Following last May’s publication of the UKGC’s statistics on gambling trends, Virtual Sports sits third amongst bookmaker’s revenue channels. As industry technology providers seek to optimise data and in-play dynamics of Virtual Sports content, what now lies ahead for this once niche betting vertical…
The spotlight rarely falls on virtual sports, one of the least talked about yet increasingly significant element of the online sports-betting waterfront.
Providers have been talking for years about its growing importance but precious little solid data has been released for public consumption – until now.
With it last half-yearly statistics, the UK Gambling Commission become the first regulator to give us a picture of virtual sports uptake among players. And rather surprisingly for some – though not for the suppliers and certainly not for the operators – the total of gross gaming yield (GGY) came in as the third biggest single product, only behind horseracing and football.
Admittedly the £170m total for the 12 months to September 2017 was some way behind racing at £556m and, of course, football at £772m. But the total was still some way ahead of tennis at £129m, which is the only other sport to breach three figures.
As Paul Leyland, analyst at Regulus Partners, says, alongside tennis, virtual sports is the only sport in the long tail of sports-betting that is “material.”
Or as Frank Wenzig, general manager of virtual sports at Sportradar, puts it, the product has grown from “being a niche market to a must-have product.”
“We are getting more and more potential enquiries who see that virtual sports are a fixed part of the sports-betting landscape,” he says. “There is now more competition and more providers.”
Even better than the real thing
The lack of limelight for virtual sports means the product enhancements that have taken place in the past few years haven’t received the attention they deserve. This isn’t just about the verisimilitude of the action sequences that provide a visual stimulus for the punters.
The advances made, such as the virtual leagues that feature in Sportradar’s offering (which are backed up by full data and statistics), have meant that virtual take-up is on the increase with the key sports-betting player segments, particularly importantly, those that bet in-play.
“We are targeting the same type of punters that are attracted by our live odds proposition – so conversion should be easier,” says Wenzig. “It means the product will feel like real betting. For instance, our virtual league allows us to run up to eight concurrent games. It allows for multiple bets.”
The system is currently running a Virtual Football World Cup – with a full cycle of games every 70 minutes – and Sportradar says the evidence they have seen suggests incremental growth in general of circa 20 percent.
In-play in mind
It is the next stage in the evolution of virtual sports that could provide a further step change.
An indication of the direction of travel comes from the same set of UK Gambling Commission statistics where the recent trajectory of the tennis GGY figures is instructive.
The full-year figures for the years to March 2016 and 2017 showed tennis GGY rose 27 percent to £92m, while the figure for the year to September 2017 represented another leap to £130m.
This is almost wholly being driven by the popularity of in-play tennis and for Sportradar this gave them the impetus to originate their Virtual Tennis In-Play product.
“We started with a Virtual Tennis Open,” says Wenzig. “We squeezed a tournament into a three minute and a half cycle and we failed. It was obvious the product was not hitting the sweet spot so we went back to the drawing board.”
Unlike football, which of course is a time-based sport, tennis is point-based and hence squeezing it into a time-based format was unnatural. “Like trying to push a square peg through a round hole.”
Again using the data at Sportradar’s disposal – based on live data from tennis events – the company has been able to come up with a whole match, played point-by-point with rankings, statistics and fun facts running alongside the point-by-point, game, set and match betting.
“Plus we have four asynchronous matches running at once, allowing for multiple betting,” says Wenzig. “It feels like what it is – real tennis played virtually, if that’s not a contradiction.”
With Wimbledon just around the corner, it makes for a tasty proposition for the bookies. Everything but the strawberries and cream in fact.
The Betting industry’s future enterprise and operational context will be discussed at the upcoming ‘Betting on Sports Conference’ (#boscon2018 – Olympia London-17-20 September 2018). Click on the below banner for more information…