An expanding alternative - the rise of virtual sports in Italy and across the world
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An expanding alternative – the rise of virtual sports in Italy and across the world

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a surge in the popularity of virtual sports as a betting commodity throughout 2020 and into 2021, as real world competitions moved behind closed doors or were postponed altogether.

This has occurred globally, but some national markets in particular have seen a significant spike in virtual sports viewership and associated betting activity.

Hosting a presentation at today’s SBC Digital – Italy, Giuseppe Donato, Country Manager – Italy for Kiron Interactive, discussed the growth of virtual sports both internationally and in the Italian market, as well as outlining Kiron’s future ambitions for growth. 

Highlighting the potential of virtual sports for betting operators, Donato said: “Virtual sports offer a replica of real sports delivered in a condensed format. Events are configurable and scheduled at a high frequency ensuring gameplay at all times.

“Virtual sports use the latest CGI technology and a proprietary physics engine to capture the vitality of their real sport counterparts and deliver entertaining and visually appealing content to your customers.”

Discussing the impact of the COVID-19 on betting markets, Donato explained: “The global pandemic has greatly impacted the traditional habits of sports betting. In the absence of live sport fixtures, virtual games and esports have emerged as a means for punters to continue betting.”

As a result of this growth, the international virtual sports market is highly lucrative, generating annual turnover of over $12.0 billion.

Turnover on virtual sports products understandably varies between retail and online platforms. There is an ‘average of 15 to 30% of turnover in retail betting shops,’ whilst ‘5-10% of sports betting turnover online’ is on virtual sports.’

Virtual sports, explained Donato, have become popular in a range of markets such as ‘Italy, Denmark, Spain, Greece, and the UK, in Eastern European countries like Poland, Serbia, Ukraine, Georgia Hungary, Russia, in the USA like Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey Nevada and Kansas, in China and the Philippines, Australia, Central and Latin America, Mexico, Colombia, Peru and Brazil, the Caribbean and Africa’.

Discussing the product’s presence in Italy, he explained: “Virtual sports have long been a popular product for the Italian customers, especially during the time that there were not real sports being held.”

Donato also highlighted Kiron’s role in introducing virtual products to the market: “Italy is easily regarded as one of the largest virtual sports markets globally, and we are very proud to say Kiron was the first to introduce virtuals to the market in December 2013. Today, virtuals generate over €1.6 billion revenue annually.”

As well as being the first operator to introduce virtual sports to the Italian betting market in 2013, Kiron now holds a market share of 52% and its platform is the most widely used across the sector.

Regarding the challenges faced in the Italian market, Donato said: “Stricter advertising legislation and stringent tax legislation means the ways to experiment with the new virtual products in Italy is limited. However, this is not to say that the market shies away from the new opportunities.”

The most popular game in Italy is virtual football, accounting for 60% of the market share, whilst horse and greyhound racing offerings have also caught the attention of bettors, generating roughly 35% of revenues.

Soccerbet – one of Highlight Games’ flagship products – was  highlighted as ‘driving revenues to new highs.’ Donato pointed to the launch of Soccerbet in partnership with Highlight Games as testament to the success of virtual sports in Italy and in particular the popularity of virtual football.

“The rise of this alternative has created a domino effect not only on opening access to new markets but also on customer preferences, such as the ease of online gaming,” Donato said in his concluding remarks on the potential of virtual sports as a betting product.

“The viability of the vehicle offering as an alternative to real life events in particular in difficult times, was demonstrated last year. However, there is so much more than this, with multiple virtual sports on offer to customers as an alternative to the real thing. 

“Most suppliers now have high quality football, basketball and motor racing as well as racket sports to meet the needs of sports fans across the world.”

Finally, with regards to Kiron’s objectives for the future, Donato said: “We are focusing on introducing innovation to our work system portfolio, focusing on improving the virtual proposition for customers. Reducing the risk of upsetting the status quo with key products that we will continue to deliver.”

SBC Digital Italy, on 17 February, is the leading online conference and exhibition for the Italian betting and gaming market. Delegates can register for free here to join the event live or watch the conference sessions on demand.

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