With the rising trend of social betting gaining momentum across the industry in recent years – where did this concept stem from and where is it leading? As operators look to boost player engagement, we spoke to a host of industry experts to analyse how this concept will unfold.
SBC: Social features in sports betting and casino have been one of the key trends in recent years – how and why did this concept come about?
Alex Dubin, Founder & Chief Executive Officer at BettorOff: In today’s mobile-first, hyper-connected world, virtually every business model includes some form of socialisation or community-building and sports betting is no exception. This has been true since the early days of online wagering, when PokerStars introduced us to “risk-free” community poker on the free version of their platform, PokerStars.net, with an eye toward transitioning those users over to the paid version, PokerStars.com.
This trend of utilising community-building to grow and engage a user base has evolved from a clever marketing strategy into an industry all its own, one that has become an essential part of the online wagering ecosystem. As demonstrated by PokerStars, social betting can be a highly effective tool to introduce people to sports betting without risk and therefore, without fear.
As a result, no longer is sports betting a solitary, self-contained experience. Rather, the social features of sports betting – sharing picks, debating matchups, bragging on victories and lamenting losses – have become nearly as much a part of sports betting as the books, the lines and the games themselves, transforming the betting process into a more interactive, more exciting, more rewarding experience.
Dmitry Starostenkov, Chief Executive Officer at EvenBet Gaming: Being a part of the community has always been important for players and humans in general, so functions like chats, forums, and other basic interaction methods between users within our platforms have constantly existed.
For online gaming, social features became a super-trend shortly after the start of the pandemic in 2020, as we had limited offline interactions, no access to live sports or the ability to play with others at the physical casino tables. Those operators who were able to compensate for this insufficiency gained a colossal competitive advantage and the demand for the social features spread like wildfire.
Will Tyrrell, Director of UK Media at Checkd Group: Sports betting is about far more than just 90 minutes of football, or a four-day golf tournament. It’s the debate, the cash-out dilemmas and the journey of a bet that punters now discuss with their friends. This change over recent years has led to less of an emphasis being placed around the potential financial benefits of betting, with punters now keen to ‘show off’ their knowledge and correct predictions. This competitiveness is a key driver for our new Tipster product, where we offer punters a free chance to compete to win prizes including football tickets, signed shirts and cash.
SBC: Which current social betting features are generating the most traction within the industry?
AD: In-play wagering and peer-to-peer betting are among the hottest sectors in the industry. The popularity of in-play, particularly in social settings, is a result of the dynamic nature of live sports. Gaining an edge on the books is always a challenge and players are constantly working to identify, exploit and maintain that edge. For the moment, the best way to achieve this is through in-play betting, where the odds change moment-to-moment and are therefore less “perfect” than their painstakingly planned pregame counterparts.
Peer-to-peer betting (“P2P”) has also exploded over the last few years. An inherently social activity, peer-to-peer provides bettors the ability to compete against fellow sports fans rather than wagering against a book. As with the PokerStars model, P2P can be enjoyed without money, just for the sake of competition but the end goal of virtually every P2P betting platform is to ultimately convert free users into real money bettors. This “freemium” model is also heavily utilised in the gaming space, from purchasing skins in CS:GO to buying add-ons for mobile games like Candy Crush.
DS: Basically, there are two kinds of features that are common within social betting: communicating whilst playing, including chats, comments, and live streams, and being able to position themselves in comparison with others, such as leader boards, ratings, special awards, and other forms allowing to distinguish more successful players). Though not everyone sees ratings as a social mechanic, it is mainly a form of success demonstration, more or less the same process as uploading Instagram photos that display fancy restaurant dishes or powerful cars.
WT: Taking the example of the Tipster product within our app-based betting companion Betting Hub, we have been able to utilise our own social communities to drive both entries and conversation around each tournament. While providing a free opportunity to enter a tipping tournament, the product also allows punters to share their selections directly across their social channels to stimulate conversation and interest. They can also place the actual bet using our integrated partners and also compare the best odds available from a range of operators.
Providing additional value and opportunities through social betting is key to making new products a success in an ultra-competitive environment, which is why we’re focusing all our future product development efforts on direct feedback from our user base through our social channels.
SBC: Which key markets / demographics do you see this concept performing well in?
AD: Social betting is naturally suited to those who grew up with social media and although this seems to suggest a heavily younger audience, Facebook and its myriad offshoot platforms have been around long enough that the target demographic for social betting expands well beyond millennials into Gen Y (people in their 40s).
Drilling down further, we see social betting expanding its footprint on college campuses and with recent graduates making more than $75,000, which data suggests is an inflection point among potential online sports bettors. Socialisation is critical to this sector, which has come of age as part of a fully connected world. As such, they demand more than just the rush of betting, the enjoyment of winning or the agony of losing; they want to share those experiences with a community of like minded people.
Today we see this play out primarily on Twitter, where sports bettors are following one another, exchanging insights, arguing, trash-talking and more; in short, acting as a community, and as all communities do, this one will continue to evolve alongside the industry that feeds it, demanding access to better information, increased accountability and full transparency and a way to separate the signal from the noise: a way to win.
This is how specialty and passion platforms are born and evolve; in response to organic calls from the community to socialise in a particular area without the distractions and distortions inherent in a general social media platform. For sports bettors, that platform must deliver everything they want in one place; verified user statistics, odds from multiple books, news, opinions and opportunities to monetize whatever picking acumen they possess, along with all the social features they have come to expect.
We’ve seen this kind of community cultivation happen before – consider LinkedIn as an offshoot of Facebook for professionals or Twitch growing out of YouTube into the premier destination for streaming amongst gamers. Today, we see the sports betting community demand the same; a platform providing the commensurate level of specialised attention as do professionals on LinkedIn and gamers on Twitch.
DS: There are no specific age groups or markets that could be more susceptible to the social interactions in iGaming. However, in less mature markets there are fewer professional and skilled players, and for amateurs, social features may become a more important advantage than specific gaming options.
WT: Social betting is ideal for recreational punters, who are typically more engaged and interactive on social media. They are tech-savvy and perhaps newer to betting, and not necessarily fixated on backing favourites or finding the best possible value. They see making predictions on outcomes as another form of entertainment that adds value to their consumption of top-level sport. We have also found that these recreational punters are likely to follow multiple content producers on social media and can be guided into products such as Tipster tournaments that offer them rewards in exchange for successful predictions.
SBC: The era of social betting seems to have only just begun – where do you see this going in five years’ time?
AD: As online wagering spreads across the nation, we find ourselves in the midst of an era of social betting hypergrowth with limitless potential for innovation, iteration and expansion. The undeniable utility of social betting as an acquisition and retention tool for operators renders its ceiling virtually non-existent. With that said, we must be mindful that anything destined to last is destined to change; as such, we can expect the already fluid nature and role of social betting to continue its evolution over time.
A good example of this is the growing role of socialisation as a marketing tool and connector for skilled amateur pickers seeking to capitalise on their sports betting abilities by becoming paid betting advisors or influencers. As this cottage industry has grown, calls for transparency and accountability have increased, both in volume and frequency.
As such, any platform seeking to follow in the footsteps of LinkedIn and Twitch is obliged to provide more than just social features, they must create and cultivate a culture of transparency and accountability by and amongst its members for only in that environment can sports bettors accurately judge and be judged by the community.
DS: I believe it’s going to become a must-have for the gaming and betting platforms. Our entertainment and work habits seem to have changed forever after just two years of working from home. The social side of gaming allows one to feel included in a community joined by the mutual passion will evolve further with more technology being used, whether it’s video or even virtual reality, and more features available for both mobile and desktop screens.
WT: It’s a great tool to give users an experience akin to betting, but without any of the risk. It allows for punters to learn the intricacies of betting and ultimately should help provide more savvy activity when they do transfer these learnings to real-money activity. This is an approach we believe could work particularly well in less mature markets.
If you look at the United States, for example, daily fantasy sports contests have a long and highly successful heritage and even casual fans have a detailed knowledge around game-based statistics. Social betting is about harnessing these traits and adding a competitive element to generate excitement, which will naturally translate to successful conversions.