With the highly anticipated launch of Ontario‘s open iGaming market in the coming weeks and months, private sportsbook operators are busy firming up their plans and strategies to compete against each other for the sports betting dollars of Canadian consumers. With dozens of sportsbooks applying for licenses to operate in the province, which is home to roughly 15 million Canadians, the competition will be fierce.
PointsBet and FanDuel are among sportsbooks aggressively positioning themselves to compete in the Ontario market, with approaches that have both similarities and differences. PointsBet Canada Chief Commercial Officer Nic Sulsky and Conor Murray, the senior growth director at FanDuel, both took the virtual podium Saturday on a sports betting panel organized by Western University, which is located in London, Ontario. The hour-long discussion focused on the challenges each company is facing entering the Canadian market, and what some of their strategies will be to attract Ontario sports bettors.
Also on the panel was Playmaker CEO Jordan Gnat, whose company specializes in customer acquisition with product tools to create fan value and loyalty for sports betting companies, advertisers, and sports leagues around the world. Previously the chief commercial officer of FOX Bet, he opened the discussion by emphasizing the local knowledge private sportsbooks should be focusing on in order to be successful in Ontario.
“The one thing I’ve experienced is 90 percent of the markets are the same, but 10 percent is all about the local market and its nuances,” Gnat said. “And getting that 10 percent right is really the difference between success and failure. It’s getting the color palette right. It’s ensuring you’ve got the right sports on the front end of your offering so that the locals know you understand what it is they’re interested in.
“That 10 percent is truly about authenticity. It’s proving that you bothered to understand the local market, and without that, the risk of just being another company increases. … Being authentically Canadian is what will make a local market success story work.”
FanDuel’s approach to Ontario
FanDuel’s reputation as a globally recognized sportsbook is both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness, in respect to Ontario’s market. One of the challenges will be to shed the company’s reputation as that “big sportsbook in the U.S.” and build a local authenticity, Murray acknowledged.
“One thing is really clear to me, Canada is not the U.S.,” he said. “Jordan, nailed it, it’s all about that 10 percent.
“We’ve become the number one sportsbook in the U.S. Really proud of how we built that business. We’ve written the playbook on launching markets to this point. But we would be so naive to copy and paste that and bring that to Canada and then expect to win. We have to treat it very differently and we will treat it very differently.”
Capturing its share of the Ontario market will hinge on FanDuel’s ability to connect with the nuances of the local market while relying on its reputation for betting lines, innovative promotional offerings, and a huge selection of betting options, including single-game parlays.
“Fundamentally, we’re about entertainment, when you strip everything back,” Murray said. “We look to make sporting moments more entertaining and engaging. You’re watching the [Toronto] Raptors, you take $5 and put down a same-game parlay, say on [Fred] VanVleet to get four or more three-pointers, Raptors win, and Scottie Barnes over eight rebounds. All of a sudden, you go from enjoying the game to literally being invested in every individual moment. Our ambition is to add so many more layers of excitement to that game.”
FanDuel was one of four sportsbooks to launch Jan. 8 in New York state, which borders Ontario to the south and east. The sportsbook trailed only Caesars in handle and revenue through the first eight days of operating in the state.
Caesars led New York's 4 live mobile sports betting operators during the state's first 8 days after launch:
Caesars: $257.7m handle – $22.7m revenue
FanDuel: $200.4m handle – $14.1m revenue
DraftKings: $134.4m handle – $10.9m revenue
BetRivers: $10.6m handle – $447,000 revenue
— Ryan Butler (@ButlerBets) January 21, 2022
FanDuel boasts many partnerships with professional sports teams and leagues across North America, including among others the NFL, NBA, MSG Network, the New York Knicks, and most recently, the Buffalo Bills. Murray hinted more Canadian-specific partnerships could be announced shortly.
PointsBet’s approach to Ontario
Australian-based PointsBet has created a Canadian division, PointsBet Canada, that is operating out of Toronto. PointsBet has its North American headquarters in Colorado and is the official sports betting partner of NBC Sports. The sportsbook doesn’t have the same financial firepower as FanDuel, according to Sulsky, and needs to take a more targeted approach when drawing users to its platform.
“Let’s face it, PointsBet is a challenger brand. We have to outthink folks, we can’t necessarily outspend them,” Sulsky said. “The two things we drove home at Monkey Knife Fight (Sulsky’s previous company) was trying to build a really engaging and distinct brand voice and then figuring out what that product innovation is going to be that will hopefully allow us to stand out a little bit, and provide a different type of experience for the sports fan.
For PointsBet, he said, “really engaging our Canadianism, really building an authentic connection to what it means to be a Canadian sports fan, is something we’re diving into.”
PointsBet has formed multiple Canadian partnerships in an attempt to become Canada’s sportsbook this past fall and winter, inking deals with the Trailer Park Boys, the NHL Alumni Association, and Curling Canada.
“It’s curling mugs and the Trailer Park Boys and the Maple Leaf,” Sulsky exclaimed.
Another advantage Sulsky believes his company has over its Canadian competitors is that PointsBet controls and owns its entire tech stack. It touts its focus on providing leading in-game play technology as a game-changer. PointsBet offered customers live, in-game NFL betting opportunities without suspensions in NFL spreads and moneyline markets as part of a test during the recent playoff game between the Las Vegas Raiders and Cincinnati Bengals.
“There was no lag between something you’re seeing on the field and betting markets you’re being able to execute within the app,” Sulsky said. “Product is going to win. Brand is important, connecting with audiences is obviously important. But as this market evolves and matures — and let’s face it, we’re not even in the top of the first inning in Ontario from a regulated perspective — I think products will win out.”
PointsBet Successfully Tests 'Always On' Live, In-Game Betting During NBC's Saturday NFL Broadcasthttps://t.co/LiqyqUtG9t
— PointsBet Communications (@PB_Comms) January 19, 2022
Predictions for Ontario market
The three panel members all made interesting predictions for the Ontario open market. Gnat said he hopes the industry as a whole in Canada finds a balance between responsible gaming and satisfying users, and that more provinces adopt Ontario’s open model.
“We’re going to see that the regulated market begins to dominate Canadian market,” predicted Gnat, who anticipates significant growth in the sports betting space. “A regulated market does lead to a strong responsible gaming platform.”
Sulsky acknowledged those sentiments and hopes the regulated sportsbooks can draw users away from the gray market operators, who have a significant head start in Ontario’s market.
“We’re going to see one, if not more than one, of the top regulated sportsbooks like PointsBet or FanDuel crack that gray market, crack the podium,” Sulsky said. “I think we’re going to see that Canadian sports fans do respond to the consumer protection and responsible gaming platforms. I think that’s going to be a big surprise to many.”
Ontario’s sports betting media also have a crucial role to play in responsible gaming, Sulsky suggested.
“They’re going to really help educate the Canadian sports fan about responsible gaming, about consumer protections, because ultimately in Canada, the gray market has thrived for so long. And I don’t think the Canadian sports fan truly understands the difference between legal, regulated sports gambling and gray market offshore sports gambling.”
Finally, the panel made some predictions on which sports betting market offerings will be critical to drawing Ontario bettors into their respective platforms.
“Bring hockey up to the level of the other major sports,” Murray said. “Globally, it’s lagging behind, mostly because there hasn’t been another country that has the appetite Canada does for it. I think it has some ground to make up.”
“I think that curling is going to emerge as one of the top betting sports in Canada,” Sulsky proudly stated as he raised his curling mug to his mouth.
And this was my mug of choice 🇨🇦🥌 https://t.co/sKkKT2iWpN pic.twitter.com/qXAdvLhG2e
— Nic Sulsky (@nicsulsky) January 22, 2022
The general legal framework of sports betting in Canada is still being drawn up by the Ontario government, which has appointed the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario and iGaming Ontario to regulate the market. The open market has been expected to launch sometime in the first quarter of 2022, but industry sources have also told Sports Handle it could be later than March. It’s unclear what the tax rate will be in the province for mobile and retail sports wagering, and what the operating rules will be for private operators.
Ontario’s licensed online gaming and sports betting market is predicted to generate gross revenues of nearly $1 billion (CAD) in its first year of operation. Canada legalized single-game wagering with the passing of Bill C-218 last August. Currently, Canadian sports bettors can only legally wager with provincially run sportsbooks in their respective provinces, such as PROLINE + in Ontario.
Many other top commercial sportsbooks are also interested in launching in Ontario, with DraftKings, BetMGM, Caesars, BetRivers, and theScore Bet among them.