Back in 2017, there was a spate of news reports about baseball’s “pace-of-play problem.”
Critics griped that games were too slow, lasted too long, and sagged when they should have sizzled, in the final innings. The National Review jeered that “the Congress of Vienna moved more briskly” than the average baseball game. And research showed that even “avid” baseball fans watched an average of 50 minutes per game before packing it in.
One solution was live or in-play betting, which lets sports fans place wagers throughout the course of an event, revising their bets as the odds shift, and taking advantages of those pauses in play.
A more recent innovation, micro betting, could take that concept a giant step farther.
Micro bets depart from pregame and in-play wagers—which are basically win-lose propositions—by letting bettors bet on incremental in-game events.
“With a micro bet, you can bet on every pitch and at-bat in baseball, every drive in an NFL game—every betting opportunity that happens while the game’s in play,” said Chris Bevilacqua, CEO of Simplebet, a pioneer in the space, in an interview with GGB News. “These bets occur while the game’s going on; they’re created and resulted immediately. In other words, within minutes or seconds sometimes, you know if you’ve won or lost.”
Along with near-instant gratification, Bevilacqua said, micro bets “allow for gamification of the game, and turn live sports into something more like a slot machine.”
Appearing on a Sportico podcast, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said his NBA counterpart Alan Silver told him that “Sports betting is a massive opportunity for fan engagement.”
He said Silver told him to stop talking about pace of game, because baseball’s pace of game is perfect for sports betting (meaning wagering between pitches and innings).
Micro betting is so U.S.-centric, it may not be widely imported to Europe or the U.K., where in-play bets account for 75 percent of all wagers. And that’s because of soccer.
“Soccer isn’t really conducive to micro-market sports betting, because it’s a very fluid game—there’s not a lot of opportunity for in-game, discrete elements, whereas there’s a lot of scoring in Major League Baseball, the NFL and the NBA,” said Bevilacqua.
He said older, European-based technology platforms have shown little interest in micro betting, at least so far. “It took a very U.S.-focused company like ours to invest in and build a platform that’s driven by plays, drives, pitches, at-bats, shots and possessions, which are more endemic to U.S. sports.”
JP Morgan analyst Daniel Politzer graciously described those pace-of-play issues as “the accommodating cadence of U.S. sports” versus “the continually running clock” in soccer. The very structure of U.S. sporting events could make micro-betting a great big deal for operators and investors here, and “help turn live sports into a more immersive gaming experience.”
The equation is pretty simple: more time for bets equals more bets equals greater revenue potential. It also multiplies fan engagement, according to Bevilacqua. During the 2020 NFL season, Simplebet and its partner FanDuel tested micro betting with free-to-play games where fans could bet with tokens but win cash.
“We turned every quarter of every NFL game into its own contest, where users could bet on every play and drive,” said Bevilacqua. The partners found that “the average user on Sundays was betting over 80 times per user. The average user was on the FanDuel site for about 25 minutes, and about 25 percent of all users were on FanDuel for an hour or more.” Some 10 percent to 11 percent hung in there for two hours or more.
Micro betting “makes for super-duper fan engagement,” said Bevilacqua, “and a very sticky, gamified experience.”
Mass Market Tool
In addition, he added, micro betting was designed with casual sports fans in mind, not hardcore punters.
“Our thesis is that sports betting is way too complicated and not attractive to the mass market. So there’s a UI-UX product innovation piece to this—we built the back engine to power it, but the front end is just as important. The usability and simplicity of the consumer interface really critical to unlocking” a broad-based audience.
With micro betting, “you can’t go around shopping for the best lines—it happens too quickly,” he said. “Each pitch of a baseball game lasts 23 seconds. Each at-bat is 90 seconds. It’s not designed for a sports punter or a real heavy duty sports bettor, but for the casual mass market.”
In the U.S., micro betting—like sports betting in general—is spreading more quickly than anticipated, in part due to economic pressures from Covid-19. As of June, Simplebet had formed free-to-play deals in all 50 states with FanDuel PlayAction, NBA InPlay via FanDuel and MLB Rally App, presented by MGM, alongside a real-money partnership with Intralot in Montana and Washington, D.C.
It’s a Simplebet edict that “sports comprise moments,” and micro betting was developed to make those moments count for millions of fans. In March, JP Morgan’s Politzer said live betting, including micro betting, could lift the U.S. sports betting market to a $9.25 billion industry by 2025.
”There is tremendous revenue upside” to the young industry, said Bevilacqua. “We’re on a path to help prove all that out. We’re in the top of the first inning.”