Sports Betting: From Product to Presentation

7 April 2008

Sports betting is no longer about sports betting: Arguably, this would be the overriding conclusion drawn from two days of presentations and discussion at the recent Bet-Markets conference in Vienna.

The case for this point of view was put forward most forcefully by Pavel Moudry, chief executive of Chance, the Czech Republic-based online bookmaker. Addressing the issue of developing a profitable sports betting business in an increasingly competitive environment, Mr. Moudry argued that the product itself -- ie, sports betting -- is becoming less important, while the method of selling it is growing in importance.

Mr. Moudry himself might be seen as an embodiment of this trend, having been appointed to his new role at Chance from outside the sports betting industry precisely because of his expertise in sales and marketing.

It is certainly the case that sports betting operators need to find ways to differentiate themselves from their competitors, with firms now often using the same technological platforms and deriving broadly similar prices on the same portfolio of sporting events.

One company that has set about creating a recognizable identity in a very particular way is Bodog. The company's director of European operations, Keith McDonnell, joined Michael Maerz, PartyGaming’s director of sports betting, on a panel to discuss how to bridge the gap between sports betting and entertainment.

Bodog firmly positions itself as an entertainment brand aimed at men aged 18 to 40 years old, with Calvin Ayre, the group's founder and chief executive, at its center. Alongside the sports betting and gaming services are a music label, a publishing division and a television production arm, among other interests.

While Mr. McDonnell gave a detailed overview of the company's current operational picture -- including a teaser for the audience about a forthcoming Bodog development on Facebook, the social networking Web site -- he did not fully explain why Bodog felt the need to marry sports betting so closely to entertainment in the form of rap artists and reality television shows.

Sports betting is clearly a viable form of entertainment in its own right, and, it must be imagined, is also the most profitable of all Bodog’s various activities. For any operator there is a balance to be struck between online content that helps create an atmosphere and identity for the sports book, and content which merely acts as a distraction from the core activity of betting.

The use of sports-related content as a means of marketing sports betting was a topic that received significant attention at the conference. Research into customers' betting behavior from StatsOnSport, the predictive analysis provider, concluded that, when customers have access to detailed sports analysis, they display a greater propensity both to gamble and get involved in markets with which they have no previous experience.

This research was carried out in conjunction with Betfair, the betting exchange operator, and the betting exchange business model would seem ideally suited to attempts at stimulating betting activity by making punters feel they are more informed about a sports event. The exchange takes a commission on successful bets, and, therefore, has no real interest in which competitor wins. If greater access to information leads to greater betting turnover, then the exchange generates more commission.

The situation is slightly different for traditional bookmakers, however, for whom the outcome of an event will determine the level of gross win they retain from their customers. In this instance, an increase in turnover does not necessarily lead to an increase in gross win, particularly if this additional turnover is driven by better-informed clients.

Live broadcasting of sports events by online betting operators is another area where interesting developments lie ahead. Ross MacEacharn, commercial director at Perform Group, highlighted the benefits to be gained by sports books showing the events on which they offer markets, especially with the growth of in-running betting.

One key development in this area has been the launch of Championship League Snooker. This tournament has been created to be shown by bookmakers over the Internet, exclusively. In addition, the 192 matches have been scheduled to avoid clashing with other big sports fixtures -- eg, Champions League football -- and will be played at times that are convenient for both Europe- and Asia-based snooker fans.

The creation of high-quality, competitive sports events to be shown exclusively by online sports books represents an important new marketing strategy in the sports betting sector. It means that sports fans can be attracted to sports books because of the sports events themselves, rather than anything necessarily to do with the odds being offered on them.

The discussions at Bet-Markets 2008 strongly suggest that the battle in the sports betting industry has shifted from being one focused on the product to one focused on the marketing and presentation of that product. The operators that will emerge victorious will be those that can meet the challenge of delivering a mix of content that is both attractive to bettors and a genuine catalyst for revenue growth.

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BetMarkets 2008

Lorien is a research analyst with Global Betting and Gaming Consultants, and currently resides on the Isle of Man. Prior to this, he spent three years at a leading United Kingdom gambling firm, providing regulatory and market research for its various international e-gaming ventures.