Shaun Simmonds – why gamification will rule at Russia 2018

Shaun Simmonds, Founder of Supersub Sport and Sportpesa’s UK representative, takes a look ahead at next year’s World Cup in Russia and predicts a creative surge to attract a new audience.

The fact that next summer’s World Cup will be in Europe is a huge plus. I remember covering a match between USA and Ghana on Twitter at 11pm on a Monday night during the last World Cup, wondering how to make such a fixture engage with what was a sparse audience at that time of day. I say sparse… on average, 200 million people tuned into each World Cup 2014 match, peaking at 913 million for the final.

Whilst the match schedule that FIFA have released for Russia 2018 is subject to change, it suggests that kick-off times will be between 1pm and 8pm in the UK – music to the ears of sports betting operators based in Europe.

You can expect the usual enhancements and bet boosts, new customer offers, amplified coverage, ‘innovative’ content, floods of print, outdoor and television ads, short-term and short-sighted ambassador deals and so on. But what will set gaming brands apart during this feast of football next summer?

Beyond the chronic disappointment of England, my overriding memory of last summer’s European Championships was the launch of BetVictor’s £1,000,000 golden goal. Please forgive my ignorance if BetVictor were not the first brand to run such an initiative, but their execution of the campaign was flawless. As far as operators were concerned, for me BetVictor won Euro 2016.

For those uninitiated, the Golden Goal was an opportunity for all customers (in fact, I don’t think you were even required to make a deposit) to predict the time and first goalscorer in the final for a chance to claim a share of a £1,000,000 prize pot.

The campaign still runs to this day, with televised matches – usually Super Sunday fixtures – being the subject of such guesses. The beauty of the scheme is that not only does it draw new customers in, but it also drives retention and increases customer value given that every £25 you stake during the week unlocks a further prediction for the customer.

This in itself lends a major hand to content and PR – because you’ll occasionally get a big win, and trends and patterns will naturally emerge as the golden goals go in. SkyBet run a similar initiative with ‘Super Six’ and Betway have also got in on the act with ‘Four to Score’ – a prediction of the first four teams to feature on Jeff Stelling’s vidiprinter post-3pm on a Saturday afternoon.

I expect such gamification to be out in force throughout the next World Cup. This is partly – and I hate this label – because millennials will suddenly become relevant to the industry. In other words, people born in 2000 will be eligible to bet on the World Cup. Remember that penalty that Phil Neville gave away? Well, these guys were popping out around then!

However, not only will gamification appeal to this new breed of bettor – but the trusty casual punters will again be seen as low-hanging fruit. Bet volume will peak across the board, with live markets thriving, pre-match bets amplified and the ante-post markets (so your top scorer, tournament winner) will appeal to the masses given that the tournament will last no longer than four weeks.

UK-based operators will have a heightened sense of the opportunities that this World Cup will bring. Not only because it looks likely that there could be a number of home nations competing for the World Cup in Russia, but the growing pressure on operators in terms of legislation cannot be denied.

Daily musings in the press suggest a shift towards tighter regulation, especially on the sponsorship front – with The FA recently terminating its partnership with Ladbrokes and Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Tom Watson declaring that Labour will look to ban shirt sponsorship if they get into power. However, I’m a firm believer of where restrictions are imposed creativity will thrive.

With the industry at its most competitive state to date, the stakes couldn’t be higher. Will Qatar 2022 be as attractive to punters? Nobody knows what things will be like in 2026, when it’s likely the tournament will be held across USA, Mexico and Canada. Russia 2018 and the 2020 European Championships present incredible opportunities for operators, so if you’re not already planning – get to work now!

It’s a sad state of affairs when you admit that you’ll find the competition off the pitch more intriguing than the football on it, but I cannot wait to see how next year’s World Cup pans out!

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