Advertising sports betting in the wake of global calls for bans

June 26, 2024 7:51 AM
Photo: CDC Gaming Reports
  • Mark Keast, CDC Gaming Reports
June 26, 2024 7:51 AM

According to Jared Beber, CEO of Sports Venture Holdings Inc. (Bet 99), partnerships between sportsbooks and pro sports leagues and athletes have been key in helping to solidify trust and credibility. And igaming is built on a crust of trust.

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A panel at last week’s Canadian Gaming Summit in Toronto delved into the topic of advertising and sports betting, an industry that has relied a lot on celebrity and pro sports influences as it has grown over the past two years and a few months.

Earlier this year, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario released revised advertising standards, prohibiting the use of athletes in internet-gaming advertising and marketing in Ontario. Standards have been strengthened to restrict the use of celebrities who would likely be expected to appeal to minors.

The summit panel included Amanda Brewer, Senior Executive, Canadian Gaming Association, and the former Country Manager for Kindred Group and their Unibet brand (which left the North American market), Dave Rivers, SVP Marketing, PointsBet Canada, Natasha Questel, Chief Social Purpose Officer and VP Marketing, BCLC, and Brian Egger, Senior Gaming Analyst, Bloomberg, discussing how operators have had to re-invent strategies to engage bettors.

Egger said the U.S. has struggled more with respect to doing what’s right with celebrities and influencers, specifically around excessive prop betting on amateur collegiate athletes and celebrity influencers who may not appear to be of age.

Putting the debate around igaming and advertising in Canada into proper context is important, with Brewer echoing an observation she heard that you see more ads for Ozempic on TV now than for sports betting.

When talking “bleed,” where sportsbook ads run in markets in which they don’t hold a license, via a national broadcast of a sporting game or broadcast feeds coming from the U.S. (like U.S.-based Super Bowl advertising), it does create confusion for the audience, but the media companies can remove ads from feeds out of the U.S., Rivers said.

“So when you think about bleed, it exists only because there’s a will to allow it,” he said. “The reality is in this category, there’s a lot of opportunity to improve on the regulatory framework, that is, how we hold ourselves accountable, tied to safe and secure gambling, in terms of wagering for consumers and Canadians. I also believe that the media organizations within Canada that have broadcast licenses should also be held to that standard to protect consumers.”

Added Brewer, “We still have national broadcasters that are happy to take Bodog [a gray-market operator] money.”

With bonuses and inducements, which licensed operators in Ontario aren’t allowed to promote, Brewer said operators would have appreciated being given more explicit examples and guidance to avoid making the wrong interpretation. Unibet and PointsBet were among the first to be fined by the AGCO for infractions around advertising inducements.

“It’s been difficult for operators to acquire customers, but at this point, two and a half years into the market, I don’t see the regulator backtracking on that whatsoever,” she said. “So it’s meant that operators coming in here have had to compete in other ways, whether it’s their payment methods, the strength of their products, even their great customer service team, or their great rewards teams, to differentiate themselves.” However, there’s a lot of abuse of inducement standards on meta channels on social media platforms by operators today, she added.

Those restrictions have put more of an onus on advertising creative, Rivers said.

“A lot of crap out there sits in our category that’s just garbage,” he said. “Good advertising is still good advertising. There’s got to be a better way on the creative side of the business to elevate your brand, find ways to be connected to your audience. In PointsBet’s case, we’ve always focused on humor, the rivalry amongst friends, and the belief in being right. We’ve been consistent with that, as opposed to ads in our category that just sit there and say, let’s compare odds, then dare you to bet.”

When the industry got going and it was all about player acquisition, the high cost of that was an eye opener for many operators.

“For me to buy a spot in Ontario, I can only monetize the marketplace of Ontario as a licensed operator, but my competitors in the gray space, with that same ad running nationally, can monetize the entire audience or the entire country in terms of total market share, what you can access,” River said. “So from an efficiency standpoint, it’s egregious how much I’m spending to access only Ontario. From a cost-per-acquisition standpoint, it absolutely drives up my costs.”

Still, operators like PointsBet, BetMGM, and FanDuel are among the few licensed operators that can afford television advertising.

One of the most interesting nuggets from the discussion was after the panel was asked about the average cost of acquisition for players, which has been significant in Ontario.

Rivers wouldn’t touch it, but Brewer did, since she no longer has a connection with Kindred.

“We would have loved to have seen the cost per acquisition down around $300 a customer, because what operators also do is track how long it takes to recoup that acquisition cost from the play that customer then does with you,” she said. “But early days launching, you could be well over $1,000. And you didn’t even know if that customer was necessarily going to be loyal over the long term. It could be a customer who comes in, deposits $20, and you never see them again.”