Paddy McDermott: SportCaller – Racing coming out on top for retention

Paddy McDermott – SportCaller

SportCaller’s Paddy McDermott (Digital Performance Director) unpacks the rapid rise of free-to-play games, explaining how horse racing is reducing client churn levels and boosting customer value.


 The free-to-play value proposition for bookmakers is happily a clear and provable one. Chiefly, the general perception is that they provide the mechanism to acquire players in great numbers at a low cost. However, the increasing and ongoing use of free-to-play by the major players in the industry reflects the degree to which players of games engage with the products – resulting in increased customer loyalty and value.

This isn’t confined to one game, sport, or territory but is prevalent across all. Football games are the key drivers of new customer acquisition, as expected due to the mass market interest. Yet it is horse racing games which consistently drive the highest levels of engagement and resultant retention.

Horse racing is where the SportCaller story first started, having originated the model of a free-to-play jackpot game with Sky Bet on Channel 4 Racing way back in 2014. This evolved into the ITV 7 game with William Hill, and more recently into their own product in Lucky 7. They are also currently running two concurrent horse racing FTP games with TVG in the USA.

On average in this domain, over 70% of weekly game players are returning to play in the following round of a game – a figure which rises as high as 85% for daily returning players on high profile events such as Cheltenham. It is not only in the short term that players return. In fact, on any given round, approximately 50% of the player base have also played in each of the previous four weeks.

This is a key element of our strategy for game-development over the coming months, not only to further understand retention benefits, but also how we can leverage that to improve on conversion to bet rates.

Although acknowledging the fact that football games are the key drivers of player acquisition, it is not to say that horse racing FTP cannot fulfil this purpose. Events such as Cheltenham drive huge spikes in player numbers for UK and Ireland audiences, while TVG have successfully leveraged the acquisition potential of high profile events through offering increased jackpots.

TVG’s regular Saturday game, Super 8, offers a jackpot of $100k for picking the winner of 8 races, and this has been a significant acquisition driver for them. In order to further boost the appeal to a wider audience, they increased the jackpot to $250k for the Breeders’ Cup then $1m for each of the Triple Crown races.

Each of these jackpot boosts drove unprecedented levels of acquisition for TVG, and a huge positive is that they were not followed by massive spikes in churn – approx. 60% of players returned to play in the following weekend’s game. Each enhanced jackpot therefore served to drive a strong increase in the overall player base for the game.

It is not just the appeal of life-changing jackpots that drives player engagement, however. TVG have launched a further midweek racing game, Super 5, which offers a jackpot of $5k for picking 5 winners. The appeal in this game is that it offers a much more winnable proposition. Although only running for a few months, compared to a year for Super 8, player numbers are at 75% of the larger jackpot game and closing rapidly.

The common features shared by all current racing games, across all operators and territories, are that game-on-game retention exceeds 70% in all cases – while over 50% of the player base on each game round, in every game, is made up of players that have also played in the previous 4 game rounds.

FTP has been the first uniquely new proposition in years. The games are fully compliant with tightening regulation while allowing operators to avoid the costs associated with generous sign-up offers.

FTP games work incredibly well across a wide range of sports – we have seen huge success in everything from basketball to Australian rules football, but when it comes to retaining customers, it’s the horses that are still winning the race.


Paddy McDermott – Digital Performance Director – SportCaller 

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