Benji Cherniak, Scientific Games Digital; Brandon Walker, Amelco; and Brian Clayton, IMG ARENA offer their thoughts on the NBA’s return to action, focusing on how the industry will need to adjust to new realities and balance out the inevitable uncertainties that operators will have to face.  

SBC Americas: The NBA is making its long-awaited return but with fewer teams competing and a tighter schedule to complete the season, will this change the approach from traders in pricing matches/player performance? How will the restart influence betting behavior?

Benji Cherniak: I think from a pricing perspective, as an industry we’ll need to adjust quickly to new realities that become evident. Which players are in the best shape after the four month quarantine induced layoff and which players let themselves slide a little? Also, which teams are going to look cohesive or lethargic? Will the lack of a ‘home court’ have a bigger influence on some teams versus others? Then, as the playoffs continue on, which players and teams have the mental and physical fortitude to continue to perform at a high level despite living in a bubble for months on end? The players and teams that excelled pre-pandemic might deviate in the upcoming unique circumstances. 

Brandon Walker: With the NBA returning from a four-month absence, there is an element of uncertainty and the unknown for both punters and traders. While the presence of social media has allowed us to see how certain players have behaved in the break, such as keeping in shape or working on their game, we’re not sure how teams will fare, with high-calibre opposition, jam-packed schedules and limited opportunity for load management. 

With so many high-profile games coming up, it will be exciting but could initially pose a challenge for our traders. If bettors have done their research, they could find an edge initially, but it will add an element of excitement to the opening few days. 

Brian Clayton: We’ve seen from other sports returning to unfamiliar circumstances that the changes to the gameday routines, environment and atmosphere have increased the levels of unpredictability. All teams have had the same layoff but they will not have all used it in the same way. While – ultimately – you still expect that quality will show, what we have seen is that pricing and trading have become more challenging. With all sports, the key for the traders is having access to the best, most accurate data and being able to effectively interpret, analyze and respond to it in a timely manner. 

SBC Americas: With the potential of all four big US sports crossing over for the first time, how are you preparing for unprecedented levels of trading and betting over the coming months?

Brandon Walker: This is a unique situation in that the Big Four has been played together on a simultaneous day in the past – but never for a sustained period of time such as what we’re going to see now. 

Sports betting, which is still new and emerging for recreational punters in the US, will have more emphasis on promotions and bonuses, so we need to be at the top of our game to handle volume. Our trading team has a wealth of experience with major operator brands and are used to driving forward large multiple sporting events at the same time, so they are eager to trade and analyse simultaneously, reacting to the challenges and tribulations that will occur. 

From a business perspective, we’ve placed a priority on having our infrastructure in place to allow us to seamlessly expand at a rapid rate, so are more than prepared for a rush of recreational sports bettors ready to enjoy a rare event.

Brian Clayton: As a major data and streaming supplier, we play a key part in the ecosystem of enabling sports books to make better decisions, faster. We are about to see a boom in the US, thanks to the convergence of our major sports returning, and we expect the appetite among sports bettors to be huge.

With IMG ARENA properties including – in addition to the NHL – MLS, NASCAR, the upcoming US Open tennis, plus UFC and PGA TOUR golf, we are and have been working closer than ever with our operator partners during the build-up. We are all focused on creating the ultimate conditions for US consumers, and US sport fans beyond its borders, to maximize their enjoyment of this unique moment.

Benji Cherniak: It’s a unique situation as we go from just about zero US sports to ALL sports in a matter of weeks. Pre-match wagering should be fine but covering all the US leagues in-play simultaneously will be both exciting and a bit nerve racking. The fall calendar is usually reserved for football but this year we will simultaneously have high profile NBA, NHL and MLB matches, along with the Kentucky Derby and The Masters. Taking a ‘one day at a time’ approach to prioritize the highest profile events is important, as is ensuring consistency in risk management in order to stay on top of the sheer volume of bets anticipated. 

SBC Americas: How important is the return of live sports in driving the US sports betting market forward? Has some of the momentum been lost since the shutdown, or are bettors even more keen to engage with these experiences?

Brian Clayton: Our expectation – as seen elsewhere – is that there is going to be a large amount of pent-up demand. People are eager to find safe entertainment options in this current climate. We are all responsible in allowing this to be channeled in the appropriate way, with a sports betting offering that augments the overall experience, bringing fans closer to the action.

Benji Cherniak: The US market will regain its momentum overnight with the return of marquee sports and is only going to get bigger and bigger. We saw the gargantuan appetite amongst bettors for UFC events so we know there’s an audience waiting for an opportunity to bet once the sports they enjoy return. Behind the scenes, the industry has accelerated the pace significantly with more states opening up, and I expect an absolute betting frenzy with higher volumes then ever in the weeks and months ahead. 

Brandon Walker: It will be hugely important; and I predict we’re about to see a sports bonanza. Every casino, online and offline – is raring to go. The return of live sports in the US cannot be understated when it comes to shaping player acquisition and retention for the coming year. 

US punters channel about 90% of their bets into American sports, so I expect to see record numbers soon enough. Tie that in with the NBA and NHL returning at crucial parts of the competition, as well as the excitement of a shortened MLB season and the imminent NFL season, and it is all set up to be a once-in-a-lifetime sporting opportunity.