While a microbetting panel at SBC Summit North America featuring Betr co-founder Joey Levy drew most of the attention (and attendance) in Conference Room 2 at the Meadowlands Exhibition Center in New Jersey on Wednesday, this author had the pleasure of hosting five other discussions throughout the day on a range of topics. Below are highlights from each.
Are suggested bets the future?
A mobile sportsbook can be a perplexing place for a novice bettor, what with all the seemingly nonsensical numbers populating one’s screen. This is where suggested bets can level the learning curve.
“Recommended bets or wagers are a great way to broaden the pool of sports bettors,” said Casey Brett (nephew of George, son of Ken), Major League Baseball’s senior vice president of business development. “Making the first wager can be a little intimidating” — and a suggested bet from an operator can get a newbie over the hump.
Earl Mitchell, Hard Rock Digital’s SVP of predictive analytics, compared suggested bets to Netflix’s emphasis on algorithms to deliver viewers content that’s in their wheelhouse.
“When you don’t have any personalization, a new customer comes into a sportsbook and doesn’t really know what they’re looking at,” he said. But when this content is filtered in the form of a few select bets, “as a gateway for people to get into the space and reduce the friction of onboarding, it’s incredible.”
Brett cautioned that “an equal amount of personalization” needs to be put into responsible gambling messages that are delivered to bettors, while Jeff Cadillac, an NFL analyst for Bettor Sports Network, warned, “I think you have to be very careful when you suggest bets. If you push a client too hard, you could end up in court.”
Cadillac also talked about the pitfalls of offering new bettors a free Yankees jersey if they wager a certain amount, essentially throwing cold water on a potential customer acquisition avenue for Fanatics Sportsbook as it rolls out its product.
Esports — turning pro and here to stay
A somewhat cranky crew, wrangled by the entertaining esports evangelist Anthony Gaud, took the stage to discuss — and complain about — why esports has yet to capture the imagination of American bettors.
“Twitch is 10 times larger than ESPN,” said Gaud, who brought a John Leguizamo-like energy to the affair.
Meanwhile, panelist Amir MIrzaee of Bayes Esports spoke of how esports betting had taken off in foreign markets like Brazil, Mexico, and much of Asia.
“Anywhere where esports [betting] is allowed is going through the roof,” he said.
But while esports betting is legal in Colorado and New Jersey, other states have been slow to embrace the concept.
“The U.S. has had a difficult enough time getting its act together on sports betting,” said Roger Quiles, a leading esports attorney. “When you compound that with the misunderstanding a lot of legislators have with what esports is, there’s this misunderstood notion that esports is for kids, and certainly that’s not the case.”
Gaud relayed an anecdote about his experience appearing before the New Jersey Legislature while the state was in the process of legalizing esports betting. A legislator asked him, “Why would anyone want to watch someone play video games?” To this, Gaud replied, “Why would anyone want to watch someone play baseball? You’re not playing it. You’re living it through someone else.”
Will in-arena sportsbooks drive omnichannel?
While brick-and-mortar sportsbooks account for a fraction of the sports betting handle in states where mobile wagering is legal, that’s not always the main benefit for operators — especially when it comes to sportsbooks at NBA, MLB, NFL, NHL, and PGA facilities.
In-arena sportsbooks represent “the perfect opportunity to capture a new sports fan and turn them into a sports bettor,” said Todd Sims, an executive with SUZOHAPP, which sponsored this panel discussion.
While David Grolman, Caesars Digital’s chief retail sportsbook operator, extolled the virtues of having in-arena sportsbooks (non-sporting events like concerts are great for supplemental traffic, he said), Betfred USA COO Bryan Bennett said it didn’t make sense for his company to open a retail book in the Cincinnati Bengals’ stadium “because of the costs and the location.”
“Paycor Stadium is sort of tucked away between a couple highways. It doesn’t get a lot of walk-by traffic,” Bennett explained. “We decided to put that money into bigger signage and other forms of activation.”
Conversely, Scott Warfield, the PGA’s vice president of gaming, said he considers the DraftKings sportsbook at TPC Scottsdale in Arizona to be “the perfect fit,” as it’s starting to become a destination for bachelor parties and other group gatherings, regardless of whether the WM Phoenix Open or another tournament is in session.
Whereas retail sportsbooks have recently been thought of as a way to get bettors in the door and then convert them into mobile users, some operators are reconsidering that notion.
“We don’t try to activate as many people as we used to in our retail sportsbooks because they just want to be retail,” said Bennett, joking that some people still just want to bet with a wad of cash that their spouse doesn’t know about.
Grolman then shared an anecdote about how, shortly after PASPA was repealed, an elderly woman came into a Caesars sportsbook in New Jersey, put a $20 bill on the counter, and said she loved the New York Giants — but had no idea how to bet on their next game. An employee then patiently walked her through her options, proving that the human touch still holds plenty of value in the sports betting realm.
The future of fantasy
Before he co-founded the fantasy sports app Champions Round, Chase Payne worked in the video game and online poker spaces.
“In the video game space, some of the most successful games are the ones that don’t end,” he said, noting that the same holds true for poker.
That mindset is also applicable to Daily Fantasy Sports, which Payne described as “being part of the journey” where a casual fantasy player who might have participated in offline leagues with friends steps up to an online DFS platform with various products and services. Payne also noted that DFS gives fans a way to stay engaged with certain sports, like F1, where attending a live event is financially unfeasible.
In distinguishing DFS from sports betting, Stokastic CEO Tom Kennedy said that “solving sports betting isn’t a fun problem,” whereas DFS offers friendlier terrain in that regard because there’s an existing community that wants to be shown how to do things properly versus just saying, “Gimme a pick.”
Free 2 Play closes the day
As sports betting operators look to rein in customer acquisition costs, Free 2 Play games have emerged as a low-cost, “top-of-funnel engagement tool to drive new users to real-money games,” as panel moderator Ross Fruin, co-founder and CEO of Grid Rival, put it during Wednesday’s final session.
“If it’s done properly, if you’ve got that sweet spot, you can increase your active bettor base by up to 50 percent,” said John Gordon, CEO of Incentive Games, which provides Free 2 Play products to operators like bet365. “The product has to be good enough so the customer is going to stay there. The game needs to be fun in its own right.”
“If people lose their money too quickly, they don’t tend to stick around, whereas if they’re able to try it out without losing money, they tend to stick around,” said Morten Tonnesen, chief commercial officer for Shape Games.
The primary objective of Free 2 Play, said Gordon, is to give people a reason to make daily visits to a site, making it likelier that they’ll find their way to sports betting. He talked about how a U.S. operator he ultimately severed ties with complained that the Free 2 Play game his company had designed for the operator’s site was taking eyeballs away from its real-money casino games and sports betting opportunities. Gordon responded that those people wouldn’t be visiting the site were it not for the Free 2 Play game.
If Free 2 Play has a blind spot, it’s that it isn’t reaching certain demographics, said Sparket COO Evan Fisher, who feels the industry could design more games that appeal to women.