As the resemblance of a sports calendar remerges for 2020, the global lockdown has asked serious questions of bookmakers’ customer engagement and long-term retention capacities.
Nathan Rothschild, co-founder of sports betting innovation studio GTG Network, lays out why under the toughest business conditions, free-to-play (FTP) games and content have proved their value beyond simple concepts.
The near-total wipe-out of global sports has understandably posed a unique set of problems for the sports-betting industry. A global pandemic which prevents all but the very merest sliver of live sporting action taking place was almost certainly not a part of any ‘disaster scenario planning’ mapped out by the sports-betting world.
It is now, of course, and though many might suggest there is an element here of shutting the door after the horse has bolted, it should be admitted that even among the rubble of the current sporting schedule, we can see how operators can at least try to put together an offering designed to give their customers something to keep them primed for when big-time sport does return.
Indeed, that process is already underway. This past weekend we have seen the resumption of the German Bundesliga and we won’t have too long to wait for the return of UK horse racing at the start of June.
Something resembling a recognised sporting schedule worth betting on is now on the horizon. But this still represents a fraction of the content that would have been expected for this point in the calendar. The sportsbooks are still going to have to look at how to keep their customers engaged between the big events. The cupboard is still relatively bare and may well be for a while yet.
Keeping the customer engaged between their betting visits is vital but in truth, the situation operators face today is only a more pronounced version of what was going on before.
Gaining the attention of the sports-betting public in an ever more competitive environment and with various regulators breathing down the necks of the marketing teams has become an increasingly important challenge. On top of this, keeping a player on your site, engaged, and able to bet come the next appropriate opportunity has become paramount.
The Retention Factor
Enter free-to-play games. Already acknowledged as a great retention tool, free-to-play games provide an entertaining reason for players to stay on a site. Repeat use is a vital factor in the games we provide, such as Trivia and a wide suite of arcade games, including Hit the Spot for Football and Hoops Galore for Basketball. They provide the draw factor, bringing interested players back to the host site with an engaging and entertaining experience. Most critically, they do not rely on any underlying sporting contests.
Now this free-to-play theory is being given its sternest test. Without sport, why would a player visit their favourite sports-betting app? Well, if a game is available that can give them some sports-based entertainment even when there is no sport available, then it will have played a part in ensuring that the sports-betting customer hasn’t disappeared entirely.
More to the point, it keeps that app front of mind for when serious sports are back on the agenda. These games also create all sorts of cross-sell opportunities to other verticals inside an operator’s offering.
We all know that nothing can replicate the interest that is generated by the most popular sports. The arsenal of products available for sportsbooks at this time is severely limited. Yes, there are virtuals and esports are certainly being given more of a look than was previously the case. But they can only provide tick-over revenue.
Whereas free-to-play games offer something potentially much more valuable. They give a site optionality when it comes to recreational customers. They can be deployed as a means to keep these customers coming back to your app even while the main event is off the agenda.
And when sport does return, when consumers once again think about having a bet, then they will start to think who they are going to have that bet with. That is an easy choice to make if they are already playing a game on the site. Being front of mind is half – or all – the marketing battle; free-to-play games give apps and sites the chance to ensure just that.
Nathan Rothschild – Co-founder & Partner GTG Network