Chris Bevilacqua doesn’t have to work his imagination too hard to see a future where a fellow New York Yankees fan experiences a ballgame in an entirely novel way.
Perhaps he or she pulls up the game on their YES Network or DraftKings app, watches an inning or two of a low-latency stream while automated odds powered by Bevilacqua’s company, SimpleBet, scroll across the bottom of the screen. Every 15 seconds or so (now that Major League Baseball is adopting the pitch clock next season) comes an opportunity for fresh action.
Will this Aaron Judge at-bat end in a single, double, triple, yet another home run, walk, or other result? Will this Nick Pivetta pitch be a ball, a strike, or put in play?
The image on the screen will reflect live action that occurred just a few seconds ago, so all bettors are on a similar footing, largely eliminating any advantage for the 40,000 or so fans who might be at the ballpark and aren’t relying on a stream or broadcast to see what’s happening.
Low-latency streaming is available now through companies like Phenix Real-Time Solutions. The technology to set betting markets near-instantaneously, shut the market down the second the pitcher’s foot hits the rubber, and reset it accurately in time for the next pitch is what SimpleBet does.
It’s integrating all aspects into a single-screen experience that is the final frontier to revolutionize how baseball might one day be experienced by the average fan and bettor.
“All the pieces on their own individually exist, so it’s not that far away,” said Bevilacqua, a co-founder and the CEO of SimpleBet. “It’s doable.”
In-play betting could be a boon for MLB
Not long ago, many people thought baseball’s deliberate pace of play would doom it in a world in which human beings have constant information and stimulation literally at their fingertips. But in an ironic twist, that slow pace and baseball’s lengthy season have potentially given the sport a massive edge in the in-play betting markets, where handheld devices dominate.
Rob Manfred on Sportico Live: "Sports betting is a massive opportunity for fan engagement."
He said Adam Silver told him to stop talking about pace of game, because baseball's pace of game is perfect for sports betting (meaning wagering between pitches and innings).
— Bill Shaikin (@BillShaikin) April 27, 2021
Bevilacqua estimates that in-play betting will be roughly a $10 billion industry in 2023, with about $1 billion in gross gaming revenue available to mobile sportsbooks that have the ability to offer it.
Bevilacqua isn’t just taking a stab in the dark with that estimate. Last season, MLB in-play betting started living up to the promise many people had expected, with linear, month-over-month growth. DraftKings, which launched its MLB in-play betting in August 2021, saw its handle grow by 250% year-over-year. In the final month of last regular season, the average MLB game had $147,000 in micro bets placed on it.
It doesn’t take advanced math skills to understand baseball’s prominent role for in-game betting. There are 2,430 major league games per season compared to 276 NFL games. On some days, the MLB slate starts around 12:30 p.m. ET and lasts 12 or more hours to the conclusion of the West Coast night games. Each of those games consists of nearly 300 pitches on average. What’s boring about that?
“You just have the so-called, ‘digital casino,’ open for a long period of time with so many betting markets and betting opportunities,” Bevilacqua said. “And the cadence of a baseball game is perfect for in-play wagering.”
In-play betting’s non-stop action and baseball’s nearly endless supply of potential outcomes is a strong combination, leading some people to voice concerns about the dangers of addiction. Experts advise gamblers to scale their bets back for in-play wagering since they likely will place far more wagers.
What about the pitch clock?
In September, MLB announced a series of rule changes for the 2023 season, including a clock that will require pitchers to deliver the baseball within 15 seconds if no one is on base, and within 20 seconds in the case of any baserunners. The average length of time between pitches in 2022 was just over 23 seconds.
If the pitcher has not started his motion before the clock runs out, the batter is awarded a ball. If the batter delays entering the box, the pitcher gets a strike. Use of a similar clock shaved about 20 minutes off minor-league game times last season.
While shortening the amount of time bettors will have between pitches, the pitch clock will shine an even brighter spotlight on latency issues during broadcasts, but Bevilacqua doesn’t necessarily see it as an obstacle his company has to overcome. He thinks it might be an opportunity as companies in addition to DraftKings and bet365, SimpleBet’s current biggest customers, join the microbetting movement.
The stakes are high, as Bevilacqua said the pitch-level market accounts for roughly 40% of all MLB microbetting.
“The only possible way this product or other pitch-level markets can exist is if they have our technology,” Bevilacqua said. “There’s no other way to do it. It can’t be human beings repricing these markets. If you’re a book and you want to exploit this opportunity, you can’t do it with anybody else but us. That’s the punch line here.”
The irony, of course, is that the most bucolic sport on the U.S. landscape also is the one leading the most technology-driven, fastest-paced segment of the sports betting market. It’s in some ways a happy coincidence for the sport, which stands to thrive as consumers digest sports in entirely different ways.
“You’re only watching what you want, when you want, on whatever kind of device you want,” Bevilacqua said. “That kind of freedom puts the consumer in control. It’s a super-exciting period of time, with big media companies grappling with how they’re going to transition from mass media into personal media. You’ve got technology in the middle of it all. That’s where we live, right at that intersection.”