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PADDY MCDERMOTT, Performance Director at SportCaller, unpacks how FTP is helping navigate the regulatory maze, emerging as a genuine alternative to bonusing to boost retention across mature and newly-regulating markets

Although biblical scholars are still to recognise it as a sign of the impending apocalypse, increasingly stringent regulatory control over the mechanics of sign-up bonusing is rapidly catching up with gambling operators.


Consequently, as the adverts for “Enhanced Odds on this” and “Free Bets on that” flap wildly amid these winds of change, the scramble continues to find a more robust alternative with which to replace them as the industry’s best means of effective marketing and advertising. It’s less the beginning of the end, more the end making way for a new beginning.


Whilst many rightly view bonusing as a legitimate mechanic for CRM, certain news publications are fueling the perception that this “targeting” is somehow predatory and unethical. In the face of some alarmist headlines, the search has been on for a new way to retain customers whilst keeping the wolves from the door. Indeed, it was only a matter of time before operators committed to a more ethically robust framework.


After all, these shifting sands can coalesce to create a progressive, in-touch industry. Ultimately, such progress will ensure that operators and their supplier partners can operate with confidence and probity in regulated or newly-regulating markets. And, of course, it’s only a good thing that the industry is finally looking inwards and adopting more socially responsible actions.


It is in this evolving landscape that free-to-play games (FTP) continue to find a clear path through the woods of engagement, responsibility and compliance, offering a flexible solution with which to engage and retain an active playing base. That’s an opinion further bolstered by the investor presentation for the proposed Flutter-TSG merger which has listed FTP games as one of six standalone verticals, alongside established tent poles such as the exchange, poker and casino.


That’s no surprise, given the importance of Sky Bet’s Super 6 to TSG, but Flutter have truly embraced FTP as a group wide concept for some time now. Beginning with HotShot Jackpot on Paddy Power back in 2016, this was soon expanded to Betfair International (across multiple countries and languages) and to Sportsbet in Australia, swiftly followed by games with TVG in the US, and then more recently FanDuel has headlined a number of high-profile campaigns with FTP games.


SportCaller has delivered all these games for the Flutter group and having previously spent so many years with Paddy Power, it’s been fascinating to enjoy such close involvement in what is now a key product and mechanic for a much wider group. On joining SportCaller, the most surprising aspect of FTP was not the customers it delivered, this was taken as a given, but the way in which it kept them coming back – at levels we (in PP) would have killed for across key mass-market events.


Across all SportCaller games, the blended average game-ongame, returning-players ratio sits at 65%, peaking on key events like Cheltenham where daily returning players hit 80% – with over 60% of all Tuesday participants still playing by the closing Friday of the festival.


Flutter are no slouches when it comes to spotting an opportunity and this has certainly been the case in its adoption of FTP. It is widely accepted that Beat The Drop was the first genuinely new product innovation in sports betting in recent times, not only fresh but also highly successful with a namecheck in the group’s Q3 update in 2018:“… [we will be] continuing to offer innovative promotional products, such as ‘Beat the Drop’, to acquire recreational customers at lower costs.”


Initially launched as the headline offer for the 2018 World Cup, Beat The Drop (under a variety of pseudonyms) is now a go-to market gateway, opening up untapped territories and audiences. TVG has its own incarnation, FanDuel launched a version to herald the start of the NFL season and Betfair is running localised editions in Germany and Brazil. Pertinently, the regulator in Spain has also just approved the product as an appropriate means by which to target audiences in that territory, fully compliant with local legislation.


When it comes to a local approach, however, no-one is running FTP better than the Kindred Group. This was the first tender process that SportCaller had entered, at the heart of which was the requirement to operate at a hyper-local level. This was our gamechanger moment, separating SportCaller from the flock, and winning the procurement process by offering the industry’s first FTP platform.


Kindred has truly embraced the platform solution, putting it through its paces in a way that we had hoped but never expected. This platform solution has placed the controls in the hands of Kindred’s global country managers, from opting in to globally run games to quickly spinning up its own games on local sports, leagues and teams.


Having launched its first game in August 2019, by year-end it will have run in excess of 600 games in 17 countries and 13 languages. Given that some of its core territories are amongst the most stringent for legislation, particularly with respect to bonuses, it had no option but to find an alternative. In so doing, it has become the first group to swap out old-school bonusing and embrace FTP as a standalone tool in its marketing armoury.


Given that FTP has become a leading marketing tool for Kindred, they are also innovating to drive deeper engagement. Its latest game, Streakr, allows users to win free bets and cash prizes for correcting predicting consecutive correct results. The player with the longest winning streak scoops a jackpot-sized prize, but in the main this game is aimed at softer marketing to engage and retain players.


Whilst Coral only operate games in the UK & Ireland, it has gone straight for the retention jugular with Correct4, a game that ticks all the boxes of an ongoing successful FTP game – simple to understand, quick to play, available on a timetabled regular basis, with an attainable prize structure and featuring personalised, contextual bet-prompts.


The real key point of differentiation in this game is the prize structure which resides at the opposite end of the spectrum from the traditional jackpot model of FTP. It’s a more sophisticated approach with direct weekly costs built into CRM marketing budgets. Not only does this game serve to reward those returning players (over £500k was given away inside the first four months), it also keeps existing Coral customers engaged with its products without any requirement to deposit.


These are just some of the reasons why FTP is setting up its own distinct stall in the worldwide marketplace, fostering a fresh vertical for enhanced recruitment strategy, reactivation and retention through deep engagement and organic gameplay on massappeal sporting events.


So, if the days of race-to-the bottom bonusing are over, operators’ marketeers and retention teams have now been tasked with fashioning an opportunity out of a challenge. And FTP has pulled up a chair as the go-to, cost-effective replacement for moving beyond bonuses and cashback as legacy reward mechanisms.


In a somewhat standardised sector, left clutching just enough regulatory rope with which to hang itself, FTP can stave off that impending regulatory apocalypse and provide the green shoots of responsible reactivation and retention marketing. •