Igaming Focus: Emergence of convergence — sports broadcasting and betting By Jake Pollard, CDC Gaming Reports August 24, 2021 at 8:00 am A fully integrated sports broadcasting-betting ‘flywheel’ is the vision the likes of Fubo TV and Sinclair-Bally Sports are striving for. Can sports media and betting convergence finally produce the goods? As sportsbooks gear up for the new NFL season with much ado about new margin-increasing parlays, CRM and data-led marketing, media and broadcasting companies are planning their own diversification strategies and full integration of sports betting as part of their consumer products. In practical terms, the moves entail adding more and more streaming content and combining it with fully integrated sports betting products that go deep into their customers’ habits and preferences. It’s part of a play to realize a vision of fully integrated sports streaming content with betting products that cater in detail to their customers’ viewing consumption. Sinclair Broadcast Group CEO Chris Ripley was clear about the vision when he commented recently that Sinclair was working on obtaining the rights to a number of high profile sports to create a direct-to-consumer product that would generate “a significant amount of income coming from watch-and-play, which is the real-time gamification of a sporting event, where (viewers) can play it like a video game.” Live betting ’on steroids’ In his comments, Ripley talked about lines and odds changing every 20 seconds and said the service would be “like in-game betting but on steroids.” Different price and subscription formats will be available, and he mentioned the possibility of sportsbooks offering discounts and subscription-related promotions to entice players to sign up. The full comments are worth reading if you can. They are also very outspoken and blunt; no European CEO would ever dare to publicly talk up a vision of a sports broadcaster feeding odds and markets throughout live coverage for their viewers to bet on (and never mind the health of their compliance and PR teams). Some serious hurdles still need to be overcome, notably buying the rights from the leagues and within a set of packages that Sinclair can monetize and generate profits from. Media analysts were also critical of the plans overall, and, as one contact commented in relation to single sport channels such as the tennis channel owned by Sinclair, “how much tennis can one person watch?” Ripley’s comments, however, speak to a logical idea of how TV networks can leverage all the eyeballs they glean thanks to high quality sports content and drive many of those viewers to bet on the events they are watching. It also refers to a vision of total and seamless broadcasting and sports betting integration; with TV networks marketing highly relevant odds, tips and promotions while viewers smoothly stack up the bets on their mobiles as they watch the live games. The big difference with integrated media broadcasting and betting in 2021 of course is that any successful venture in the field will have to include a top quality mobile app. The idea of TV screens slowly loading odds and markets, as was the case when 10-15 years ago, is out of the question. Mobile key Alun Bowden, senior consultant for Eilers & Kreijcek Gaming, says “the user experience to-date has been very poor (and) in a world where you can access your smartphone near instantly and place a complex same game parlay bet within seconds,” companies like FuboTV will have to be on top of their game when it comes to producing high performing betting apps that cater to viewers with precise offers related to what they are watching. Speaking during the presentation of FuboTV’s second quarter results, CEO David Gandler said that within this environment “advertisers and sportsbooks will be able to leverage the engagement”, viewers watch 134 hours of Fubo content per month on average, and “premium live content augmented by the targeting capabilities of a connected TV platform.” He added that recent partnerships between gaming and distribution companies “further validate demand for a converged offering, the market is moving in our direction and we are staying ahead of the vcurve”. No one expects him to say anything different of course, but his pitch lays out the vision clearly. For Fubo and other streaming specialists like DAZN, the media-betting nexus is also tied to changing the viewing habits of subscribers. Both groups want to move viewers away from traditional linear broadcasting providers, and, according to Gandler, viewers prefer “a holistic content bundle with a wide assortment of premium content” rather than many different packages requiring them to switch accounts. For the likes of DAZN, expanding into sports and fantasy betting, e-commerce and becoming “a sports destination platform,” as CEO James Rishton recently described it to the BBC, rather than just being a content distribution platform, also means new revenue streams. The group is not profitable and the diversification of activities is expected to bring in further income. Pricing of both sports rights and subscription packages is a crucial issue, and with such strong demand for sports content there are fears that the rights are just too expensive to make significant profits from. This is especially true when individual subscriptions, regardless of the package chosen by the viewer, are expected to be priced at $15-$25 per month. Unique circumstances Of course the reference when talking about media-betting convergence is the success enjoyed by UK bookmaker Sky Bet, which was acquired by Pokerstars in 2018 and is now part of Flutter Entertainment. But Sky Bet benefited from a unique set of circumstances, and, as Alun Bowden points out, after trying to crack the TV betting conundrum, “Sky Bet took off as a brand when it focused all its attention onto mobile” and benefited from being part of a major media conglomerate that is synonymous with sports and soccer in the UK. In addition, the likes of FuboTV, Sinclair-Bally Sports, Fox Bet (to an extent) and eventually DAZN also face strong competition for viewers’ attention from major sportsbooks-sponsored media outlets that are not broadcasters, but cover sports betting from every conceivable angle. What Fubo and the like do have in 2021 are the media integrations, the free-to-play apps and, in some cases, strong ownership of the sports betting audiences; in other words, many of the components needed to combine sports broadcasting with betting. In many ways, much of their success will come down to how well they can execute their strategy.