Sportsbook and Trading Director Thomas Molloy, examines what lessons the industry has learned from last year with SBC
The shockwaves that resounded from last year’s shutdown of elite sport across the globe still resonate. Leagues and events that would in normal times be enjoyed by millions, not only inside stadiums but also in pubs, clubs, casinos, betting shops and homes, saw schedules pulled at the behest of governments with barely any notice as the Covid-19 crisis deepened.
Live sport has since returned, of course, and in some parts of the world in front of large crowds. For most sport fans, though, the action enjoyed has been through a screen, with fake, pumped-in crowd noise now an accepted feature of the viewing experience.
Clearly, what is often termed as the ‘new normal’ is a very different place than the pre-pandemic world when it comes to the all-round event experience.
In this slightly uncanny environment, it pays to remain alert. In my view, it is imperative that the sports betting industry remains on 24/7 watch for any unexpected changes to the availability of live sport – a factor that lies completely outside of our control. It is also vital to take heed of the tough lessons that were picked up, which I will attempt to flesh out here.
For the online gaming industry – and especially for those operators that had a focus on sportsbook – a lack of live sport during the first lockdown meant that there were a host of obstacles thrown across their path. But while the challenge of meeting the customer desire for content when there was so little action taking place globally left some scratching their heads, many enterprising operators moved swiftly to address the shutdown.
Recognising that within this critical moment there was an opportunity to improve offerings with virtuals and esports, as well as casino, this expansion served them well at a time of crisis and in many cases, continues to do so. Many of our partners, for example, were able to persuade many existing sports bettors to try out an influx of new products for the very first time.
If viewed as an experiment in player behaviour, there were many outstanding learnings that arose out of the suspension of sport. At Pronet Gaming, while we know how to cross-sell esports, virtuals and casino, what is just as important is that we can re-order front end-designs in order to suit and at great speed.
There are over 6,000 casino games and thousands of events to be enjoyed within those verticals not affected by Covid-19 and we can maintain our promise to keep players both engaged and satisfied.
I believe that given the ongoing situation in the world, it is more than foolish for operators to be over-reliant on one particular offering, no matter how great its earning potential happens to be.
Diversity is key. While it was impossible to have predicted the hugely difficult events that have unfolded across the world, it has brought into sharp focus the importance of putting a more rounded portfolio in front of the player. In making esports and virtuals the prime focus within our platform offering, we completely redeveloped our UX in order to make this possible.
This shift enabled our operating partners to position virtual football as a prime-time, Premier League-style offering on a Saturday, with racing from a virtually recreated Aintree handed a similar treatment. This also introduced sports bettors to entry level RNG offerings, with virtuals obviously needing no prior knowledge to enjoy. Operators are then able to utilise another form of cross-selling, thanks to the potential for recently converted RNG players to move across into slots and other casino verticals.
From that stage on, the ball is in the industry’s court in order to make sure that this group of players sticks around. What is paramount is that there is an even greater focus on retention techniques to keep them engaged and in turn, much of that effort will be determined by the quality, or otherwise, of the new gaming experience to which they’ve become accustomed.
I know that a lot of players have been pleasantly surprised by the graphics and mechanics within virtuals, which is testament to the development work undertaken by leading studios in recent years.
With esports, customer education is a key factor. During the first lockdown, we discovered that bettors are more inclined to place wagers within markets that they understand. Our account team has been working closely with the Pronet Gaming operator network in order to ensure that end users understand a vertical that sometimes can, from the outside, seem a little impenetrable.
As far as the casino side of our platform offering goes, we found that our partnership with a supplier specialising in fast-loading swipe casino games proved to be an efficient cross-selling tool towards traditional table games including blackjack and roulette. In keeping those newly converted casino players active, these games also allow them to swipe seamlessly back towards sportsbook once they are able to welcome the return of live sports.
Remaining vigilant and dynamic in reacting to the loss of live sports proved to be key for us during the last suspension, while the depth of our offering meant we were able to fill the necessary gaps to keep our customer base engaged.
Should the ideal scenario play out, then both governing bodies and sports stars will play by the rules and the same live sport that put in place so many protocols to get back up and running can continue unabated. While hoping for the best it is vital to plan for the worst, though. In that event, the primacy of content, and its presentation, remains a constant.