to $5,000.
The company reached a deal with Sportradar last month to launch livestreaming of more than 150,000 contests from 392 “premium sports properties,” including the NHL, Spanish and German soccer, Chinese and German basketball, Polish table tennis, and a couple of different tennis tours.
Primeaux emphasized that, while the company is expanding, it is doing so in a measured, rational way. Unlike many companies in the sports betting sphere that are publicly traded, Hard Rock International doesn’t have to satisfy shareholders by demonstrating quarterly profits. It also isn’t about grabbing market share for its own sake.
“The rational spend is key, as we’re able to think about the long-term growth and sustainability of our digital business without getting tied up in the glamor metrics like handle market share that many in our industry have historically focused on to pump their business,” he said.