The FIFA World Cup, one of the biggest sporting spectacles in the global calendar, is less than two months away, and sporting stakeholders are scrambling to make preparations for the event.
Something which is, of course, not news to anyone is the fact that this World Cup is taking place in the winter to minimise the harsh heat of host nation Qatar – and in the views of a panel of sportsbook specialists at the SBC Summit Barcelona last week, this presents both opportunities and challenges.
Speaking on the ‘keeping sportsbooks hot during the World Cup’ panel, guests such as Russell Candler (Managing Director, Star Sports) and Anders Hauberg Nielsen (Global Head of Sportsbook, Betcris) noted the importance of keeping a cool head.
Keep the kitchen sink in its place
A theme expressed throughout the 40 minute discussion at the Fira Barcelona Montjuïc was the need for operators to stay calm and avoid aggressive marketing during the tournament.
“In the UK, when you look at major sporting events e.g. World Cup or Euros, as a primarily horse racing oriented bookmaker, so much emphasis is put on acquisition,” he said.
“Bookmakers throw the kitchen sink at getting new customers through price pushing, price offers, free bet promotions etc. It’s a race to the bottom.
“You can give so much away, and there are events where we’ve taken that approach but the quality of customer you actually get is of little to no value. For the World Cup we’re more about retention than acquisition. “
For Nielsen and Endre Nesset (President, Coolbet), a key focus for operators this year should be avoiding bonus abusers, who will take advantage of any free bets and offers that firms may push for customer acquisition.
“At every sports tournament there are marketing geniuses who spend everything,” Nesset explained.
“Take it easy and calm down – there are a lot of bonus abusers getting ready for this. Think twice and take it easy.”
Meanwhile, Nielsen agreed with his UK counterpart Candler in his view that, by enacting an aggressive marketing strategy, bookies are ‘asking for trouble’, and that firms should focus on retaining existing customers rather than the riskier approach of gaining new ones.
He asserted: “If you are too aggressive, you are asking for trouble. You’re asking for bonus abuse, and a very bad return on your marketing spend. I would focus on retention, and if you want to attract players with first bet bonuses, do it smart.
“If you want to do a free bet for example, I’d rather they win the free bet rather than lose. This is fairly simple, for example on the second day we have England vs Iran, it has to be a single bet and if England wins, the player stays on your side.”
Overall, the trio noted that although aggressive marketing may be tempting due to the tournament interfering with domestic football schedules and occurring close to the busy – and expensive – Christmas period, they urged fellow bookies to practise caution.
The case for acquisition
As the discussion went on, it became clear that there was some disagreement between the panellists regarding acquisition against retention, as Dr. Matthias Kirschenhofer, (Executive Board Member, Sport1 Medien AG) asserted.
“The World Cup is perfect for new customer acquisition, and branding is important for this, but you need to retain your customer and keep them engaged.
“Besides ads and sponsoring, you need a deeper explanation of the odds and the platforms. The user journey has to start with branding and attention, but you then have to do everything so that they stay and are engaged.”
Sharing this viewpoint, moderator Borja Mata, (Content & Supplier Manager, Codere), also argued that the World Cup is ‘all about bringing in new customers’.
“The World Cup itself is going to bring out lots of new players, and then it’s up to us as a bookmaker to make a good experience for our clients so they stay and then we do retention,” he said.
“The World Cup itself offers a lot of potential, we’re not going to have all the regular punters, but we are are going to have the non-regular punters that focus only on the World Cup, and then its up to us to give them specials, better margins,and obviously a lot of bonuses as well, so that they stay with us.”
Central to both the acquisition and retention arguments during the discussion, however, was one common theme – the overwhelming importance of content.
Content wins the Golden Boot
As asserted by Candler, a key focus for all sportsbooks during this World Cup should be on creating content, using this to attract customers attention and then driving interest towards placing a wager.
“It’s down to content – trying to find engaging content that will bring traffic to your site, whether that’s written or video, and working with good providers who can create that content and embed your prices – whether through social media or otherwise,” the Star Sports man remarked.
Over at Sport1 Median, content is the sports media provider’s bread and butter, with a focus on both sponsorships and advertising as well as ‘special content’ distributed across partnerships.
Kirschenhofer explained that the firm is currently overseeing a ‘deep integration’ of content into inline sites, development of odds and predictors such as prediction measures and content, and short 80/90 second clip shows that will be shown pre-match.
Lastly, Mata agreed that the key success during the World Cup will be ‘a matter of having the best content you can’, whilst Nielsen highlighted the importance of localisation and the factoring in of local time zones.
“The World Cup is so much more unique, as everybody is cheering for your own team and you need to be extremely localised in your content,” he explained.
“You may want to push pre-game or live depending on the country, its all about flexibility and being able to differentiate, but this is not a one size fits all thing. You have to be very localised.”
Mata added that there will be a huge focus on the World Cup throughout various media channels, even before the tournament begins, so companies should should focus on refining and then promoting their content.
“It’s just a matter of having the best content we can offer – e.g. specials, if you have a presence in let’s say Argentina, offer some special on Messi, as it will be his last World Cup.”
In tandem with the need to localise content, the panel also noted that trading performance will also likely be highly localised due to the unusual timing of the tournament.
Latin America in particular was highlighted as an area of concern by both Nielsen and Nesset, who pointed to fixtures taking place in the early hours of the morning in some cases.
Nesset added that ‘If you are a soccer-based operator you may struggle due to the break from domestic leagues’ – but this view was not shared by Codere’s Mata, who described the scheduling as positive.
“It’s going to bring a lot of attention. With the markets I focus on, Spain and LatAm, people will be indoors, they will not be focused on holidays, and it will be really good for revenue.”
Over at Star Sports, optimism is also in the air, as Candler also predicted that with less people being away on holiday – in contrast to summer World Cups – there will be higher attention on the World Cup.
Lastly, Kirschenhofer observed: “Firstly, we have to mention media usage in winter, it’s much higher than in summer. Secondly, for gambling usage, based on our own experience with casino and poker shows, the business model works much better.”
Betting Innovation lead the agenda at this year’s SBC Summit Barcelona 2022, which took place at Fira Barcelona Montjuïc on 20-22 September.
The 12-track conference covered all industry developments, topics and disruptions, with 200 companies showcasing their latest innovations, and a programme of spectacular evening networking events.
Visit the SBC Summit Barcelona website to view the full agenda.