As profits remain elusive in the US online sports betting market, many operators are radically shifting course to more targeted customer acquisition and retention strategies. Freeplay remains one of the brightest spots in the acquisition and retention space.
Taking it one step further: LIVE freeplay games, with real-time betting markets and staking capabilities, represent a huge opportunity for operators intent on engaging VIPs, educating players on in-play betting, and building their first-time depositors through online and retail events.
Daniel Kustelski, CEO of Chalkline, explains how LIVE freeplay drives the outcomes US operators need right now.
SBC: How long have you been running live in-play freeplay staking contests?
Daniel Kustelski: Chalkline ran our first LIVE freeplay game with Barstool Sports on the first day of the NFL season in the fall of 2019. The Packers played the Bears and we had 20,000+ players. I believe we had 30-40 freeplay live betting markets rolling throughout the event. Barstool does a really good job at drawing a crowd, and they delivered that day for sure.
Over the past two-and-a-half years, we’ve run live in-play freeplay games for NFL, NBA, NCAA Basketball, UFC, NHL, MLB, and custom events.
SBC: How does a typical live freeplay game work?
Kustelski: The basics of live freeplay involve live in-play betting markets with players having the ability to stake their positions with a set amount of ‘play money.’
As we’ve done with Covers for UFC Live events, players typically receive 1,000 fan points after registering. Players will have multiple staking opportunities throughout the contest, in this case before each Main Card bout. Standard in-play markets for UFC will include betting markets for the outright winners, total rounds, and method of victory.
Bets will settle immediately after each bout, and betting markets for the next match will go live. The Live leaderboard will determine the winner after the final bout bets are settled.
SBC: How does live freeplay fit into the mix of sports betting in the USA right now?
Kustelski: If you listen to the earnings reports, you’ve sportsbook CEOs say what we have: operators are aggressively trimming marketing spend, focusing on ROI, and acting on opportunities with Retail and VIP segments.
Live freeplay enables operators to engage bettors during an event that they’re passionate about, educates and acclimates players towards in-play betting and overall profiles for bettors with better CLV and more loyalty. Live freeplay makes a lot of sense for new bettors who may not even be aware that they can bet in-play.
SBC: What types of sporting events best lend themselves to live freeplay games?
Kustelski: Format is critical to in-play freeplay success. In our experience, live freeplay games work best when they have a natural series of intense betting sessions followed by “breaks” when the in-game action occurs.
This format style allows bettors to attentively place bets, explore markets and staking strategies, then immediately watch their bets result. Again, the education component is key, as most of our freeplay live player have not placed a real-money in-play wager.
Perhaps most importantly, our live freeplay formats allow for players to learn during the game, collect their freeplay points, then wager again immediately.
SBC: What are some of the operational challenges and opportunities of live freeplay betting?
Kustelski: First and foremost, the game format has to be short-form. Bettors, especially new bettors, are not going to have long attention spans. High cycle rate is important and ensuring that players have a range of betting market options ensures that players are able to develop strategies that they can use in real money wagering.
Also, leaderboards are fun for many players, and there’s a strong social component to playing and competing against other players, including friends. And this social dynamic is important for operators as well: the Jefferies analyst report that came out recently indicated that 40+% of betting-inclined players felt that the recommendation of a friend was the most important factor in choosing a book. Freeplay can help drive that recommendation engine for books looking to sign up new players.
SBC: How does live freeplay drive real-money betting?
Kustelski: There’s both art and science here in driving conversions. Localization is the most important factor, and personalized offers convert better than generic offers. If you’re playing a UFC 274 Live freeplay event, you’ll probably expect an event-specific offer, and in our experience, these offers will convert best.
SBC: What’s ahead for live and freeplay in the USA?
Kustelski: We see a range of new live freeplay game formats evolving now, many of which are gaining traction from operators and affiliates. Live streak games, more complex staking games, and freeplay micro-betting games will become more and more popular over the coming months. As live sports continue to dominate the TV ratings, why wouldn’t operators want to engage with the players that are tuning in to watch their favorite sports, teams, and players?
Perhaps most important for the books: the data sets from freeplay games is becoming more powerful as AI engines and predictive modeling is integrated with CRM and paid ads.
But, most importantly for players: they get to have ‘skin in the game’ while they watch the sports and players they love.