Sportsbook operators are engaged in a major fight over player acquisition, but the ferocity of the battle is set to increase significantly as the start of the NFL season approaches. For both retail and online sportsbooks, this is more important than all other sports on the US calendar. This is because football is the most watched sport week in, week out, and it's also reflected in the betting activity in states already live like Nevada and New Jersey. Operators seem to be aware of this. If we look at data from last year despite Covid-19 disruptions, bonuses from operators are much higher at the start of the season than a few months in.
There are other indicators of football’s importance to the betting industry; we often hear state regulators say they want to issue their first licenses before the football season starts. Then there are the brands looking to launch into these states. Several overseas operators have said they plan to enter various states in Q3 2021 in time for the NFL August pre-season.
Drawing them in
TV advertising will play a big role in customer acquisition and the football season presents an opportunity to target large audiences of potential bettors. In 2020, eight of the top-viewed US TV shows were football games. The Super Bowl topped the list with an audience of 102,031,000 with the NFC Championship 49ers v Packers game in second with 43,626,000. These numbers should encourage operators to invest in marketing now and to educate, acclimate and introduce fans to betting products so they’re engaged in time for the season start.
There's certainly demand for football as a sport to bet on. Historically, it's the most bet-on sport in Nevada. This is quite something when you consider there are just 256 NFL games per season compared with 2,460 NBA games. Handle per game is on average 10 to 15 times higher, too. It’s a similar story in New Jersey. In 2020, football counted for the largest share of handle, accounting for the vast amount of parlays on football. Football claimed 23% of handle, basketball 19% and baseball 7% while parlay bets accounted for 21% of total handle ($5.9bn). Oregon’s lottery-run, SBTech-powered Scoreboard sportsbook is also trending heavily toward football; of its 40,000 active players, 88% have placed a bet on football.
The importance of football to drive player acquisition can also be seen in how operators have previously bonused around the season start and the Super Bowl. Take Pennsylvania, for example. Last September, bonusing as a percentage of hold hit 65% while in February (Super Bowl it reached 50%. The numbers were even bigger in Colorado. In September, operators bonused at 181% of hold while in February it was 98%.
Spend big or spend smart
TV advertising and bonusing are powerful player acquisition tools but they’re also expensive. So I'd encourage operators to be smart with their marketing activity and spend. This can include competitions that run throughout the season. The most prominent is the Westgate Super Contest but others are popping up. This includes Circa Sports, which recently launched two competitions – Circa Sports Million and Circa Survivor – with $10m in guaranteed prizes up for grabs. Then of course there are freeplay games that can be launched to players now to help engage, educate and acclimate the more than 30 million people the AGA estimates will place their first sports wager over the next few years. They also allow operators to streamline marketing costs – CPAs are currently peaking at around $1,000– while also boosting retention to ensure the best ROI and highest CLV. Of course, they need to be integrated into a wider marketing strategy, but from the data above, it’s clear football is where operators must focus their efforts and budgets. The operators that understand this and refocus their strategies now will be best positioned to leverage the opportunity the football season presents when it kicks off in September.