As sports wagering takes hold in the US with more states opening up to the industry, David Sargeant, Innovation and Strategy Consultant at iGaming Ideas, explains why it’s time for sportsbooks to provide more live sports entertainment to match sports wagering’s growth intensity.
October marked my first trip back to the USA and I can’t say enough about how good it was to be on the ground in America, at G2E in Vegas, and at meetings in-person with colleagues and friends across the country.
Throughout the last 18 months, the US sports betting industry has continued to grow at an incredible rate, so I was surprised to see for myself that America is still not satisfying sports bettors with enough live sports entertainment.
This was proven for me while I was in a huge Vegas casino sportsbook with an old friend during G2E. The facility had 20 screens of content right in front of us, showing a mixture of sports highlights, replays, and live talk TV. But, despite the fact we were in the epicenter of the American gaming industry, just before Monday Night Football was due to start, there were absolutely no live sports on those screens for fans to engage with. It was as if we were at the world’s best roulette table but someone had forgotten to spin the wheel.
A quick scan of the internet showed that European books had bets open and live-streamed sports content available, featuring more than 40 live sports events from around the world.
Admittedly, some of the online US books also had a smaller but still live and engaging offering, and I understand that, generally speaking, many of the sports played outside the USA are not mass-market American friendly, but that shines even more of a spotlight on the consumer-driven need for wall-to-wall, 24/7 American sports betting content.
In the rest of the world, live (in-game or in-play) betting rules, representing most of the betting volume in Europe and Asia. As a result sports content has evolved into a truly 24/7 platform, with live sports on an endless carousel that meets consumer demand.
In the UK, both snooker and darts were transformed by making content specifically for the betting market. Events in both sports are staged throughout the year with tournaments taking place from early until late on both weekdays and weekends – this means they both service the sports betting market extremely efficiently in time slots with no competition from major tier-one sports.
I can see demand for live sport in the USA mirroring that in the UK, and the American sports industry rising to meet that demand is, to coin a phrase, a “win-win for all”.
That immediately points towards ‘second tier’ sports filling the gaps in the US between live NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, MLS, horse racing, and the plethora of other sports available to fans across America. Global soccer isn’t yet filling that gap, possibly because of the still-growing soccer audience in the USA, but there are minor league sports, and “American” sports being played in Asia in particular, which will grow in popularity among sports betting audiences, just as they have done in the UK, as they are live and readily accessible, 24/7.
This creates a huge opportunity for what could be termed tier-two sports, as well as minor leagues and college sports. These are sports, teams, and leagues that have highly engaged, loyal fans, with events taking place all over the country, every day of the week, many in locations that are steeped in history, true for college sports in particular.
This puts the onus on those sports, teams, and leagues to ask themselves why they are not taking up the chance to position themselves towards the sports betting industry and fill the gaps in the content window. It is a tried and tested fact that fans of sport are more likely to bet on sport they are watching, and to watch a sport they have bet on, so it makes sense to position events towards sports betting fans, and to seize the audiences who want to watch, on broadcast and in-person.
This also opens the door for new sports, some perhaps familiar already to the American sports fan, others which are in their infancy. Lacrosse and Jai Alai are two good examples. Lacrosse is hugely popular throughout the USA, but could sports betting fuel its growth into a broader professional platform? On a similar note, could Jai Alai – a staple of the Florida sports market and once popular among the betting community – make a resurgence as more sports fans see opportunities to engage with the sport via sports betting platforms?
Similarly, as we see new sports emerge, they should be looking at tailoring themselves to capture and engage the sports betting audience, if necessary fighting with so-called traditional sports to engage those audiences. The Drone Racing League is a good example – a niche sport, perhaps, but one that is aiming to capture a younger, tech-savvy audience.
The same is true for pickleball, the fastest growing sport in America according to The Economist. It is a sport targeting a wealthy demographic and is already attracting broadcast and data partners to entertain and upsell the four million people who played pickleball in 2020.
I would urge those involved in all sports to look outside the traditional “we have to play on Saturday to engage fans” mindset, and look at where the opportunities created by sports betting can take them.
A revolution is needed in the USA to meet the ever-growing demand for live sports the betting industry is creating. I truly hope that when I’m back in the USA next time, that the live sports content revolution will be fully underway and that those same casinos will be full of wall-to-wall live content.