Beyond Bonuses: Sports Betting Industry Shifts Focus To Retention

Keeping customers as important as attracting them in maturing marketplace

So you’ve got ’em signed up, now how do you keep them active?

That was, word for word, the title of a panel discussion Wednesday at this year’s National Sports Forum Spring Summit at Betr’s headquarters in Miami, Florida. The microbetting company’s head of media, Mike Denevi, was joined at a conference table by Mike Salvaris and Bill Yucatonis, co-founders of Pro League Network (PLN), which focuses on programming and clearing the way for legal betting on niche sports such as mini-golf and car-jitsu.

The virtual panel’s moderator asked the trio if they felt like the sports betting industry might be shifting to a promotional environment that’s more concerned with holding onto existing customers than offering sign-up bonuses to acquire new ones. The answer was a resounding yes.

“Bonuses aren’t going away, but many operators are lazy with their use of bonuses. I think that’s changing and needs to change,” said Yucatonis. “You’ve got to understand your customer and how to entertain them and be able to nurture them through some life cycle. If you have to use a bonus to bring them back in, you’ve failed. I’m guilty of that. I’ve been an operator before.”

Salvaris added there would be “less competition around prices and bonuses and more differentiation around other factors,” while Denevi said he felt the keys to customer retention were affinity built through “media and talent extensions” and building an intuitive interface — or UX — that’s accessible to casual sports fans.

As a first-mover in the microbetting space, Betr currently benefits from the specificity of its focus, not to mention the involvement of social media juggernauts like Jake Paul and the Cavinder twins (pictured above). But microbetting is a hot topic, with virtually every operator planning to enter the space in a major way, if they haven’t already.

“Others are starting to and will eventually catch up,” Denevi said. “The way we do it tends to be a lot more intuitive, whether it’s mini-golf or a Lakers-Nuggets game, staying ahead of that UX curve and making it feel less like an intimidating spreadsheet of -175 and tabs everywhere.

“One of the first things we did was build out this media organization. Sports betting to me is so communal. It’s about camaraderie, and talent is a way in there. The way I communicate with my buddies from college still is, ‘Who do you like in the game tonight?’ And throughout the night, it’s, ‘I’m riding with you, I’m fading you.’”

Paul and the Cavinders, he added, “can create content — they can give you a pick. The content we create should be relatable and aspirational. You might tail Jake because of what he’s built or who he is as an athlete.”

Preaching simplicity, leveraging complexity

Unlike traditional leagues and operators, PLN and Betr are tasked with making niche sports and wagering options accessible to the public. To this end, PLN has been relying on simplicity thus far.

“One of our most popular engagement bets in mini-golf is over/under holes-in-one, either on a specific hole or aggregate,” Yucatonis said. “It’s simple. You don’t need to know who the 25th best mini-golfer is in World Putting League and what he is going to shoot.”

Denevi also emphasized Betr’s user-friendliness — “the way we’re presenting it is like a multiple choice question” — but acknowledged that the company is leaning into its more complex offerings, like Scripts. It lets someone build a microbet that amounts to, as Denevi put it, “Aaron Judge hitting a home run on a curveball in his third at-bat.”

“If we’re presenting it and educating users in the correct way, [complexity] can be an advantage.’

Continuing this line of thinking, Yucatonis drew an unflattering parallel to horse betting.

“The thoroughbred industry never got out of their own way. If you go to an ADW platform, nobody understands how to bet on a horse race. In sports, some operators talk about it in a very thoroughbred racing way. If you’re able to do it in a way that’s still complicated but simplified and allows people to step into it, that’s the answer. You can’t just hand people the Daily Racing Form at the track and expect them to have at it.”

Losers can be cool!

Yucatonis said he was “a big believer in watch and wager” and noted that PLN only gets involved in sports where it controls the streaming rights. But with major U.S. sports, the inability of operators to offer a livestream alongside in-game wagering options has been a significant issue, something Betr founder and CEO Joey Levy acknowledged at a recent gambling conference when he half-jokingly begged an NBA executive to give Betr just one game.

Instead, Denevi said Betr has endeavored to build, through the involvement of influencers like Paul and the Cavinders, “almost a Twitch for the betting product experience.”

Critical to PLN’s strategy has been the programming of events to fill holes in the sporting calendar, whether those gaps are at a certain hour of day or time of year.

“World Putting League is our brand. We’re in control. Because of that, we’re able to map out the calendar and look and see where the gaps are,” said Salvaris. “That’s one of the foundational reasons for why Bill and I started this company.”

“It’s not just the time of day, it’s also the length,” Yucatonis added. “Time, delivery, and tempo are all important, but it really comes down to rights at the end of the day.”

About midway through the hourlong discussion, a virtual attendee asked the panelists whether a gambling influencer is more valuable if they’re a celeb or if they hit at a 55% or 60% clip. Pointing to Betr’s “Fade Derek” campaign, Denevi said, “You can market a person who’s losing their bets in a certain way. No matter who you are, you’re always gonna lose, so if you’re just marketing the wins and the sharps, you’re not going to be around very long. You’ve got to add relatability and fun.”

“Selling picks is super undifferentiated,” added Salvaris. “It’s pretty much the same content with similar personalities.”

Photo: Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images


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