It was an interesting juxtaposition at the SBC Summit for a panel titled “Converging Worlds — Defragging the Betting, Media, and Sports Business Model.” The five panelists who shared their thoughts on sports wagering and media had already engaged in defragging in the sense of how content was important to their respective platforms.
Convergence, however, seemed to be mostly an abstract given their unique paths.
There were multiple takeaways from the discussion, notably how content continues to be used as a primary means of customer acquisition, that evolving technology means the customer experience is constantly changing, and that data collection on all fronts remains critical in terms of personalizing the experience and optimizing revenue.
Two operators on two distinct planes
🏆 WE ARE ALL CAESARS 🏆
— Caesars Sportsbook (@CaesarsSports) August 3, 2021
Representing sports betting operators were Ken Fuchs, the head of sports at Caesars Entertainment, and Scott Butera, the president of Fubo Gaming. While Caesars Sportsbook offers a more traditional path of sports betting both retail and online, its media presence is known largely through its national advertising campaign of “We Are All Caesars” starring comedian/actor J.B. Smoove.
That campaign expanded to include the Mannings — the first family of NFL quarterbacks — as Archie, Peyton, Eli, and even Cooper have all been featured in commercials and Caesars-sponsored events.
“I think every brand is media at some point. You have to be in terms of telling your story, your narrative,” Fuchs said. “One is social media and distribution and how we actually talk to our customers directly from a support standpoint and help them understand what our brand is about and the relationship we have with them directly. We think about it from a talent perspective. … How do you use that talent in a way that’s really about communicating what our story is and what we stand for in the sports betting marketplace?
“We think about it through partnerships. We have great relationships with ESPN and CBS Sports. Even our advertising is a bit of a media narrative when you think about how we’ve tried to tell the story of Caesars through the eyes of J.B. Smoove and Halle Berry and the Mannings. You put all those things together and the objective is really — there’s many different things we need to accomplish with our communications.”
Fubo Sportsbook is part of FuboTV, a live sports streaming service, and a key goal is to integrate the two to make a frictionless sports betting experience in which bettors can potentially use the app for higher velocity in-game wagering. Fubo is relying on the event being the marquee attraction as opposed to an advertising campaign, which presents a different set of challenges.
“We’re trying to specialize in interactive TV experiences,” Butera said. “Unlike a lot of other media companies which have relationships with sportsbooks, ours is embedded into our streaming so you can have an experience while you’re watching an event. You’re actually wagering on the event with an app that’s completely synced to that particular contest.”
What data provides and how NASCAR benefits
— Mike Berkley (@mikeberkley) June 17, 2022
Sportsradar is a data provider that helps operators create content — some of which fosters competition among operators, though Sportsradar has the potential to create in-house content. Brian Josephs’ company recently launched an in-house advertising agency, and he said “customers can effectively reach the right customer and have optimized digital campaigning across any screen you can possibly spend on. Once you acquire that customer, you can start moving them through your products — you can maximize the customer lifetime value.”
A potential receiver of such services, Joe Solosky of NASCAR, has been trying to use sports wagering as a way of expanding its audience, both in terms of in-person attendance at races and across its online platforms. As managing director of sports betting for the top auto racing league in the U.S., he tries to blend race-day data points with internal content, given NASCAR’s large-scale product placement in terms of sponsors and social media influencers.
“NASCAR’s approach in the narrative of sports betting spaces has been an aggressive one,” Solosky said. “We look at sports betting and are embracing it as a way to grow the sport generally, increasing our ticket sales and increasing our broadcast audience.
“NASCAR is a unique sport in the sense people typically aren’t going off-platform to look for NASCAR stats. What NASCAR fans are looking for in information on a race or statistics, they go to NASCAR.com. We’ve invented a lot of sports betting content on our platform. We do that through some of our partners, we do that uniquely and organically within our own content division.”
What consolidation brings to the marketplace
While the pace of mergers and acquisitions has slowed from the previous six to 12 months, panelists noted the effects it has on the sports wagering industry while adding there may be potential avenues still to explore. Rick Wolf, senior vice president of Spotlight Sports Group, took on the subject from a technology advancement standpoint.
“When money comes, consolidation begins. That’s the way it’s worked in every industry, in sports or any industry,” he said, noting how fantasy sports platforms were bought in the previous cycle before sports wagering was legalized. “As technologies get built and people see a lot of frothy money here in the U.S. surrounding sports betting, then that’s the time to consolidate. Technology comes in, solves a problem, and those are the companies bought by the bigger companies.”
Fubo is an example with its acquisition of Vigtory in January 2021, but Butera’s background in casino gaming led to his eye focusing more on a horizontal sort of consolidation.
“I think there are businesses that naturally fit together,” he said. “Before I got involved in sports betting, I used to run casinos. Casinos are basically a variety of thin-margin businesses that when you stick them together do very well. It’s the same thing with sports betting — of all the gaming-type businesses, it’s really a thin-margin business, a business where the house often loses.
“But what it does is it stimulates a lot of activity. How can we use sports betting as a way to watch more TV? Or watch it longer so you can sell more advertising space — things of that nature — or create a more fun experience. What we’re going to see in terms of consolidation is how can sports betting naturally fit into other businesses, whether it’s media or entertainment or other things to drive those businesses.”
What’s coming down the road
A majority of panelists pointed to a rise of in-game wagering as the next big thing for sports wagering in the United States. As a percentage of sports wagering handle, it lags behind European counterparts in part because soccer and tennis are two of the most popular sports on the old continent that have already been built out for such betting.
Josephs observed that as more states continue to come online and wagering in general grows, “shifts to in-play betting occur and betting becomes much more part of mainstream sports entertainment.” In turn, he expects it to “create a tailwind effect for our business that we’re very excited about.”
Wolf and Butera agreed technology would be the primary driver of sports wagering evolution, with Wolf recounting the start of the “second-screen experience” more than a decade ago. Those “are first-screen experiences now. Your phone is out, everybody has their phone. Three-quarters of the people here haven’t stopped looking at their phone during our time here. It’s a first-screen experience now when you’re watching sports.
“Your phone is here,” Wolf added, holding his directly in front of him. “That’s going to make the in-game stuff blow up just like [Fuchs] said.”