SportCaller MD, Cillian Barry looks at how free-to-play (F2P) is demonstrating its versatility for the pivotal Presidential elections, even against a backdrop of high-class US sport.

Financial forecasts from US sportsbooks have enjoyed a pleasant rebound in recent months after major sports discovered ways to co-exist with the coronavirus earlier than envisioned, showcasing some welcome dexterity in the process. 

North America’s Big Four – NBA, MLB, NHL and NFL – all fashioned the requisite behind-closed-doors protocols to resume or restart their seasons alongside high-turnover individual sports (with fewer team issues, or more socially-distanced participants) like tennis and golf, both of which have found their stride in back-loaded season of US majors which has brought their games’ biggest stars back to competitive action.

And while the current pandemic has reminded us that there are no enduring certainties in life, more robust timetables are increasingly shaping a once-decimated calendar.

The F2P vertical has naturally had its own role to play in this encouraging bouncebackability, with engagement at an all-time high as sports fans proved that absence only made their hearts grow fonder for the action they were missing. 

However, as the Los Angeles Lakers emerged triumphant from their Disney World bubble, defeating the Miami Heat in Game 6 of the NBA Finals on Sunday to become champions of a stop-start season, and the NFL’s own flexi-schedule tries to make accommodations around new COVID-19 tests among the New England Patriots, one match is picking up interest and engagement like few others. And, like its sporting equivalents, this match-up is often more about scoring points than making them.

Stakes couldn’t be higher

Trump versus Biden for the 2020 presidential vote is outstripping previous marks for election engagement and activity in a campaign cycle billed as the most consequential in history. Wherever you stand on an increasingly polarized and partisan political spectrum, it seems the stakes couldn’t be higher. Unless you mean betting stakes in the US, where’s no-one actually allowed to legally bet on the election, or the current presidential debates. 

This presents a slight snag for the gleaming new sportsbooks of the North American circuit, struggling to moor US election betting onshore and away from black-market books that dominated before PASPA’s landmark repeal.

Of course, this week’s second debate was cancelled by the Commission on Presidential Debates due to concerns around Trump’s own diagnosis and his refusal to accept a virtual format. And while the president himself appears to have done a far better job concerning his own personal battle with the coronavirus than his country’s wider struggle, all face-to-face barbs are now off until the final debate on 22nd October. 

In the meantime, at SportCaller, we’re still leveraging and applying our learnings from the first debate on which we introduced a fresh F2P game for FanDuel, where engagement comfortably surpassed our hopes and projections. Presidential Pick ’Em was rolled out to immediate success, with players speculating for free on 10 questions stretching from whether the protagonists would greet each other with a socially-distanced glare or an elbow bump, to which of their favourite catchphrases (e.g. “the Lamestream media”, “Sleepy Joe”, “God love ya” or “Barack and I”) would be uttered first. 

This weight of numbers rivalled that of popular NFL F2P games, so it quickly became apparent that the stateside zeitgeist is primed to pit its wits on “props” ranging from Mahomes passing yards to Donald Trump coughs. 

In short, as we’ve already witnessed across more mature European markets, sports betting will effortlessly step outside its natural bounds and into the wider culture as soon as it has a chance. And, once again, F2P is laying the groundwork for that opportunity in North America, fully compliant with all state laws regardless of the fact that real-money election betting is not currently legal.

More tellingly, SportCaller has found that these non-sports-related games have the capacity to attract a whole new audience to the market. Interestingly, 40% of players that played Presidential Pick ’Em hadn’t previously played any of the five other games we’ve also developed with FanDuel for the current NFL season. 

You can also throw in some compelling conversion figures, such as 90% registration-to-play rates. The opportunity to harness the enthusiasms of different customers with a more generalized media persuasion (from elections to TV reality shows) speaks to the flexibility in F2P for targeting and engaging in a light-hearted, compliant and socially-responsible manner. 

Market-leading proprietary platform 

Indeed, in perhaps the most hotly-contested presidential race in living memory, this debate game neatly encompasses the adaptability and speed-to-market of all SportCaller’s games: they can be rapidly spun up for sporting and non-sporting events alike, and then seamlessly managed and resulted via our market-leading proprietary platform.

So, what’s next? Well, beyond next Thursday night’s final presidential debate, there’s the small matter of the election itself on 3rd November, with its abounding and variable discussion points and subplots which make for perfect propositional posers.  

SportCaller are in the latter stages of development on FanDuel’s election night game which, for both parties, represents yet another new concept in terms of game structure and playability. This will be our 13th game of 2020 with the US market leader, clearly underlining the appetite for F2P games from the operator and, more importantly, their players.

So, even at a time when sport is rallying (albeit behind closed doors or to limited in-venue attendances) the enjoyment of wider cultural connections and events, especially via digital channels and devices, has never been more important. That’s not a question of politics or opinion, that’s the reality. And it’s now an attainable reality in the States, too, thanks to the utility and versatility of F2P.