Ezra Kucharz: US sports betting has only scratched the surface

With the final day of the inaugural SBC Digital Summit North America getting into swing, opening duties fell to Ezra Kucharz, Chief Business Officer at DraftKings. Offering a ‘state of the nation’ style address, he focused on the emerging US sports betting market and how it will adjust to the challenges posed by the pandemic.

“What is somewhat paradoxical about legal sports betting is that domestically we’re still in the midst of a relatively nascent space despite decades of market validity and industry growth overseas,” he said. “Only a fraction of the US today offers regulated betting and while DraftKings are up and running in many of those states the market is far from being fully realized.”

To put that in clearer context, he noted: “Consider it a fact that we are merely a year removed from the first full NFL season of legalized sports betting or that official sportsbook operator partnerships with prominent professional leagues are only a recent development in a continued shift away from long-held hesitancies. As of May 2020, the two-year anniversary of PASPA’s repeal, more than $20bn have been bet with US sportsbooks and we’ve only just scratched the surface.” 

Turning to the ongoing issue of COVID-19 and how it has affected the sector, he said: “While predictive trends are exciting, we find ourselves at an unprecedented set of circumstances today and we have to address that impact.

“At the time when we would normally have seen freshly crowned NBA Finals and Stanley Cup champions and been treated to a long awaited summer of baseball and more, the American sports betting industry – and the global industry for that matter – has been instead stripped of its cornerstone sports due to the Coronavirus pandemic.” 

Kucharz was also keen to acknowledge the efforts made by the industry to retain fan engagement during the crisis. “I have already been immensely encouraged by the resilience of our industry and the brimming fandom that is still pouring through and primed to be fully unleashed. 

“While the general devastation has been a nightmare, and the recovery process will take time, this pause in sports has given us a new understanding of both the betting market and today’s fan.

What we have learned during this period is that the fans’ demand for sports is stronger than we could have ever anticipated. The absence of popularly bet leagues like the NBA, NHL and MLB has created a vacuum for fan engagement that’s been redirected towards new sports. We’ve seen PGA Tour golf has been a particular beneficiary of this pent up fandom. As tournaments have resumed play it has exemplified how deeply fans crave live sports content and entertainment.”

Emphasizing the view that “…mobile matters”, he stated: “Mobile has enabled fans to continue to engage in sports gaming from the safety and comfort of their homes. And while retail sportsbook locations are significant for the greater industry – even a preference among some fans – they are hampered by the pandemic in ways where mobile is unaffected.” 

Kucharz also addressed the outlook, warning of the need to expect some significant changes to the business. “As we have seen with the initial league roll outs, the return of sports does not mean the return to the way things used to be,” offered. “A new normal is here for the time being. 

“The seats of many stadiums will likely go unfilled as the action unfolds out on the field or court. New protocols and contingencies will become commonplace. The games we love will both be the same and different simultaneously. But while so many adjustments take place in and around sports, global betting and innovation will remain constant. 

“Fans will still be able to place their pre-game and in-game wagers thanks to mobile carriers. The American fan will reward those organisations that innovate and focus on the fan first and provide an innovative set of products.”   

SBC Digital Summit North America will conclude later today. But with plenty of activity and some big names yet lined up to speak, there is still time to register or obtain more information via the event’s official website.