The power of Free-To-Play (FTP) games to educate about sports betting in a devolving market and its potential to enhance the enjoyment of watching sports on TV
Following the US Supreme Court’s landmark decision of last summer to permit each state to determine its own rules governing both retail and online sports betting, the US market presents a very lucrative opportunity for both sports betting operators and TV sports broadcasters – and therefore sponsors and advertisers. However, recent research highlights that, even with legalisation, many within the US still have reservations about sports betting in their state.
People in the US do of course already bet on sports, through a combination of illegal means and already regulated ones, such as the casinos of Nevada and on regulated horse racing betting in California. A recent report by Deloitte Global 1 estimates that, in 2018, the total amount wagered on unregulated (i.e. illegal) sports betting in the US was $169 billion, with four times as much being wagered – mostly illegally – on professional football than the NFL made from all sources in 2017.
These figures make it even more surprising that, in a recent survey by Seton Hall University 2, 67% of respondents had never placed a bet, 83% had never played a bracket game, and a whopping 97% had never played Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS), which is currently a huge growth area in the US. The results of this survey suggest that, while there certainly appears to be a considerable appetite for legalised sports betting in the US, there is also a degree of skepticism around it – with only 32% of respondents claiming that they would be likely to bet on a sporting event if it were legal in their state. Education around betting on sports will be key in making an understandably cautious public more comfortable with what, for many, is an entirely new field of activity, and one in which they could potentially be out of pocket. This is where FTP games have significant potential to serve as an educational tool in relation to the mechanics of sports betting – and to do so in a risk-free fashion.
Additionally, the aspect of the FTP player not incurring any real loss could serve as an effective means in attracting that 67% to place a bet when sports betting becomes legal in their state, which for most states will be a reality in the very near future. It is also worth noting that, in states that have not yet legalised commercial sports betting, FTP games are already legally compliant. This provides an opportunity for operators to familiarise the public with as-yet unreleased products, and for the public to be educated in the mechanics of sports betting – without being exposed to the potential of any financial loss.
The potential of FTP for fantasy leagues
As an example of how FTP could help to engage with untapped potential of the 97% in the US who have never played DFS, consider the FTP game, Super 6, from the more established UK sports betting market. This weekly Fantasy Football (soccer!) game was launched in 2010 and has a large, dedicated weekly player base of in excess of 1m players, and with approximately 15% of all weekly Super 6 players going on to place a live bet via Sky Bet. Super 6’s success highlights the synergy between FTP and an online sportsbook, in this case Sky Bet. The virtuous gaming circle is then completed as Sky announces the weekly Super 6 winners on their live TV broadcast. Not only does FTP better educate new players about the league’s standings, fixtures, player and team form etc., it also significantly enhances players’ enjoyment of and investment in watching the weekend’s games on TV – especially if friend groups are playing on a weekly basis.
To replicate this success of the DFS-FTP model in the US market, FTP specialist, SportCaller, are currently developing a bespoke March Madness game for the US operator FanDuel, which is set to harness the massive national appeal of this college basketball tournament. This FTP game also provides the opportunity for a wide audience to engage in the excitement of being invested on a deeper level than just a casual viewer in a sporting event that everyone will be talking about – and to do so without risking a penny.
TV is not dead: The relationship between sports betting and watching sports on TV
Here, the research agrees that there is a direct correlation between sports betting and watching a sports fixture on TV . A person is far more likely to watch a game on TV if they have ‘skin’ in that game, and those who watch the most sport on TV also bet the most frequently.
It is no secret that global TV-watching rates are in decline, but sports TV watching seems to be bucking this trend: more than 60 percent of adult US men who watch TV will regularly watch sports on TV in 2019 and around 40 percent of the US women who watch TV will do the same. Deloitte predicts that 40 percent of all TV watching by US men aged 25–34 in 2019 will be of TV sports. And their watching behavior will be heavily influenced by betting activity, with two-thirds of this group more likely to watch a game they have a wager on. Additionally, those who watch games frequently on TV are much more likely to be regular bettors. This influence of wagering on TV sports-watching, and vice versa (what the Deloitte report refers to as the “gambling effect”) is already being harnessed in the US, with broadcasters such as NBC now featuring live odds in a simultaneous broadcast of their live coverage of some NBA fixtures.
FTP games are unlikely to better-engage what the Deloitte report refers to as US “Super-super fans”, who already watch a staggering 35 hours of TV sports per week and place bets at least weekly – but FTP has great potential in better-engaging and converting the more casual groups. A good example of this is the FTP games SportCaller has created and manages for the Californian-based horse racing TV network, TVG.
Players pick either five (Super 5) or eight (Super 8) winners from a pre-determined list of races on Wednesday and Saturday respectively to be in contention for winning a jackpot, on a knockout basis. As the results come in, TVG announces who’s remaining in the competition over their live TV racing broadcast. Based on the immediate popularity of Saturday’s Super 8 game, TVG soon commissioned Super 5 for Wednesday’s races, which in turn is returning very healthy weekly player numbers and conversion rates. The ongoing success of these two games suggests that the FTP format resonates well with US sports audiences and that the triumvirate of a combined sportsbook/broadcaster/FTP model works well in the US market. The additional value of this model to the sports network is the large weekly number of players with eyes on the broadcast. This holds great appeal in terms of selling advertising to a targeted and highly engaged audience over the duration of any chosen sporting fixture. For the very popular SportCaller FTP games that were run during the World Cup 2018, 60% of the game players were in the 18-34 age group – a demographic that is becoming increasingly elusive to advertisers’ reach, as they are generally watching less and less TV, year on year.
The TV-FTP format is also proving itself very valuable for operators who don’t own their own TV network, with Paddy Power already leveraging FTP by incorporating it into their ATL advertising for games like Beat The Drop, and Coral doing something similar with Coral Million. In fact, the Coral Million FTP game proved so successful for Coral that they are now commissioning separate games on an ongoing basis this year to target a range of key sporting fixtures, with its FTP darts game, launched for December 2018’s World Championships, being the most recent example.
It is also worth noting that the scope of FTP is not limited to sports betting. As the lines become increasingly blurred in relation to how we watch traditional TV and engage with it via social or community or media on mobile devices, the opportunity to invest viewers in the outcome of weekly competition-based show will become increasingly attractive to broadcasters and advertisers alike. Lottoland’s recently-launched Jungle Jackpot, a weekly game based on the UK hit-TV show, I’m a Celebrity…, is a good example of FTP’s potential to be applied outside of the realm of sports – and something that could potentially be very appealing for US audiences.
The nascent US sports betting market is hardly the 19th-century Gold Rush, and the complex nature of how individual states will determine the scope of sports betting legislation will take time to iron itself out, but there is a massive opportunity for sports betting operators and broadcasters to explore a mostly untapped market. FTP games, and global industry leaders like SportCaller, provide a useful means to better educate the US public about sports betting and enable a tiered introduction into live betting, without players having to incur any financial loss.