Uncertain times remain as we enter the final quarter of 2020, and the sports betting industry is fully aware that further lockdowns could follow as the number of COVID-19 cases start to climb sharply.
We asked four key industry stakeholders about the lessons learned from lockdown earlier this year and how operators should prepare themselves in the event of future disruption.
SBC: What was the key lesson you learned from the shutdown of live sports earlier this year?
Nikos Konstakis, VP Sportsbook SG Digital & MD SG Digital Athens (NK): The key learning from earlier this year is that operators and B2B partners need to have the widest portfolio of products available. Things can change very quickly and the ability to adapt an offering efficiently will allow operators to continue providing entertaining experiences to customers.
Preparation is key and operators must have faith that substitute products will drive engagement should sports grind to halt again. The Virtual Grand National experienced similar wagering levels to last year’s meeting, showing there’s clearly demand for different products, while events such as table tennis, Belarusian football and home darts, as well as esports, all captured bettors’ interest.
With customers embracing these new experiences, some of our operating partners were reporting that substitute products were accounting up to 70% of overall turnover. Crucially, they allowed operators to provide a 24/7 service even through the absence of traditional sporting events.
Bobby Longhurst, CCO of Pronet Gaming (BL): Staying vigilant and dynamic in our response to the loss of live sports was key for us. There was a real need to keep players engaged and playing, so being able to fill the gaps by utilising the strength and depth of our offering was very important. A lot of players quickly switched to esports, virtuals and even fantasy sports, so having a casino offering involving over 60 providers also helped as there was a real upturn in those revenues.
I think we can be particularly proud of the speed with which we were able to help our partners to refocus their front-end designs to dial into these betting verticals. We remain in a ready state of alert and are focusing on maximising returns for our partners whilst we have the chance, all the while remaining proactive in our approach to what may lay ahead.
Zorica Smallwood, CEO of ESA Gaming (ZS): The shutdown of sports was an almost unprecedented moment and one that showed it is vital to prepare for worst case scenarios. For us it reinforced the need to give alternative options to operators at a time when core offerings may be unavailable.
By offering cross-sell solutions, we provided an important revenue stream when companies were lacking sportsbook revenue. It also really highlighted the need for businesses across the iGaming industry to work together and strengthen relationships, ensuring people rallied in times of crisis.
Oksana Tsyhankova, Operations Director at Soft2Bet (OT): Our key takeaway from the challenging recent months was that, when looking at the bigger picture, we’re heading steadily in the right direction. We’ve built our varied content portfolio up over time to service a diverse audience and not rely on one vertical too heavily, and fortunately, that’s what helped us during lockdown.
We had an uptick on visits to virtual sports, esports finally looks to be filling its potential, and many sports bettors tried their hand at casino tournaments and live dealer games, which add that extra layer of engagement to a casino space that wouldn’t usually appeal.
Hopefully this second lockdown doesn’t come about, but if it does, it looks like the major sports are now au fait with empty stadiums, and football is accepting the new normal with the added benefit of sizable TV rights and massive audiences at home.
SBC: And should live sports be suspended for a second time, how can operators best prepare themselves to ensure they don’t get caught out again?
NK: Should tighter jurisdictions be imposed, we expect this to be on a jurisdiction basis, which should reduce the possibility of a complete shutdown across multiple territories. As we’ve seen in the US with how the NBA has restructured its season, more sports could be open to operating within bubbles to allow competitions to keep running.
Nonetheless, it’s important that operators have varied content from all over the world. Scientific Games’ sports content aggregation platform OpenMarket has proved highly valuable to operators this year. With 36 different content providers, companies can choose from a wide selection of products to keep their customers entertained, all through a simple integration.
ZS: Operators have a number of avenues they can explore, from pivoting to esports or virtuals to adding more obscure sports which may be less affected. However, cross-selling players into casino seems the most natural course of action for them. In the face of bonus restrictions in regulated territories, having unique content which can enable this cross-sell could be the ace up the sleeve of some operators.
With products ranges such as our own EasySwipe™, low stakes, mobile-friendly games which can be played alongside sports betting experiences can act as a natural gateway that orientates avid sports bettors towards casino content, giving operators a clear revenue opportunity should we have to deal with adverse circumstances again.
OT: It’s a risky game to not have every type of content covered, be it virtuals, live casino, sportsbook, slots, bingo, or whatever. Operators should look to have a greater diversity of offering, and the more you deliver, the more chances you have of attracting, and then retaining new custom. Yes, there are cost implications of this, but if you’re not offering the whole spectrum of gambling, someone else will be, and the player that heads elsewhere won’t be returning anytime soon.
Operators also need to make sure their teams work flexibly and autonomously. Teams should be comfortable and effective in working across a variety of different situations so that, should a lockdown return, staff can ensure customers remain priority.
Players don’t care about office closures or remote working, they want to know they’re number one, and only by being flexible and by foreseeing future challenges can they ensure that.
BL: It is fundamental that we remain on 24/7 alert for any unexpected changes to the availability of live sports. We are in the hands of governments around the world, which is daunting, but we are prepared. We learnt a huge lesson about player behaviour last time which will stand us in great stead for any future suspensions.
We know how to cross sell esports, virtuals and casino. Just as importantly, we can re-order front end-designs to suit these events and verticals very quickly with over 6,000 casino games and thousands of events across other available betting verticals not affected by Covid-19, we can definitely deliver on our promise to keep players engaged and satisfied.
Hopefully, if governing bodies and the players follow the rules, we will continue to have live sport. We can only hope for the best but plan for the worst with our own content and its presentation, after all, suspensions are out of our hands.