As sports betting expands state by state and sportsbook operators lay down tracks for these states, it’s vital for them to know how bettors decide which operator to choose.
According to the 2021 State of the Sports Betting Industry: Executive Perceptions vs. User Realities, released by HPL Digital Sport, sportsbooks think the answer is to offer what they perceive to be the best product. But bettors have a much different perspective.
“Sportsbooks are finding that brand is a very important element in attracting and retaining users,” and so is the social aspect of sports betting, according to Ed Moed, CEO of HPL Digital Sport, which helps sports betting companies boost their brand relevance.
One of the HPL surveys involved almost 200 sports betting executives. A second questioned more than 800 bettors. And that’s when the differences became clear.
Some 55 percent of executives agreed a superior product is the key to customer acquisition and retention, and as a result, 75 percent planned to launch new products, innovations, technology or gameplay in 2021 (look for a major push for in-play betting and in-stadium/arena lounges).
On the flip side, 47 percent of bettors indicated that brand reputation and trust are tops for them.
“You can deduce that operators are casting the widest net in order to attract the largest number of people,” Moed said. “But targeting key audiences is the natural next step in the evolution of the industry.”
Making It Social
The bettors survey found that social wagers—the experience of placing bets among friends—was more important to fans than being able to place in-play bets by a margin of 5 percent. Ranking customer preferences, the social aspect was also more important than loyalty programs (6 percent), and surpassed in-stadium/arena betting (7 percent).
“Surveys like this are bound to influence how and why online sportsbooks design their products and market themselves,” said Josh Swissman, founding partner for the Strategy Organization. But it doesn’t suggest that technological innovations and new ways of betting are unimportant. “A balanced approach across what both bettors and operators find most important is likely the best approach.”
In May, for example, DraftKings announced plans to create an in-app social network, said Jessica Welman, new markets director for online marketing firm Catena Media. “You’re also seeing more companies focusing on social and media content because it enhances the customer experience and because it creates acquisition channels to bring people to their product,” she said.
The survey also discovered that women make up as much as a third of the sports betting public, an increase of 5 points from 2020.
“I agree that more women watch sports these days,” said Chad Beynon, gaming and leisure analyst with the Macquarie Group. “A lot of women see betting as entertainment. They’ll bet $10 with a sportsbook, or on iGaming or bingo.”
Macquarie conducted its own survey in which 54 percent of respondents were women. While the results weren’t broken down by gender, it can be deduced that if 52 percent of those polled said they would bet, then about 28 percent of those would be women.
Based on anecdotal evidence alone, Welman agrees that women tend towards small bets but on a wide range of events. “I’m not surprised to hear the number of customers who are female, but would be very curious how much handle they’re responsible for. If it’s a substantial chunk, I think sportsbooks take notice. If it’s incremental, I wouldn’t be surprised if it doesn’t have much of an impact at all.”
Swissman says women bettors will become a larger part of the mix over time. “As the population of female bettors grows, you’ll start to see forward-thinking operators cater more to this underserved demographic.”
And some operators are already building that presence. “We’ll see more content and wagering opportunities specifically developed for the female markets.” Don’t discount the rise in female professional sports such as the WNBA as a driving factor, he said.
The study confirmed that different generations view sports betting differently. About 46 percent of millennials, 53 percent of Gen X-ers and 56 percent of baby boomers listed brand reputation/trust as their most important factor. But people in the Gen Z demographic are more influenced by referrals by family or friends.
Some 38 percent of Gen Z and millennials say social media ranks highest in their engagement with a particular brand, but Gen X-ers and boomers listed it at the bottom of their priorities.
“As brands look to differentiate themselves from their competitors, social media will be a major factor in how bettors decide which operators to choose from,” Moed said.
Boomers and Gen X audiences view sports betting as a more functional and practical activity than the social experience favored by Gen Z and millennials. To the former, odds and promotions are an important part of their experience.
“As each generation proves to be a viable and sustainable market in its own right, I think you will see operators begin to specialize in specific subsets of generations,” Swissman said.
When it comes to content, the generational differences show a shift away from sports experts to sports personalities. “That’s why Penn National Gaming acquired Barstool Sports,” Beynon said. “Betting with people they like is important to Gen X, and more so to millennials.”
Sportsbooks are already catering to generational breakdowns of customers and where they’re based, Welman said. “Given how high the stakes are, I’m guessing a substantial sum of money is already going into a breakdown of customer age groups.”
Building a Communal Experience
As previously noted, many bettors are looking for ways to interact, share information or bet directly with their friends, family and community, said Moed. This is a trend that will continue. “So the need to create platforms that allow audiences to be more social as a community will be critical.”
For example, the crowdsourced sports gambling advice platform Betsperts has put together the world’s largest social media platform dedicated to sports betting and fantasy sports. Another platform, BettorEdge (motto: “Play the game without getting played”) is a social media betting exchange built to let users develop a community and set their own market prices for bets.
“The industry is built on bringing the fun and excitement of sports wagering to the bettor, no matter where they are,” observed Swissman. “So as more states legalize online sports betting, the number and types of sports bettors will continue to grow.”